Three by Ted Hawkins
Better late than never?
The Kershaw Sessions, Strange Roots CD ROOT 006 (import), 1995
The Next Hundred Years, Mobile Fidelity CD UDCD 702, 1994/1997
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, andbingo!dies of a stroke on New Years 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 Pierces "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
troublewhich 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. Hows the sound? I dont
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 Winchesters "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 Id
buy first, followed by The Next Hundred Years. Glenn
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 McCabes
Guitar Shop, Santa Monica, November 5, 1994, The Pres House at the University
of Wisconsin, Madison, October 8, 1994 and Goochis, Wenatchee,
Washington, July 8, 1994.
of related interest
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 lovers lament "You Pushed My Head Away." (Yes,
its about what you think its 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.