It's a good thing I'm not an actual writer, because the story of how my band met underground rock and roll icon and Coven lead singer Jinx Dawson sounds like poorly crafted fiction, the kind you'd have to alter because it's not even remotely believable.
My name's Jilly Weiss. I sing for the band We Are Hex. You've got to believe me; the tale I'm going to spin is true.
When our drummer and captain, Brandon Beaver, found out that Jinx lived in Indianapolis again, we knew we wanted to write a song for her. We found it in a witchy psych track that culminates in the refrain, "Goddamn the ghouls again / they fall like leaves when the summer ends," a perfect nod to she who is known as the High Priestess of the Left Hand Path. So we named the track "W.D.M.R.S." after the essential Coven album from 1969, Witchcraft Destroys Minds and Reaps Souls. Then we booked time at the Lodge studio here in Indianapolis to record with our buddies Alex Kercheval and Tyler Watkins.
We finished that track, along with a few others and were listening back when Tyler said he had to take off for another session. We asked him who he was recording and he said, "some sixties chick," offhandedly. I looked at Brandon, and we knew it was Jinx. We just fucking knew. I said, "It's not Jinx Dawson, is it?"
When Tyler said it was, I pushed him across the room. I thought maybe he heard us talking about "W.D.M.R.S." or Jinx or Coven or something earlier in the session and was messing with us. Nope. We watched the security camera as her big black Cadillac pulled up and she stepped out in all black leather, motorcycle hat, upside down cross.
We still had to finish what we were doing and she had an entire session to get through, but somewhere in there, Tyler brought her to meet us and listen to the track. She didn't seem to believe us at first that we'd written a song dedicated to her, but she dug it. By this point I think I had offered her something to drink like three times even though she said that she was just fine ... each time. Oof. I was nervous (typical), but decided to ask her if she wanted to add some vocals to our track. Beaver knew what I was going to say before I said it and was shaking his head "no" at me. We had a wordless argument with a lot of frowning, which I won. So I asked her.
I tell you, she listened to the song once, had me write down the one refrain, went into the booth and took two passes at it. Two! Nailed it.
Here's what you probably already know about Jinx Dawson: She introduced music crowds to the sign of the horns. Her band, Coven, held Satanic masses on stage. Charles Manson was photographed holding their record. Black Sabbath ripped them off.
And it's all true. But there is a lot more to the story of this musician, who should be a household name, and who instead leads a cult of record nerds like me. Jinx left Indianapolis in 1968, returned for several summers in the '80s to put on concerts, and returned for good in the early 2000s to take care of family. Right now, there's an energy building behind her. People are taking notice, digging into her history, listening to her classic cuts.
And the best part is, she's making music again.
Here's my conversation with Jinx Dawson, a living rock legend.
Jilly: What kind of music did you grow up with?
Jinx: I was not allowed to listen to much popular music of the 1950s. Only during the summers at our lake house was I allowed to listen, and I mimicked all the 45s. The rest of the year was classical, musicals and opera. I was training in classical piano and opera starting around age 8. I received a special opera scholarship at age 13 to the Jordan School of Music at Butler University. The professor would make me sing arias in front of the college students to show them how it was properly done. I also received a scholarship to Herron Art School at 14, where I saw my first fully naked person. We were at the anatomy class and I think they forgot I was very young among the college age students drawing a live nude model.
Jilly: Did your formal training influence your vocal style?
Jinx: Most assuredly it did, indeed. I learned how to sing properly from the diaphragm, not from the throat which most rock singers do. I never really fully caught on to properly reading the music though. I was caught at one opera lesson when I did not turn the page of the songbook at the correct time. The teacher then realized I had memorized the entire piece by ear, as all the pieces I had learned before.
Jilly: Was Coven's Witchcraft Destroys Minds and Reaps Souls originally supposed to come out on Chicago label Dunwich Records? Had you started conceptualizing and writing while still in Chicago?
Jinx: Coven was residing in Chicago by fall of 1968. Dunwich was a small Chicago record label owned by our producer and manager. Both the band and his office wanted a major deal and Mercury Records immediately signed us in late 1968. We were finished with the album by spring 1969,with its release late summer 1969. We had already been playing regularly on the Midwest circuit and had a full set of songs and gothic stage show since 1967.
Jilly: It blows me away to think that you were just 18 or 19 when you made such an influential record. How did you maintain your direction within the industry? Did you lose control of some things that in retrospect you wish you hadn't?
Jinx: The music business in the late '60s was in a toddler stage. Walking, but still trying to find itself. Trying to find artists that would make money for their labels, while trying to release musical art. Engineers just learning to use the studio equipment for recording heavier rock. Musicians trying to stay a course when managers, producers and record companies thought they knew what was best. A very difficult time. An experiment. Everyone "borrowing" from everyone else to catch the Magickal brass ring.
Jilly: There seems to be a lot of contradictory information about Coven's influence on Black Sabbath. It seems like they don't want to admit the influence, but you guys had a song called Black Sabbath come out before their band formed. And, of course, your bass player's name was Oz Osborne, which cannot be a coincidence. What's the deal? It seems like there are so many things that you innovated and do not get credit for. How did you keep from getting bitter about it?
Jinx: The music business was a bigger boys club back then than it is now. And Black Sabbath were indeed named Earth until Fontana/Vertigo Records signed them in 1970, just after we broke from our label Mercury. Vertigo/Fontana was a subsidiary of our label Mercury. And they also had a song called "Black Sabbath" on that '70s release, as we did on our 1969 release. Sabbath also did a cover of a song on our publishing company, Yuggoth Music, a song called "Evil Woman" by Crow who were managed by our Chicago management company, Arkham Artists. All in the same office.
I think they did not imagine the future would bring an "Internet." Before that, all publicity and stories on these bands came from the labels and the bands. Secrets were easily kept. Even Gene Simmons had originally claimed the sign of the horns rock hand sign, but later, he learned he was doing it wrong, and doing the deaf hand sign for love instead. Amusing that we knew Gene and were offered the same Casablanca Record deal before they were signed and then called KISS. And Coven drummer Steve Ross was in the band Rainbow for a few weeks, then they later hired Cozy Powell, who had a bigger drum set. We played with Black Sabbath in 1970 at the Whisky a Go Go in Los Angeles. Yet they do not seem to recall Coven in the press. I guess everyone desires to be first, an original.
Am I bitter? No. Imitation is the highest form of flattery.
Jilly: So you shared a stage with Pink Floyd, the Yardbirds, Deep Purple, The Stooges, the MC5. Who else?
Jinx: Over the years this is a list that has become fairly long and I am sure to miss many. Rod Stewart and the Faces, Henry Rollins and Black Flag, Zappa's Mothers of Invention, Ted Nugent and The Amboy Dukes, Bob Seger System, SRC, the Frost, Berlin, the Electric Prunes, Vanilla Fudge, Jefferson Airplane, The Who, Black Sabbath, Brownsville Station, Liza Minelli, Stiv Bators and The Dead Boys, The Runaways, The Motels, Alice Cooper, Circle Jerks, The Jam ... and also some of my own bandmates over the years were originally from Steppenwolf, Jethro Tull,The Hollywood Stars and Todd Rundgren's Utopia.
Jilly: You played with Alice Cooper at this time, right? I think a lot of people consider him a progenitor of shock rock, but I've seen Coven called "pioneers of shock rock." Your crazy stage show predates Cooper's, yes?
Jinx: We played several festivals and concerts where Alice Cooper also played in the late '60s. At that time they were known as a "tranny" or ''glam" band, meaning they dressed and made up feminine for their shows. Alice Cooper was the name of the band, not Vince Furnier's personal stage name (he later adopted it), and there was no occult nor dark theme about their shows at all. That came later when they were at the Zappa rehearsal studio in the 1970s in LA and we rehearsed there also. After we split from the Bizarre/Zappa management, we saw that Vince and his band started changing their garb to black and studs, more like our Coven gothic clothes and they started using props onstage, most noticeably a noose. Coven always had a noose hanging from our organ during our late '60s to early '70s shows. And their press photos and album covers became darker in a kind of Halloween way, as did some of their songs.
Jilly: You have mentioned that you don't define your religious affiliation, despite that fact that most people believe you're a Wiccan or a Satanist. Can you give a bit more insight into your spiritual path?
Jinx: I am Left Hand Path, which is not a religion but a practice. I have no religious affiliations, so I am neither a Wiccan nor a Satanist. I enjoy the study and practice of the arcane arts and historical Occult materials. Left Hand Path has more to do with science, math, astrology, herbology, personal powers, etc. than with spiritual endeavors.
Jilly: Did you mean to share the secret Left Hand Path sign (the sign of the horns) with the world onstage or was it just something you did, and people caught on? How do you feel about how it's been used?
Jinx: I did not think it would catch on as it did. Back in 1967, when I first did the Horned Hand Sign on stage, no one knew what it was nor had ever even seen it. Most were doing the peace hand sign back then. It is strange for me to see so many doing it now as it was originally a very guarded sign, one only known to members of the secret society of LHP. It has now become ubiquitous but its original, esoteric meaning has been diluted.
Jilly: I find myself getting annoyed at some of the things I've read that accuse Coven of harnessing the occult as a gimmick. Not only were you really living it, you had already formed and were practicing your beliefs in Chicago before the release of Witchcraft, right?
Jinx: I personally was always into the occult. As a child my great aunts were part of the Post Victorian Spiritual Age where popular interests were anything from Houdini magic tricks to ghosts to séances to mesmerism to pendulums and fortune telling to Hoodoo and casting spells. And powerful secret societies were very much in effect. They also had an extensive library of occult books in their large Italianate mansion which I eagerly read. There is a vast difference between having a fascination for a subject and the actual study and practice of that subject.
Jilly: What prompted Coven's move to California? This was at Frank Zappa's invite, right?
Jinx: Coven played a two night gig with Zappa and The Mothers in 1970, which was actually in Indianapolis at a theatre called Middle Earth. The Mothers were the headliner, so the first night, we opened for them. We played a very heavy set with serious dark music and occult-themed stage show and received a huge ovation. Zappa was in his comedy show and heckle-the-audience phase. They went on and the audience did not like the Mothers set at all. So the next night, a fuming Zappa wanted to go on first so they could get out of town earlier. His bandmates, especially Aynsley Dunbar and Jeff Simmons were impressed with our show and said they wished they were doing serious music. Zappa invited us to L.A. to sign with his Bizarre label. Zappa would go on to later mention this episode with us in two of his songs. One, in the infamous "200 Motels" film and soundtrack and the other in "Billy the Mountain."
Jilly: There's a description of your voice that I heard in a 2008 radio interview with WNYU. The interviewer said that your vocal chords could run circles around Stevie Nicks. Why do you think you didn't have the same level of mainstream success? She also seems to have "borrowed" your look from this period. Annoying? Or were you used to people stealing from you at this point?
Jinx: I was pretty used to it by that time. Even though Stephanie is older than me, she arrived in LA at the same time we did in 1970, and stayed at the same rock hotel that we did, the infamous Tropicana. That is where we met. She and Lindsay Buckingham were there shopping for a duo record deal. This was before they met anyone in Fleetwood Mac. She asked me once, "How do you get to play at the Whisky?" where we were playing at the time. She would go to our gigs and study carefully. I did not think much of it at the time, but it all seems so ludicrous now.
Jilly: Speaking of things interviewers dwell on, I don't think I've read a single article that didn't mention your appearance. Does this bug you?
Jinx: It does get to be burdensome sometimes, but I suppose it is because I never changed my natural long blonde hairstyle much, nor my dark makeup, nor my clothing style, which is 99 percent all black. There must be a sort of weird fascination there. I think Hollywood puts too much emphasis on youth and looks. Give me a great singer any day.
Jilly: I think people are surprised that you didn't do something that would have been easier to profit from. You could easily have been a model or fronted a more radio-friendly band, but you stuck to your guns. How did you come to this decision?
Jinx: I came from a long line of money. And I had a wonderfully colorful and creative childhood with many advantages. My great aunts lived in the family's old mansion with a full working farm and Obeah [Jamaican-born Hoodoo practitioners] helpers from New Orleans. I had a nanny who taught me about Hoodoo customs and how to speak French. My father bought the original Indiana Governors mansion because my grandfather had been a Lt. Governor of Indiana. We also had a lake house just south of Chicago, a hotel in Florida and a small town called Shore Acres on the north side of Broad Ripple where we had our own police car and fire engine. Dawson Lake was in that town. It is now a 69-home gated community but was once my private summer home away from my winter home in Los Angeles. I would come back from LA and manage summer events and concerts there too. We had boats and planes. So, profit was never a motivation in what I started creating as a teenager in the 1960s. I simply did what I knew and liked. And I never cared to do just one kind of music. I liked opera and I liked rock. I liked to sing harmonies and I liked to scream. But eventually found that underground rock was the most amusing.
"One Tin Soldier"
Jilly: A lot of people know your name from your 1971 recording of "One Tin Soldier" for the movie Billy Jack. How did you get this gig? Did this huge hit change things?
Jinx: This film soundtrack session came about because we wanted to leave the Zappa stable. Linda Ronstadt was also in that stable, because Zappa's manager Herbie Cohen also managed her. She was asked by Billy Jack producers to sing a title song for their movie. She was unavailable, and they asked if I wanted to do it. So I did it because I had never done a session with full orchestra before and wanted that experience.
Jilly: Even though the rest of the band wasn't involved with this song, I read that you asked to be credited on the soundtrack as Coven, as opposed to just Jinx. Why was this important to you?
Jinx: I never thought the record would be anymore than a title song, so I was not worried about it confusing what the band Coven was about. But I have to admit, when I was singing along with the full orchestra and the time coded film was running on the back wall and the horses were getting shoved over the cliff, I choked and thought, "This song is a pop radio hit." I never desired a solo career so I demanded the band name be printed on the records and in the film credits.
Jilly: Blood on the Snow [Coven's third album, released in 1974] seems like a really ambitious album. You cover a lot of ground here. Can you tell me about the songwriting process?
Jinx: By 1974, we had been in our Hollywood hillside aerie, which we called Coven House for almost four years. The entire band lived, worked and played there. It was a very busy house and was visited by many famous musicians and actors over the years. We had regular rehearsals in the day and jam sessions at night. It was not unusual for the likes of Alvin Lee or Emerson, Lake and Palmer to stop by to hang out and jam. We had been writing for the Blood on the Snow album for about six months. It was a fertile and maturing time for our music.
Jilly: What had changed with you and with the band since the last release two years earlier? What was it like working with [Who producer] Shel Talmy?
Jinx: We were finally allowed a certain amount of freedom with this album. We had a new record company. But they still wanted some radio-friendly hits. I had written some softer sounding songs which still had Magickal lyrics and we signed Shel to produce. In the end, we did not like Shel's mixing. He had been slowly going blind for some time (thus, the "Tommy/Talmy can you see me" Who album) and our album was just not coming out as we felt it should, as his sight was all but gone at this point. The band did a new mix with the engineer and luckily what I thought was originally recorded was actually there in the end.
Jilly: Definitely seems like there are some radio cuts on this one. How was it received?
Jinx: There was indeed immediate airplay and we set out for a long tour. Our tour manager got in a serious motorcycle accident while on the road and we could not find a replacement to run the Blood on the Snow rear projected video film and special light show. Those kind of people could not be so quickly replaced back in 1974.
Jilly: So this was the last Coven album for a long while. What happened? Articles have attributed the break up mainly to mismanagement. Is this accurate, or was there tension within the band?
Jinx: There were some diverse personalities among the members, but I do not ever remember one argument or fight. A few disagreements here and there, but that is needed in a functional creative unit. For the most part we acted as one, especially onstage and in the studio. We knew exactly what to expect out of each other musically. The friendly parting was because of constant bad management. They either did not stand up for us or they actually competed against us. So, a long break was needed.
Jilly: I never knew you went on to do a punk/new wave band in the '80s! Tell me about The Equalizers.
Jinx: Coven drummer Steve Ross and I wanted to continue playing live during a downtime, so we started a punk/wave band called The Equalizers. We played four to five times a week throughout Southern California at the many punk venues that were hot there in the early 1980s. Michael Monarch, formerly of Steppenwolf (his guitar lead on "Born to Be Wild" is iconic) and Glenn Cornick, formally of Jethro Tull (famous for his bass lines) were in the band, among others. We also played in NYC when we moved there, but the band only lasted a few years. We recorded some tracks, but never released an album.
Jilly: You have really been embraced by the current metal community. This makes sense in a lot of ways, not just because of the imagery and subject matter, but also because metal has always incorporated operatic voices, much more so than some other rock and roll genres. Was this surprising to you, or does it seem like a natural progression? Do you listen to metal?
Jinx: I do not listen to much music at all, as I feel it might creep into my writing. I retain a song at first listen, even usually knowing where it is melodically going next. My ear works naturally that way. I catch a few new parts of songs here and there on my Facebook newsfeed. And as far as genres go, I do not really like them nor adhere to them. Too many have emerged in recent years. I think it a boring practice to limit oneself to a certain style. I do not like to be put in a box. But I can see some correlations to what is categorized as heavy metal.
Jilly: You are not afraid of mixing genres. Do you think it's hard for the audience to follow, or for reviewers, who often like things packaged and labeled?
Jinx: I see no problem in screaming and growling in one section, then going into a quiet mysterious harmony for another section of a song. I think this style is much more intriguing and naturally eerie. I also like totally different kinds of songs. I personally would get bored listening to the same type of song on one album.
Jilly: So the new album, JINX, is a mix of Coven songs previously recorded, and other musician's contributions, correct? What made you decide that now was the time for this record?
Jinx: It was 2013 and 13 is an important number for me. I have always applied numerology as a method. I was born on the 13th under the sign of the goat. My birth doctor's last name was Jinks. So it was logical to me to release a new album. It was not finished until the very end of 2013 — I barely made it. There was a lot of work done, yet it all fell together easily. Some of the songs indeed were recorded many years ago at Elecktra Records studios in Los Angeles. We were recording there while The Doors were in the next studio. We became very friendly with Jim and his crew. On breaks, we would all go to Barney's Beanery across the street and play pool. Other tracks were unfinished and new parts were added and the songs finished. There are also totally new tracks. Again, you see I like to mix things up, and I do not like to pick over songs too much.
Jilly: How did you meet Wolfpack 44 [who contributed tracks to the album]? Have you performed the songs you wrote with them live or do you have plans to?
Jinx: Guitar wizard Ricktor Ravensbrück, formally of the Electric Hellfire Club, contacted me about his new project Wolfpack 44. They were doing a remake of Coven's "Wicked Woman" and wanted to know if I would like to sing on it. They also had another song, "To the Devil a Daughter" that was unfinished with no words nor melody, so I finished writing that song. I travelled to Chicago's Glitch Mode Studios and met their fascinating engineer and producer. He owned his separate studio and was quite versatile at recording, writing and playing, an all around talent. His name was Nikk Skum when I first started working with him, but he is now called Nikk Dibs, as he recently joined the band Dope. I had a very good time with all the fabulous Wolfpack boys. I would work with them again in a second. There has been talk regarding future live performances.
Jilly: Today you have a cult-like following that feels like its steadily building. I get the sense that something is happening, that the word is getting out. Do you agree?
Jinx: The Internet has allowed people to experience more than what the major record companies control, so there is a new world out there for artists like myself that did not necessarily want to follow all the corporate rules. And because Coven was a band that did so many things first that are now popular in pop culture, like the sign of the horns, occult themes and the like, I think people are interested in where all these things started.
Jilly: I know you were asked to headline some festivals in Europe. What about a U.S. tour? Is something in the works?
Jinx: I cancelled the spring Euro Festival tour because I am still trying to put the live band together and get more staging built. And I'm looking for a sponsor. I see no need to go out unless the stage show is as least as big as we presented when I first started. I would actually like to do a U.S. tour first, but we are currently getting more offers from overseas. I hope we can start playing out by this fall.
Jilly: Throughout your career, you've had a hard time getting your music out to people because either a record label was refusing to release an album or a festival wouldn't let you speak. Do you think that maybe this is the time for you? The independent labels are doing better than the majors in a lot of ways. Are you looking for a label home that will be a partner in your creativity?
Jinx: We have our own label at the moment, Nevoc Musick Company, and are not real thrilled on the idea of signing again with a major label as we have already been with the biggest in the world. But, if an interesting offer came across, be it indie or major, I certainly would take a look at it. So far we have had many offers that did not charm us. And as for being the time for us, I think we were always just one step ahead, which sometimes gets one lost in the shuffle. The ones who first forge a path are sometimes pushed aside by so many others following down that same path. The cards may be dealt more in my favor this year.
Jilly: So, I'd be remiss not to point out that the track "W.D.M.R.S." on your record is also on our split 7-inch of the same name. Can we talk about the recording process the night you joined us at the Lodge? It just seems crazy that we were recording a song dedicated to you and you showed up! Magick?
Jinx: Of course it was Magick. I needed one more song for the newest Coven album JINX and I vibed that something was waiting for me at The Lodge studios. Of course, we must let the readers know that W.D.M.R.S. is an acronym for the first Coven album which is called Witchcraft Destroys Minds and Reaps Souls. Your band, We Are Hex, had most of the song finished. It was late, a hot and sweaty summer night. I had just finished hours of mixing in another studio and was dragging equipment out to the car. Someone said I must go upstairs to hear a song, so I did. You told me the name of the song, so I was game from that point on. You and I went into the booth and went at the choruses and breaks with screams and doubles, and I added a speaking part off the top of my head at the beginning of the song. And, voilà.
Jilly: Indianapolis seems really excited to have you back. People went nuts when you came out with us at a show at the White Rabbit. How was it being back on stage here?
Jinx: It is really a full circle story. The White Rabbit used to be called the Le Scene Club in the late '60s, one of the first places Coven ever played. We did gigs several times in that same building back in the day with the Yardbirds, the Electric Prunes and Vanilla Fudge. So I thank thee most kindly, My Dearest Jilly, and thy band We Are Hex for closing that particular circle. So mote it be.