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Street Strains

[whitespace] Ted Hawkins
Bringing It on Home: Evidence Music pays tribute
to the late Ted Hawkins on the new album
'Love You Most of All.'

Venice Beach troubadour Ted Hawkins leaves a musical legacy on 'Love You Most of All'

By Nicky Baxter

IT'S UNLIKELY that many Venice Beach denizens who stopped to listen to the sorrowful but proud figure singing and strumming for his supper thought the late Ted Hawkins would wind up being a significant recording artist. Hawkins, who died three years ago at age 58, would, perhaps, be surprised that his music touched so many lives. He led a hard life and sang about it in such frank, honest terms that it could send chills down listeners' spines. His first big break came when he hooked up with DGC Records for The Next Hundred Years (1994), an emotionally charged collection of bluesy folk and soul songs. Simply wrought, honestly executed, the album didn't attempt to dazzle with glitzy production; this is the sound of a man with songs to sing--"stories to tell," as he intoned on one track. The album garnered kudos from critics and sold well. Shortly thereafter, Hawkins died of a stroke. Fortunately, he left us with a small treasure trove of recordings.

The new release Love You Most of All: More Songs From Venice Beach (Evidence) may be Hawkins' most enduring work. A companion set to Songs From Venice Beach (also Evidence), Love You Most of All is just Hawkins and his acoustic guitar. Of the 18 compositions, all but four are cover tunes. Hawkins greatly admired Sam Cooke, and three of Cooke's most memorable recordings are rendered here. The album opens with Cooke's "Bring It on Home to Me," on which Hawkins' honey-and-sand vocal is fraught with emotion. When Hawkins sings the refrain, strains of Cooke's soulful yodeling are clearly discernible, but one can also detect the influence of Cooke's former protégé, Bobby Womack. Hawkins transforms Cooke's "Chain Gang" into a tender, mournful lullaby. His flexible voice arches up to caress high tenor notes, then dips to a growl, in effect accomplishing the work of two vocalists.

Hawkins' plaintive cry resonates all the more when one considers that he served time in various prisons. The title track bears a folksy bounce, with the singer embellishing the simple verses with "doo-doo-dees" and joyful whoops. Even so, a thread of melancholy weaves its way through his vocal, as if the love he sings about is, finally, a transient thing. In addition to a stirring, though fairly straightforward reading of Bob Dylan's "Blowin' in the Wind," the disc also includes an R&B-tinged revision of Paul Simon's "59th Street Bridge Song" and a countrified "Dock of the Bay."

Finally, what is most striking about this collection is how Hawkins remains faithful to the original intent of the songs he covers without relinquishing his own profoundly personal perspective. Listening to Hawkins sing and strum is a transformative experience; in his voice one hears pleasure, sorrow, love and longing. Possessed of an indefatigable spirit and a will to love--and be loved in return--the former street musician made the most of the chance to leave his mark.

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From the November 12-18, 1998 issue of Metro.

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