Album Reviews

The Songs of Ted Hawkins

Cold and Bitter Tears

Artist:     The Songs of Ted Hawkins

Album:     Cold And Bitter Tears

Label:     Eight 30

Release Date:     10/23/2015


Ted Hawkins never got his due in life or music, yet retained his optimism until he passed away at the early age of 58. His relentless positivity can be heard from this ebullient collection of respectful artists. Remember Hawkins’ albums– Watch Your Step (1982) and The Next Hundred Years (1994)? It’s been awhile since we’ve heard his sound, right? The Venice Beach street musician’s singular style has long been admired by songwriters, yet this is the first tribute to Hawkins. I had a chance to talk to one of the three producers, Jenni Finlay, about the origins of this project.

“We’ve been working on this for two years,” Finlay told me. “A couple of years ago, one of my clients, Owen Temple, listened only to Ted Hawkins when driving back to Austin from Kansas City’s Folk Alliance. He urged us to do a tribute, and I quickly got in touch with Brian (Atkinson) and Kevin (Russell).” She went on to describe the process for assembling the musicians, which was very organic. “Of course, my first call was to James McMurtry, and he remembered opening for Hawkins in L.A. in the early ’90s. From there, we had Jon Dee (Graham), naturally, and the Shinyribs because of Kevin. Steve James came aboard, and although we had many volunteers for “Sorry, You’re Sick,” we approached Mary Gauthier carefully, because she had her own addiction issues in the past. She embraced the song and interpreted it so soulfully. Although we recorded mostly here in Austin, Ray Kennedy recorded Mary in Nashville and then extended himself for the whole record.”

Finlay continues, “Hawkins’ songwriting is so versatile that you can make it anything – blues, soul, folk, country – and all the artists we worked with had their own Ted Hawkins story. Perhaps the most amazing thing in the whole process was doing “Baby” with Elizabeth Hawkins, Ted’s widow, who hadn’t sung in thirty years when she sung harmonies on Ted Hawkins’ records, and their daughter Tina-Marie Hawkins Fowler who had never sung professionally before. Wow! They nailed it!” Finlay also pointed out the eerie and coincidental irony of the hidden track, “New Year’s Day,” found on cassette and recorded only a month before Hawkins’ passing on New Years Day.

Producing partner Kevin Russell, like Finlay, exudes a tremendous amount of enthusiasm about the project, saying, “The opportunity to steward this tribute record is a ‘go tell it on the mountain’ moment for me that I hope can bring greater attention to the songs and recordings of Mr. Hawkins himself.” In addition to some of the aforementioned selections, Gurf Morlix captures Hawkins wonderfully on “I Gave Up All I Had,” the Damnations do Hawkins proud with “Bring It On Home Daddy” and the Shinyribs brilliantly cover one of Hawkins’ most popular songs, “Who Got My Natural Comb.” If this tribute prompts you to discover Ted Hawkins, then it’s done its job. Hawkins himself used to say, “People discover me every day.” Hopefully this leads you there.

– Jim Hynes

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