Wednesday, October 28, 1998

Roots Tunes

Posted By on Wed, Oct 28, 1998 at 12:00 AM

It is one of the most amazingly beautiful voices to emerge from one of the ugliest corners of existence that you'll ever hear. But then, that's the way it often is with the blues. This is a form of music studded with odd diamonds squeezed from the hell of circumstance and shaped by whatever awaits any unsuspecting child stepping fresh and new into the jaws of a life both bitter and unkind.

The only problem here is that the songs sung by Ted Hawkins, the son of an alcoholic prostitute and an absentee father, aren't really blues at all. To call them folk or roots music would be considerably closer to the truth, but only closer. Hawkins has been characterized as a blues musician because he was a dark-skinned, tough-looking black man from a small Mississippi town who played acoustic guitar and sang even the most simplistic pop cover tunes with deep feeling. In other words, he looks the part and has the credentials to match, so therefore he must be a blues musician.

It ain't necessarily so.

For most of his brutally bleak life, Ted Hawkins bore the recognizable scars of a man who hadn't been paid enough attention, or who had been thrown in with the wrong cast of characters time and time again just for hanging nearby. Similarly, the man whose career was primarily that of a street corner musician who sang for pocket change was all too frequently passed over when it came time to collect his dues, even though he was always front and center when it came time to pay them. More evidence that life has never had any intention of being fair. Life is what it is.

In that spirit, Ted Hawkins, whose voice closely resembled that of Otis Redding and Sam Cooke and who could have easily held his own with either on stage, should have made it big before he died on New Year's Day in 1995. We should all know his name. Instead, life being as it is, Hawkins will undoubtedly go down in musical history as one of the greatest roots music vocalists who was discovered too late in life to capitalize on that greatness. Luckily, it's not too late to buy this CD and hear for yourself the voice of the one who left too soon.

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