Putting pictures on milk cartons probably wouldn't cut it. But maybe cyberspace will.
Screamin' Jay Hawkins, who died Feb. 12 at age 70 in his home in a Parisian suburb, was a legendary wild man of the early rock, R&B and blues era, and, apparently, a prolific progenitor as well.
By Hawkins' own estimate, his offspring number at least 57.
"Are you one of Jay's kids?" the Web site www.JaysKids.com asks in letters pasted on top of a menacing image of the man behind the classic "I Put a Spell on You" (RealAudio excerpt), the 1956 single that Creedence Clearwater Revival later revived.
"Screamin' Jay Hawkins was wilder and larger than life, both on- and offstage," Web site owner Maral Nigolian said. "This guy was as crazy onstage as he was off; he was as wonderful onstage as he was off.
"He was a controversial personality," Nigolian added. "And he lived his life that way. And as many great parts that he had, he had some dark sides, too. And he laughed at those parts of himself."
Known for a flamboyant stage act that had him rising out of a coffin, Hawkins recorded songs as menacing as "(She Put the) Wamee on Me" (RealAudio excerpt) and as disgusting as the aptly titled "Constipation Blues," recently described as "four-and-a-half minutes of bathroom hell set to music."
The man who prefigured the shock-value ilk of Alice Cooper, Kiss and Marilyn Manson often declared, "When I go, I don't want to be buried. I've been in too many damn coffins already!" Hawkins was cremated at Paris' Pere Lachaise cemetery (of Jim Morrison fame), with his ashes subsequently scattered over the Atlantic.
And today, Hawkins is anything but buried on the new Web site, deemed a great, if time-consuming, success by Nigolian, who, along with her husband, befriended Hawkins in his later years and visited him in France.
The Web site's home page recently checked in at 76,309 hits, and the "In the News" page proudly mentioned that it was chosen by Yahoo! as its "Strange Site of the Day" and by ABC News as its "Web Site of the Week."
"I walked in Monday, there were 53 submissions," the Los Angeles entrepreneur and investment banker said. "Half of them were jokes. I always say, Screamin' Jay had a great sense of humor, so we're not being offended. And then the rest, I literally have to go through one by one, send them an e-mail and a letter, and then ask for a packet of information to go through."
One submission, from a "JH" of Cleveland, goes: "My mother ... often would get a friend of hers to watch my brother and I so that she could go to see blues bands that came through Cleveland. More often than not she would come home with a blues musician. ... Once when I was 9, I got constipated. I was embarrassed and thought I was the only kid who had ever had this problem. I remember telling my mother so and she said 'well your Daddy wrote a song about your problem' and she proceeded to play me a hauntingly humorous song about being constipated. Mom never spoke of my father before then and I could never get her to talk much about him even after that. She said it was best to think of myself as 'the daughter of the blues.' "
A Growing List
"We've actually known of 10 [kids] for sure," Nigolian said. "That list is actually getting bigger, more like 15, but we're officially only saying 10 right now. We've had submissions from Finland, Italy today, Singapore, England, Australia, New Zealand, Tokyo.
"We've had close to 400 and have to weed through them," Nigolian added. "Now, it's close to 40 strong possibilities, in addition to the 10 we've already identified."
The designated offspring, asked for hair samples for DNA testing, date back to 1950, Nigolian said. That's when LeeAnn Hawkins was born in Cleveland, also the hometown of filmmaker Jim Jarmusch, who started Hawkins on a latter-day acting career by featuring him in Mystery Train. As with sister Irene, also of Cleveland, LeeAnn was a product of Hawkins' first marriage.
(As self-promulgated legend has it, Screamin' Jay was born on a bus passing through Cleveland, where he was immediately put up for adoption and raised by Blackfoot Indians.)
It was his first, as it turned out, of six marriages. The most notorious one was to Pat Newborn, who stabbed Hawkins in the back for cheating on her with Virginia, who became Hawkins' wife in 1961, a union that was to last 20 years.
"Some of his relationships, however, are no longer alive. The woman who stabbed him in the back has died. We know that," Nigolian said with an audible sigh of relief.
No Expected Payoff
Hawkins is also survived by his French widow, Monique Hawkins, 31. But if any of his ex-wives or newly discovered children hope to benefit from his will, which will be probated starting Friday (May 5), they will probably be disappointed. Gary Spritz, a lawyer for Hawkins' estate, told Wall of Sound magazine, "They're entitled to nothing, to be honest with you."
Such dim prospects don't diminish the enthusiasm of Nigolian, who is putting together some sort of chronicle of Hawkins' life, perhaps a film, assembling the offspring for a summer gathering. (Check out the Web site for details on the "drawing" for the event.) Nor does the fact that Screamin' Jay was never what you would call a good father.
"He was proud of having them that was how he felt about them. But he wasn't proud of the fact that he dedicated his life to music and not to having an opportunity to spend time with the kids," Nigolian said.
"He wished there was a chance to figure out where they are, what they're doing and who they are."