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Ted Hawkins - Blues Musician

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Welcome to Happy Hour, blinking on the neon sign
She won't mind, if I stop for just one
I can still make it home in time

As my eyes grow accustom to the smokey dim lights
I see the juke box near the door
There she is, in another man's arms
slow dancing across the floor

Thus starts Happy Hour, the 'stand out' song from the under-appreciated blues singer, Ted Hawkins.

The Man and His Music

Ted Hawkins was born, Theodore Hawkins Jnr, in Biloxi, Mississippi on 28 October, 1936. His was a tough childhood, the unwanted son of a prostitute and alcoholic mother and an absent father. As he grew up he was left pretty much to his own devices and soon found himself in trouble with the law, eventually being sent to a reform school at the age of only 12.

It was also around this time that he started to show a fascination with the guitar. Listening to local blues and country artists, he learnt to play with the distinctive Open C guitar tuning, or 'Vestapol' style, characteristic of Mississippi and the Southern States. This style can be tough on the fingers, and Ted played his guitar hard. This meant he needed to protect his fingers from the strings on the fret board, so he started to wear black leather gloves, which over time became a trademark of his.

Life as a teenager was still not good for Ted and he continued to get in trouble, at one point being sentenced to three years in jail for the theft of a leather jacket. On his release and now in his early 20s, he spent a lot of time hoboing around the states, illegally hitching rides on freight trains from Mississippi to New Orleans, Chicago, New York and up as far as Buffalo. During these times he took in as much music - his first love - as possible and scratched a living anyway that he could.

Now, not only could Ted play a guitar, he could sing as well. His voice was first noticed by his piano teacher while he was in the reform school and he was encouraged to learn and develop his singing. In the end, heavily influenced by the style of Sam Cooke, Ted developed a mournful yet powerful voice which could express a real depth of emotion in the songs he sang.

Fed up with the drifting and lack of opportunities in the Southern States, Ted took himself and his guitar off to Los Angeles in the mid-1960s to try his luck in the music industry. In 1966 he cut the first of a number of singles for the Money label which were all released to the complete indifference of the record buying public. To make ends meet Ted did whatever casual jobs he could find and took up busking on Los Angeles' Venice Beach as a release for his creative energy.

It was here in 1971 that he was discovered by producer Bruce Bromberg who encouraged Ted to record some songs in his own personal blues style, rather than the cover versions that had been his mainstay up until then. Unfortunately, Ted's habit of getting mixed up with the local police had followed him to California and he spent a number of years in jail. During this time he lost contact with Bromberg and the 1971 recording sessions were left just gathering dust.

Eventually in 1982, out of prison and free from an earlier heroin addiction, Ted once more met up with Bromberg and the tracks that they had cut 11 years earlier were released as an album, Watch Your Step on Rounder Records. While this release didn't exactly set the Top 40 alight, it did gain Ted a certain recognition for his unique style, Rolling Stone magazine giving the record a five star review and describing it as one of the albums of the year.

True to form, Ted wandered off after making this one album and it was another four years before he could be pushed into a studio to record again. This time the session produced the 1986 release, Happy Hour and this was the record that was to be the catalyst that launched his career around the world.

One of the problems with Ted's music had always been that it wasn't easily categorised. It was rooted in the blues of his home in the South, yet his vocal style was more soul, and there were also strong influences of country and even gospel in his work. This meant that it didn't particularly appeal to the mainstream music industry in the US. So airplay, and hence sales were scarce. However, his music was picked up by Andy Kershaw, then of Radio 1, who championed his cause and played his records regularly in his influential evening show. It was Andy who encouraged Ted to move over to England where he found himself playing to growing audiences, culminating in an appearance at the 1989 Glastonbury Festival.

Despite his success touring around Europe and Australia he preferred the relative anonymity of his life in California, where he returned in 1990. Over the next four years Ted carried on with his busking on Venice Beach to a small but appreciative audience and did some small-scale recording for minor record labels.

It wasn't until 1994 that he finally came to the attention of the US public, when Geffen Records picked up on his talent and persuaded him to record what was to be his final album, 'The Next One Hundred Years'. Sadly, just as sales of this record were taking off, Ted suffered a stroke on the 28 December 1994 and died a few days later on New Year's Day.


Original Recordings

  • Watch Your Step - Rounder, 1982
  • Happy Hour - Rounder, 1986
  • The Venice Beach Tapes - Hotshot Records, 1986
  • I Love You Too - PT Records, 1989
  • The Next Hundred Years - Geffen, 1994

Compilations & Live Recordings

  • The Kershaw Sessions - Strange Roots, 1995
  • Suffer No More - Rhino Records, 1998
  • The Final Tour - Evidence Records, 1998
  • Love You Most Of All - Evidence Records, 1998
  • The Unstoppable Ted Hawkins - Catfish CDs, 2001
  • Nowhere To Run - Evidence Records, 2001

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