Awe­some mu­sic from the ar­chives. This week, Ted Hawkins

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - TICKET STUBS - Donal Di­neen

No­body ever sang like Ted Hawkins. The amaz­ing thing about the hu­man voice is its end­less ver­sa­til­ity. It’s a kind of sonic finger­print. Great singers are iden­ti­fi­able by the unique­ness of their vo­cal cords. There are so many fac­tors in­volved in sum­mon­ing sound from your lungs. Hav­ing a great voice is only part of it. Where you’re singing from counts for a whole lot too.

Ted Hawkins was born into a life of poverty in Mis­sis­sippi. Aged 12 he was drift­ing, hus­tling and steal­ing. By the time he was 19 he had been in prison three times. On his third stint inside he found re­demp­tion in the shape of a gui­tar. Upon re­lease he heard the voice of Sam Cooke and his soul awak­ened. He never looked back.

He kept on the move, never know­ing where to next. The place he sings from is un­known to us. We’ve never been there. Only he has. Some­where out beyond where logic keeps a view.

He gives ev­ery­thing he’s got when he’s singing. It feels truth­ful and heart­felt. He brings a world of knowl­edge to the ta­ble. He was a rest­less trav­eller, a rolling stone, a trou­bled soul. His is a mys­te­ri­ous dark voice, hard to pin down. It car­ries much weight and au­thor­ity. The world of song is a safe hid­ing place for a man on the run. There’s no ar­gu­ing with it. It’s rough and raw but di­a­mond sharp too and cool at the deep end.

He at­trib­uted the rasp in his voice to years of singing in the sand and spray on the board­walk. He liked the free­dom to move within his do­main. He had spent too long in the clink to have much time for play­ing within walls.

Many ad­mir­ers tried to get him to record. One of them, Bruce Bomberg, suc­ceeded in get­ting him into a stu­dio in the early 1970s. The record­ings re­mained un­re­leased un­til 1982. It’s called Watch Your Step and it’s made of gold.

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