Wednesday, June 22, 2011

The 10th Commandment of '67

Mid-week Gospel

In October 1967, Chess / Checker placed an ad in Billboard (Oct. 7, page 37), presenting ten newly released »religious albums« as the »Ten Commandments«. Prominently in this ad features a LP by Stevie Hawkins entitled »Two Wings«:

For the record (excuse the pun), it's Checker LP # 10024. Stevie Hawkins was barely 15 when this album was released and, believe it or not, it was not his first one for the label. His debut record was in the stores two years before in 1965 and recorded when he was just eleven years old.

Being marketed as a child prodigy of gospel, his first LP was fittingly called »The Spiritual Soul of a Child«. The cover of the album (see the ad from Aug. 14, 1965) shows Little Stevie (the Prodigy, not the Wonder) in tender age, and it's the only photo of his which I could find.
     I don't know his first LP, don't possess it and never listened to it. However, gracious fate put his second Checker LP in my hands, and that's good enough. Not only for the music, by the way, but also for the information about Stevie we find on the back cover. Thing is, I don't know much about Stevie either. It seems that he recorded the two LPs for Checker but then disappeared from the gospel scene (at least as a recording artist). Literature on Gospel music does not mention him as far as I can see (I might have overlooked something). The net isn't of much help either. He certainly has no connection to the California-based Hawkins family (of »Oh Happy Day«-fame). There are several other U.S. musicians by the name »Stevie Hawkins« around today but they can't possibly be identical with our Stevie. So I am mainly left with what is said about him on the back cover of his LP. Given the scant information in other sources I thought it worthwhile to reproduce here the biographical notes (by Morry Roth) from the back cover:
At fifteen years of age, Stevie Hawkins has been singing before audiences for nine years and has been singing professionally for five years. ... Stevie was born on St. Valentine's Day in 1953, the son and grandson of ministers. His father is the Reverend L.E. Hawkins, pastor of the Church of God in Christ, Cleveland, in which to this day Stevie sings in the Youth Choir. His late grandfather, after whom he was named, was the Reverend R. Robinson of Waco, Texas, where Stevie was born. Trained largely by his mother, Stevie made his professional debut at the famous WHK Auditorium in Cleveland in 1962. Since that time, he has appeared on programs with Mahalia Jackson, Robert Anderson, Raymond Rasberry, Roberta Martin, Dorothy Norwood, Edna Cook, Emilie Braum (note: correct »Braun«), The Davis Sisters, The R.F. Williams Singers and the Blind Boys of Ohio.
That's as far as it goes. If somebody knows more please let me know.
* * *
Let's turn to his LP now. It contains 12 songs, and some two or three of them are pretty much in the R&B-gospel mould. The very first song on the album, »Same Old Bag«, might the best of these as was noted by others as well (see here). Stevie's voice comes across here beautifully and doesn't sound much like that of a 15-year old (although it doesn't sound really mature either):

Stevie Hawkins: »Same Old Bag« from the Checker LP # 10024 (stereo) (1967):

This is a nice one. The problem is that several other songs, actually the major part, of this LP aren't in this style at all. Rather, Stevie performs a number of classical church hymns, with accompanying organ and all. Not that I wouldn't like that, on the contrary. If the singer is up to it, that is. But Stevie, I am sorry to say, isn't quite. The songs are too demanding for his young voice (I wouldn't dare saying for his talent for that I cannot judge) and singing in the upper register doesn't go well with it. He sounds very youthful, even »boyish«, while singing those hymns and this might appeal to some. And you sure hear his commitment, or as the notes on the back cover put it: »He has also added a new maturity in his phrasing and a deeper and more profound understanding and interpretation of the spiritual songs he sings. ... there is about these songs an impressive feeling of command and grown-up insight into the spiritual content of the songs he sings.«

To judge for yourself, you can hear two further songs from Stevie's LP. The first, »Just To Hear Some Sinner Pray«, is another R&B-styled gospel-ditty with Stevie singing again in the lower to middle register. The second song, on the contrary, is one of those hymns I spoke about above. It's entitled »It's In My Heart«, and listening to it after »Just To Hear Some Sinner Pray« will make the contrast all the more obvious. Maybe it's not fair to confront the songs in this manner but that's what the LP does, not I. To my taste, Stevie wasn't yet fully prepared to tackle the tricky artistry of the soaring »It's In My Heart« and hadn't developed the necessary vocal strength. (Imagine the song performed by Della Reese!) But then, Stevie recorded this song in January '66 when he was only 14. Quite an achievement, after all.

Stevie Hawkins: »Just To Hear Some Sinner Pray« / »It's In My Heart« from the Checker LP # 10024 (1967):

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