Horror rock: Talk about a sub genre. I thought I would expand on my recent Bauhaus tribute and do a short series featuring the artists at the very roots of horror rock.


Really, there’s no better place to start than the inimitable Screamin’ Jay Hawkins.

Hawkins, neé Jalacy Hawkins, was born in Cleveland in 1929. Though many may credit other sources as the wellspring of horror rock, Screamin’ Jay is it. This is the bedrock.

Hawkins is the bedrock and his song “I Put a Spell on You” is the starting point for the genre. Originally recorded in 1956, it was the first foray into the psychotic world of dark rock and roll in the theatrical sense that we think of horror rock today.  The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame picked it for its listing of “500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll.”

Here is a haunting version from 1972 from Hawkins that was used to great effect in “American Horror Story.”

In the legendary recording session for this song, the band was roaring drunk and Hawkins was literally blacked out when he laid down the track. The result was a guttural, grunting masterpiece that, while banned on many radio outlets of the day, surpassed a million copies in sales.

Soon after, proto-rock-DJ Alan Freed paid Hawkins $300.00 to emerge from a coffin to kick off a live performance and the great tradition of dark horror rock props was born. Hawkins soon added foppish costumes and several other horror-driven elements to his shows including “Henry,” a smoking skull character that accompanied him wherever he appeared. in many ways, he embodied the idea of a cartoonish, black Vincent Price.


It all starts here, folks. Represent for Screamin’ Jay. Turn it up!


Author: David Edward Johnson

A bit about me :: My name is David Johnson. I'm a senior creative with over 20 years of experience. I am currently serving as the Director of User Experience and Product Design at Inmar. Previously, I have served as the Global Digital Creative Director for Whole Foods Market, several agencies at the VP level and co-owned my own agency in New York for seven years. I love genre film, a full range of music, art, kung fu, TM, design, good food and a great joke. I'm based in Austin, Texas and addicted to BBQ.

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