Ted Hawkins - ’Watch Your Step’

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - COVER STORY -

I’ve cov­ered him be­fore but all this talk of Ab­ner Jay has brought me back around again to Ted Hawkins. There are ma­jor sim­i­lar­i­ties in both their mu­sic and modus operandi.

Both ref­er­ence the blues but nei­ther were blues mu­si­cians per se. The strands of folk, coun­try, south­ern spir­i­tu­als and soul that in­formed Jay’s mu­sic are present in Hawkins too. They bor­rowed from all styles by way con­coct­ing a sound and iden­tity that was uniquely their own.

It’s not just their in­flu­ences that chime how­ever. Their close­ness in tone points to­wards a deeper spir­i­tual con­nec­tion. The emo­tional res­o­nance in their words and their unique ways of ex­press­ing them would seem to em­anate from a sim­i­lar place.

That ache in their voices stemmed from the weight of ex­pe­ri­ence. Theirs was no or­di­nary strug­gle. To have just to strive to sur­vive let alone get heard does pe­cu­liar things to hu­man vo­cal cords. Yearn­ing is not eas­ily faked. Both voices were al­most per­ma­nently pitched some­where close to break­ing point.

Ab­ner Jay took the road less trav­elled as an itin­er­ant mu­si­cian. Hawkins was a drifter from early child­hood who was ac­quainted with prison by the age of eight. When this al­bum came out in 1982, he was in­car­cer­ated at the Cal­i­for­nia State Med­i­cal Fa­cil­ity at Va­cav­ille. Upon his re­lease in 1986, he copped a break for the first time in his life when Andy Ker­shaw started play­ing the record on the BBC. Things looked promis­ing for a while. His re­lo­ca­tion to Eng­land brought some suc­cess. He played an un­for­get­table gig in a venue called Hawkins on Hawkins Street in Dublin in 1987. I was there, man.

But his time in the sun was short-lived and he was soon reac­quainted with the milk crate on Venice Beach where he had learned and plied his trade. As a doc­u­ment of all the love, loss, joy and pain that can go into the mak­ing of one life, I can’t think of any­thing more pro­found than this glo­ri­ous record.

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