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
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
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