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A Celebration of Life in the Face of Hardship

*** TED HAWKINS "The Ted Hawkins Story: Suffer No More" Rhino

*** 1/2 TED HAWKINS "The Final Tour" Evidence

January 18, 1998|Steve Hochman

Brook Benton's "I Got What I Wanted"--with the title line followed by the lament, "But I lost everything I had"--makes for a sadly ironic epitaph for Ted Hawkins. After a lifetime of struggle, Hawkins--for years a Venice and Santa Monica street performer--finally made a major-label album with Geffen Records in 1994, only to die from a heart attack at age 58 on New Year's Day 1995.

If one thing is clear from these two collections--both including the Benton song--Hawkins celebrated life, no matter what it dealt. All you need hear is the honeyed sound of his voice, rightfully compared to Sam Cooke, to sense that. Even when singing about the painful memories of his Mississippi childhood in the vivid, personal "The Lost Ones," also on both albums, the singing transcends the hardships behind it.

The Rhino album is an often-fascinating chronicle of a performer not always sure of himself. But the fussiness of a Stax-style mid-'60s session as Ted "Soul" Hawkins and the 1971 novelty "Who Got My Natural Comb?" eventually gives way to a less ornate approach that suited him better, notably on two previously unreleased 1990 recordings, "Happy Days" and Cooke's "Be With Me Jesus." And the three Geffen songs that close the album, with expertly complementary backing fashioned by producer Tony Berg, show Hawkins at the end as having far more distinction than just his rustic charms.

Still, it's the solo, acoustic in-concert setting of Evidence's live album, featuring a complete show at McCabe's in Santa Monica just weeks before his death, that shows Hawkins in his element, reaching out to touch people directly with that voice. If much of his songwriting seemed to be derivative folk-soul, modeled after Cooke or Curtis Mayfield, the spirit makes it more. And his heart-driven a cappella take on John Fogerty's "Long as I Can See the Light," once heard, is hard to forget.

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