Blues Bytes


March 2020

Ted Hawkins
Songs From Venice Beach
Unamerican Records / Evidence

Ted Hawkins

Ted Hawkins wasn’t really a blues man just based on his musical repertoire, but he most definitely lived the life of a blues man. Born in poverty in Biloxi, Mississippi in 1936, Hawkins ran afoul of the law multiple times as a youth, but during one of his prison stays he happened to catch a performance by Professor Longhair, inspiring him to try his hand at music. Once out of jail he rambled around the country before settling in Los Angeles in 1966, where he bought a guitar and managed to cut a single for Money Records. Apparently, the only money forthcoming for Hawkins was the name of the record label as he received no royalties for his efforts.

Despondent, Hawkins took to performing on the streets, setting up shop on the boardwalk at Venice Beach for years. In-between he did manage to record and release albums, notably a pair with producer Bruce Bromberg which ended up on the Rounder label in the early/mid ’80s. He moved to England in the late ’80s, where he received royal treatment befitting his incredible vocal talents. Upon returning to the states things returned to the sad status quo, so he returned to the beach, set up his tip jar, and played for those passing by.

Touted by numerous music writers in the late ’80s and early ’90s, Hawkins finally signed with a major label, DGC/Geffen Records, and released The Next Hundred Years in late 1994. The album proved to be a breakthrough and Hawkins seemed to be destined for fame and fortune, but sadly, he died from a stroke in L.A. on New Year’s Day, 1995, only 58 years old.

In the mid ’80s, the small Unamerican Records label released a set of recordings taken from Hawkins’ Venice Beach performances. Ten months after his death, Evidence Records reissued the finest moments from the rarely-heard collection. The new edition, Songs From Venice Beach, featured 14 amazing performances, just Hawkins’ voice and his guitar. Though Hawkins was a fine songwriter in his own right, only one of the tracks is an original, “Ladder of Success,” but it’s one of his best songs and he gives it a fine performance.

The majority of the set list is R&B covers, beginning with Brook Benton’s “I Got What I Wanted,” a trio of Sam Cooke selections (“Having A Party,” “Good Times,” and “Somebody Have Mercy”), Curtis Mayfield’s “Gypsy Woman,” Jerry Butler’s “He Will Break Your Heart,” Garnet Mimms & the Enchanters’ “A Quiet Place,” Bobby Moore & The Rhythm Aces’ “Searching For My Baby,” the Bobby “Blue” Bland hit, “Share Your Love With Me,” and a pair of Motown hits in The Temptations’ “Just My Imagination” and the Marvin Gaye hit, “Too Busy Thinking About My Baby.”

Hawkins also ventures into country territory with his magnificent reading of Webb Pierce’s “There Stands The Glass” and Dallas Frazier’s “All I Have To Offer You Is Me” (a hit for Charley Pride in the late ’60s). With these tracks he shows that the line between soul and country is a thin one indeed.

Hawkins’ vocals are stunning on these tracks. Vocally, he owes a considerable debt to Sam Cooke, but it’s also obvious that he has absorbed other influences over the years. His voice shows a soulful vulnerability that transcends genres, to be honest. These tracks combine blues, soul, country, folk, gospel, and R&B. It’s a safe bet that few people on that boardwalk passed by Ted Hawkins without stopping to listen for a while.

Evidence later released a second volume of Venice Beach tracks, but this first release, Songs From Venice Beach, stands as one of the singer/guitarist’s best efforts.

--- Graham Clarke



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