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Three by Ted Hawkins

 Better late than never?

The Kershaw Sessions,  Strange Roots CD ROOT 006 (import), 1995 (61:38)
The Next Hundred Years,  Mobile Fidelity CD UDCD 702, 1994/1997 (41:19)
The Final Tour,  Evidence CD ECD 28002-2, 1998 (68:07)

Ted Hawkins’ story in brief: born and abused in Mississippi, spent some time in Parchman Farm prison, drifted to Southern California where he worked as a street musician in Venice, discovered and recorded by producer Bruce Bromberg in the early ’70s, the album is finally released ten years later by Rounder Records while Hawkins is again in prison, Rolling Stone gives it five stars so America ignores it, but he attracts a following in Europe and moves there for a few years, returns to Venice and works the streets again, gets booked for the occasional blues festival (although not a bluesman), is rediscovered by Geffen (of all labels) and releases a hit album in 1994, tours a bit, and–bingo!–dies of a stroke on New Year’s Day, 1995.

The full story is evident when Hawkins sings. His voice is gruff and careworn, but very warm. His songs, many his own and some from soul and country greats like Sam Cooke, Jesse Winchester and Charley Pride, are sung with utter conviction. Sure, he learned to "sell" a song on the streets of Venice, but this conviction is more about character than manipulation. The songs may be straightforward, even simple, but what matters is the delivery: when Hawkins sings them you  believe. So, a song like Ann Peebles’ hit "Part Time Love," which simply expresses the need for someone who will love, help and care, is riveting in Hawkins’ urgent delivery. And hearing him sing Webb Pierce’s "There Stands the Glass" is a physical experience. If there is little subtlety in Hawkins’ delivery, neither is there any pretense whatsoever.

Hawkins’ difficulty getting accepted in this country may have come from the fact that he is not easily classifiable. Imagine a soul singer accompanied by his own strummed guitar like a folkie, but singing songs that are closer to country than anything else. No wonder American audiences had trouble–which radio format does  that fit into?!

The three albums here represent Hawkins’ European period and his last, bittersweet, year.  The Kershaw Sessions is made up of solo recordings from California and Europe for a BBC radio program. Some of Hawkins’ best-known (to the beach crowd of Venice, at least) songs are here: "Bring It On Home Daddy," "Happy Hour," "Cold & Bitter Tears," "Bad Dog." (In fact, there are two recordings of the first two songs.) Hawkins’ voice is lighter in these recordings than it would be later, and his guitar playing perhaps a bit trickier. The recordings are not up to BBC standards, surprisingly, with frequent microphone overloading and poor balance.

Hawkins’ breakthrough album on Geffen,  The Next Hundred Years has now been reissued by Mobile Fidelity as an expensive "gold" CD. Here, Hawkins performances are rounded out with keyboards, steel guitars, bass, drums and so on. I think most of this was dubbed over Hawkins’ solo performances, but that would be pretty much standard Geffen operating procedure, right? This album is about a fifty-fifty mix of Hawkins originals and songs by others that he liked to sing. How’s the sound? I don’t have the original Geffen CD, and right now I cannot lay my hands on the vinyl copy I bought when it came out, but it sounds fine to me. There is a warmth and richness to the sound that is very welcome, although it somewhat smooths over Hawkins’ roughness. But this is not necessarily a big fault for what is essentially a pop album. And as a pop album, this is very classy stuff.

And then there is  The Final Tour, where Hawkins is again solo. The recording is straight from the soundboard during live performances following the release of  The Next Hundred Years. Not surprisingly, most of the songs from  The Next Hundred Years reappear, although there is much more. Most of the recordings are from a performance in Santa Monica. These are followed by four songs from other concerts that make up a miniature suite of Mississippiana, including Jesse Winchester’s "Biloxi" and one of Hawkins’ best songs, "The Lost Ones"–"we are the lost ones/living on our own." Given the sources, the (mono) recordings are more than acceptable (better than the BBC did). The Santa Monica ones are very clear although a bit rough, the others have a little hall reverberance to add some warmth. This is a fine example of the power of Hawkins’ singing and the message of the man himself. If I had to choose, this is the one I’d buy first, followed by  The Next Hundred Years. Glenn Brooks


Ted Hawkins, vocals and guitar. On  The Next Hundred Years, Greg Leisz, steel guitars; Chris Bruce, Michael Penn and Tony Berg, various guitars; Patrick Warren, Billy Payne and Tony Berg, keyboards; John Pierce, Guy Pratt and Kevin McCormick, bass; Pat Mastelotto, Jim Keltner, Greg Wells and Danny Frankel, drums and percussion; Martin Tillman, cello.


 The Kershaw Sessions produced by Dale Griffin, Nick Gomm and Ted De Bono; recorded by Sarah Fletcher and others unnamed at Hawkins’ house in California and other locations, 1986-87.

 The Next Hundred Years produced by Tony Berg; recorded by John Paterno and Susan Rogers in May, 1994; mixed by Pat McCarthy.

 The Final Tour produced by Jerry Gordon; recorded at McCabe’s Guitar Shop, Santa Monica, November 5, 1994, The Pres House at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, October 8, 1994 and Goochi’s, Wenatchee, Washington, July 8, 1994.

of related interest

Ted Hawkins

 Happy Hour, Rounder CD 2033, 1986 (38:31)
A good complement of early recordings to go with his later ones. Features a real blues, the lover’s lament "You Pushed My Head Away." (Yes, it’s about what you think it’s about.) Choose this rather than  The Kershaw Sessions if you want an example of early Hawkins. It gives you an idea of his life to realize "early" here means less than ten years before his last recording.

Copyright © 1998 Peppercorn Press. All rights reserved.