1998: Ted Hawkins - The Ted Hawkins Story: Suffer No More

“Good morning my darling, I’m telling you this/ to let you know that I’m sorry you’re sick/ no, tears of sorrow won’t do you no good/ I’d be your doctor if only I could/ What do you want from the liquor store?/ Something sour or something sweet/ I’d buy you all that your belly can hold/ You can be sure you won’t suffer no more.”

So goes the opening of Ted Hawkins’ “Sorry You’re Sick” and the inspiration for a 1998 greatest hits CD, one of many Ted Hawkins retrospectives. He’s an immensely talented bluesy soul singer who simply slipped through the cracks of widespread mainstream success. Somewhere between Otis Redding and Sam Cooke, the booming voice snugly fits into a long tradition of singers who seem capable of stopping time.

What little we know about Ted Hawkins’ history: he was born into a difficult life in Mississippi and was sent to reform school at 12. After that, the personal mythology starts — with tales of Hawkins drifting in and out of prison/various American cities and eventually (in the late 60s) hitchhiking to California to make a career as a musician. He accrued fans playing on a milk crate at the boardwalk in Venice Beach, gaining the attention of record producer Bruce Bromberg in the early 70s. But drug problems and another jail stint prevented him from recording his debut album, Watch Your Step, until 1982. The album gained impressive critical acclaim but little commercial success. Three years passed (with no knowledge of Hawkins’ whereabouts) until he recorded his next album, Happy Hour, with Bromberg, which managed to gain the attention of European fans. The famed British broadcaster Andy Kershaw invited him to Europe where Hawkins’ brought his milk crate songs to packed venues. However, when he moved back to the U.S. in the 1990s, he returned to street performing — until Geffen producer Tony Berg convinced him to record his songs with professional musicians. The subsequent album would gain him the U.S. fame that he had never been able to accumulate in the 20 years prior, but Hawkins would pass away months after the album was released.

It’s a remarkable story. As for the music itself, it’s a crudely wonderful mix of gospel, country, blues, and soul music. Hawkins plays in an open tuning, reportedly distinguishing between happy and sad chords. The 1998 collection boasts many great songs (“Watch Your Step,” “The Good and the Bad,” “The Lost Ones,” “Happy Hour”) but the real fun is tracking down the bootlegs and cover renditions that Hawkins’ recorded into relative obscurity throughout the years. There’s a beautiful image I have of him sitting on a milk crate at the Venice Beach boardwalk belting out songs for those passing by — the Temptations “Just My Imagination,” John Denver’s “Country Road,” Sam Cooke’s “Bring it On Home to Me,” and (my personal favorite) Charley Pride’s “All I Have to Offer You is Me.” If you’ve read the 2007 Pulitzer-winning article about renowned violinist Joshua Bell conducting a street performance experiment, it does make you wonder what it takes for people to truly recognize musical brilliance — even if it’s just sitting right in front of them on a milk crate.


There’s a lot of good music out there, and it’s not all being released this year. With DeLorean, we aim to rediscover overlooked artists and genres, to listen to music historically and contextually, to underscore the fluidity of music. While we will cover reissues here, our focus will be on music that’s not being pushed by a PR firm.

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