Billy Hawks’ ‘O’ Baby (I Believe I’m Losing You)’ is one of the best records I have ever heard. Introduced to the UK’s jazz scene by Baz Fe Jazz and Gilles Peterson, and brought to wider attention via reissues on BGP, it has become a staple of the more discerning clubs, a clarion call to the dancefloor. It’s nearly 30 years since I first heard the record, and I have never tired of it, yet until recently I knew very little about Billy Hawks – a little surprising, considering he recorded two entire albums for Prestige. There was a time in the latter part of the 80s when the great records Prestige released in the late 60s were rediscovered and almost all the musicians reappeared. Billy was a notable exception.
It’s about 16 years since we last reissued Billy’s albums. The internet was a lot less effective a tool for tracing people in those days. So this time I thought I would go all out to find Billy, or at least discover what happened to him, but many of the leads hit a dead end. His albums, “The New Genius Of The Blues” and “Heavy Soul”, were produced by Cal Lampley, who is now dead, and Bob Porter, Cal’s successor at Prestige, never encountered Billy. Then someone on Facebook pointed me in the direction of the website for Leroy Hawkes & the Hipnotics. It turned out Leroy is Billy’s brother.
A singer in his own right who recorded two rare 45s for Philly labels, Leroy explained Billy had died in the early 80s, just too early to enjoy his rediscovery. Leroy also provided us with photos of his brother and his band and gave us an interview about his and Billy’s lives. Thanks to Leroy’s co-operation, this is the most fully realised reissue of Billy Hawks’ work.
But the core of the release is the music. The organ-led trio with voice was very popular in 1966 and 1967 – Jimmy Smith added vocals to ‘Got My Mo-Jo Working’ and hit the charts – and Billy proved to be one of its finest practitioners. Self-written songs mingled with covers of old R&B hits, and all of those are topped by ‘O’ Baby (I Believe I’m Losing You)’, which would be worth the price of purchase on its own.
By Dean Rudland