Craft Recordings celebrates the reissue of Ted Hawkins' 1982 album Watch Your Step. This release marks the first-ever official vinyl reissue of Watch Your Step, available on August 3, 2018 (8/3). From his obscure beginnings in Biloxi, Mississippi, to playing on the streets of Venice, California for small change, to experiencing notoriety in Europe as thousands flocked to his concerts before his untimely death: Ted Hawkins lived what he sang; of that, there is no doubt. His powerful, soulful voice awed listeners as he shared his beautifully troubled world. For the first-time fans can experience Watch Your Step on 180-gram vinyl.
More about Ted Hawkins: Consider the unlikely story of Ted Hawkins. When he signed with Rounder Records in 1982, he had no manager or booking agent, and his only gig had been performing on the boardwalk in Venice Beach, California, where he sat on a milk crate and played for tips. At the time of his signing, he was also incarcerated at the California State Penitentiary. Yet, Ted's music was so soulful and compelling that there seemed to be no choice, especially for a label that did not measure success in sales or chart position. Ted's songs are quirky and personal, addressing despair and contrition in relationships ("I Gave Up All I Had," "If You Love Me"), abandonment ("The Lost Ones"), alcohol addiction ("Sorry You're Sick"), and even a hypothetical jingle for an airline company ("TWA"). There was also pure exuberance, if sometimes tainted with a dark edge, on songs such as "Watch Your Step" and the humorous "Who Got My Natural Comb?"
The album, Watch Your Step, went on the receive a rare five-star Rolling Stone review, and was an artistic coup for Rounder. As esteemed author Peter Guralnick wrote in his album notes, Ted's music was a "rural adaptation of contemporary soul music," influenced especially by Sam Cooke. Hawkins was a soul singer of the first rank, tapping county, folk and blues along the way. He had a rough-voiced authority that, under other circumstances, might have made him a star.
Producer Bruce Bromberg first heard Ted Hawkins on the boardwalk in the 1970s and was so smitten that he arranged a session that paired him with Phillip Walker's rhythm and blues band. He released one single on his Joliet label, and then lost touch with Ted. Bromberg also had the foresight to record Hawkins, in a good studio, playing acoustic demo recordings of his original songs-his songbook at the time. As time passed, Bromberg became convinced that these simple recordings reflected the genius of a true American original.
Bromberg contacted Scott Billington at Rounder, and then found Ted, who in spite of his confinement enthusiastically agreed to sign with the label. Ted's acoustic recordings would comprise the bulk of the album, along with the single and two unreleased songs with Walker's band. Bromberg and photographer Carl Keyes, after negotiating a fair amount of bureaucracy with the California prison system, arranged a photo session in the prison yard, having brought Ted the pink shirt and guitar that you see in the artfully composed cover shot.
Ted Hawkins did not have an easy life. Born into poverty in Biloxi, Mississippi, he spent his teen years in reform school, followed by a stay in Louisiana's Parchman Farm penitentiary after stealing a leather jacket. He subsequently hoboed around the country, eventually landing in Los Angeles. There, he married his wife, Elizabeth, who sings harmony vocals on several songs on Watch Your Step, and who stood by him through his travails.
He recorded one more album for Rounder and Bromberg, Happy Hour, which features the guitar of Robert Cray, under the alias "Night Train Clemons," featured on the lascivious "You Pushed My Head Away." Hawkins subsequently relocated to England for several years, where his incipient popularity, prompted by the Rounder releases, exceeded anything he had known in the States. He was eventually deported and ended up again on the boardwalk in Venice. Repeating the scenario, he had experienced with Bromberg, he signed with Geffen Records, for whom he recorded a tastefully produced album in 1994 with producer Tony Berg, The Last Hundred Years. He died of a stroke at the age of 58, several months after the album's release.
The songs on Watch Your Step may represent the pinnacle of the creativity of Ted Hawkins as a writer. In 2015, the Austin-based Eight 30 label released a tribute album, Cold and Bitter Tears, which includes covers by artists such as Mary Gauthier, James McMurtry and Kasey Chambers, all largely drawn from his Rounder catalog. Country artist Anderson East covered his "Sorry You're Sick" in 2018.
The vinyl re-release of Watch Your Step celebrates a truly exceptional talent-Ted Hawkins-whose music and compositions have endured in a way that he might never have imagined possible.
A.1 Watch Your Step
A.2 Bring It Home Daddy
A.3 If You Love Me
A.4 Don't Lose Your Cool
A.5 The Last Ones
A.6 Who Got My Natural Comb
A.7 Peace & Happiness
B.1 Sweet Baby
B.2 Stop Your Crying
B.3 Put In A Cross
B.4 Sorry You're Sick
B.5 Watch Your Step (Band Version)
B.7 I Gave Up All I Had
B.8 Stay Close To Me