I've been listening to Ted Hawkins this morning. His vocals are searing, gritty and insanely emotive. This man had a hard and somewhat chaotic life. A great deal of his music was delivered to tourists on the boardwalk at Venice Beach where he busked for spare change. His talent got noticed and he was "discovered" several times by record producers and music promoters in Southern California and England. He actually moved to the U.K for 4 years in the late 1980's and had a bit of success, but he got into some sort of trouble and was deported back home in 1990. Ted had quite a lot of trouble in his life, starting from the age of 12 when he was sent to reform school in Mississippi. As a teenager, Ted drifted, hitchhiking across the country and living on his wits and petty larceny. He was busted for stealing a leather jacket when he was 15 and ended up in an adult prison for 3 years - a ridiculous sentence for a youngster, but he was a black kid in the early 1950's - Jim Crow times - so he was abused.
Ted started singing while he was a kid in reform school, and he heard Sam Cooke while he was in the state penitentiary. He said that it was Sam Cooke that inspired him to focus on music. Ted got an old acoustic guitar and set it up with open tuning so he could strum chords while he sang. He moved to California in the mid-60's and started busking on Venice Beach.
Ted Hawkins wrote some great original songs. He was a genre-busting guy, very soulful, but he could kick out a killer country tune. His cover of the old Webb Pierce country standard, "There Stands The Glass," slays me every time I hear it. It is one of those covers that completely re-forms the original song. Webb's 1953 recording is the same song, but definitely does not have the same impact.
Ted wore a glove on his fretting hand - apparently he had some sort of injury that made it hard for him to play the guitar which led to his basic style. He was pretty ambivalent about recording - he did an album for Rounder Records in the 1980's that flopped. In 1994, Geffen Records convinced him to do a real album with studio musicians. That was the record I got my hands on - it's called "The Next Hundred Years." He did a stunning cover on that record of the John Fogerty song, "Long As I Can See The Light." It transports me to some strange emotional place that I can't put into words.
So "The Next Hundred Years" was well-received and had respectable sales. Ted began to tour and seemed to be having a career take-off in his late 50's.
Of course, he had a stroke and died a few months after his record was released. He was 58 years old when he passed. Damn.
Here is one of Ted's originals, called "Big Things." This song feels like a summary of his life and his philosophy. This was an incredible artist that deserved more than he received.