Originally presented at Confessions of a Pop Culture Addict in 2015.
In a time when heavy metal did not yet exist and Goth culture wasn’t yet a thing, it is fair to say that Jinx Dawson, the mysterious and beautiful lead singer of the rock band Coven, was way ahead of her time. Along with bass player Oz Osbourne, drummer Steve Ross, keyboardist Rick Durrett, and guitarist Chris Nielson, Coven chilled audiences to the bone when they appeared on the Chicago music scene in 1966 with their own dark brand of progressive rock. While most bands of the era were singing songs about peace and love, Coven had different subjects to sing about – the Occult, black magic, demonology and Satan. Although these would become popular musical subjects only a few years later, Coven were the pioneers of Satanic rock. Touring with acts such as The Vanilla Fudge and The Yardbirds, Coven thrilled concert goers, while terrifying parents, the clergy and authorities, with an elaborate stage show featuring coffins, inverted crosses and a black mass. When Coven released their debut album, Witchcraft Destroys Minds and Reaps Souls, in 1969 the album quickly became a cult favorite, although the material on the LP was unsuitable for radio play. However, when the band was mentioned in a 1970 Esquire Magazine article about The Manson Family, Mercury Records, frightened of a backlash, took the album out of circulation and dropped Coven from their line-up.
Now based in California, the group was struggling to survive when Jinx was given a unique opportunity to sing the title song to a little grass roots counter culture film called Billy Jack. The song was One Tin Solider, and would climb the Billboard charts in 1971 while the unlikely little film became a cult hit. Ironically, One Tin Soldier would become an anthem for peace and love – a far cry from Coven’s original dark image. The band would regroup and record a toned down radio friendly self-titled album in 1972 in conjunction with One Tin Solider, but it got little attention. In 1974 Coven gave it another shot and recorded Blood on the Snow with producer Shel Talmy, most famous for producing The Who’s Tommy. Blood on the Snow was a stronger release that melded the softer styles of their previous album while going back to their Occult roots. However, by that time heavy metal music had finally become a driving force in the music industry and a little group from Britain called Black Sabbath had stolen the spotlight that Coven originated with some disturbing similarities too blatant to be coincidences. Coven would disband not long afterwards, seemingly becoming a footnote in music history.
However, in the 1990’s a new fascination with Coven would emerge out of the growing Goth culture as their music started to be rediscovered and deemed influential to the new crop of Goth and death metal bands emerging throughout the world. In 2003 Jinx Dawson returned with a brand new solo album, Goth Queen: Out of the Vault, which brought her back onto the musical radar to regain her throne as the original Gothic Empress. Having barely aged a day since she released Witchcraft Destroys Minds and Reaps Souls, Jinx Dawson has become the godmother of satanic rock music.
A mysterious and elusive woman, Jinx has only recently become assessable to fans via social media which has been a huge factor in continuing to grow her followers. In recent years Jinx has designed and sold jewelry and clothing through her e-bay store and in 2013 released a second solo album called Jinx. Throughout the years interviews with Jinx have been rare and in-between. So when I reached out to Jinx via her Facebook account for an interview I was thrilled when she agreed to answer my questions if I submitted them through e-mail. Not the way I normally like to conduct interviews, I realized that this audience with the Goth Queen was a rare and special one and I would be foolish to not agree to her terms. The results were beyond my wildest expectations. What I received in return for my questions was a series of honest and compelling answers outlining Jinx Dawson’s incredible journey through music, the occult and the ages.
Sam Tweedle: I don’t seem to know much about your background except that you came from an affluent family from Indiana, and that you started singing classical/opera at an early age. Can you tell me a bit about your early musical upbringing, and what sort of early musical/art influences you had?
Jinx Dawsom: 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 began to be interested in rock music around this time. I performed in a local band until about 15 when I decided to do an original band. My influences were mostly classical it seems.
Sam: It has been said many times that Coven was not a gimmick band and you, and the other members, were interested in Satanism and dark magic. Where does your interest and involvement in this begins?
Jinx: I was born into the Occult. I came from a background as a child where my great grandfather and great aunts were part of the Post Victorian Spiritual Age where popular interests were anything from Houdini to ghosts to seances to mesmerism to pendulums and fortune telling to Hoodoo and casting spells…and powerful secret societies were very much in effect of which they were head members. They had an extensive library of Occult books in their large Italianate mansion which I eagerly read. They held many rituals in that house. There were Hoodoo Obeahs working in the big house who also taught me their special brand of Magick. I am from a very long lineage of Occult Adepts and Practitioners of the Ancient Arts. Some of them were members of the U.A.O.D. (United Ancient Order of Druids). Others were members of the Rosicrucian group Ordo Aureæ et Rosæ Crucis (Order of the Golden and Rosy Cross).I am of the Mayflower Society, a direct descendant of John Howland, 13th signator to the Mayflower Compact. Members of my family were also active in Freemasonry. My father was a 33rd degree Scottish Rite Mason, and my grandfather, a former Lt. Governor of Indiana, was High Priest of the Royal Arch Masons. My great grandfather was in the private circle of U. S. President Teddy Roosevelt. And we are listed in the book ‘The First Families of America’. So I am steeped in American Illuminati
Sam: How did Coven get together? How did you meet and begin to play with Oz Osborne and Steve Ross? Can you tell me a bit about the other guys in the band?Jinx: I became interested in rock music around age 13. I performed in a successful local band that toured all over the Midwest until about 15 when I decided to do an original band. Coven for a band name immediately came to mind as I had been brought up in this environment of Occult and saw no others doing that kind of musick. Oz Osborne and Steve Ross had been playing in the local band with me when we decided to join up together for this new venture. So 1965 to 1966 was the formation period of Coven and we began to play concert shows with original Occult and horror based material and theatrical staging, which included coffins, a life size cross which was inverted at shows end, robes, candles, skulls and such. Latin spells were spoken between songs. Rick Durrett joined while we were living in Chicago finishing the first album, as did Chris Neilsen.
Sam: Coven came out of Chicago. What brought you there originally?
Jinx: My family had a vacation lake house just south of Chicago so I was used to going into the city often and we got booked to play there quite a lot.
Sam: What did your family make of Coven?
Jinx: Some family members did not approve as Occult materials and esoteric information were sacred and to remain secrets, and one was not to reveal themselves except to another member. I did lose standing among the olde ones and was cast out of the circle at that time.
Sam: Coven was so far ahead of its time, and the subject matter was extremely dark and diabolical compared to pretty much everything coming out of the era. Who were your audience? Did you find any cross section appeal or did you appeal to a cult audience only?
Jinx: The audiences back in the late 60′s seemed to be lost ‘hippies’, college students and young people awaiting a new renaissance. Searching, as the hippie life style seemed to be fading from their favor. Assassinations, Viet Nam and political clashing marches were raging.
Sam: A number of years ago I spoke to the late Bill Traut who produced Witchcraft Destroys Minds and Reaps Souls during research I was doing on another group and I brought up Coven to him. He spoke very proudly of the album and fondly of the group. I know he wrote the Satanic Mass on Witchcraft Destroys Minds and Reaps Souls. Traut also told me that he was interested in the occult and had a lot to do with writing the songs on the album. How much involvement did he have?
Jinx: We had a shorter Black Mass which we performed on stage before we even met Bill. We let him write a longer one as we were busy recording and he wanted so badly to do it. He was interested in Occult subject matter and was very surprised when he first saw us perform in Chicago. He eagerly sought us out for representation. He was the business producer of the album, but did not have a hand in writing the actual songs.
Sam: I’ve heard of a colorful stage show that included a Christ figure that climbed down from the cross and inverted it. Again, very wild for the time. Can you describe more details about the stage show and the audience reaction?
Jinx: The first evening that we ever performed the ‘Coven Gothic Cross Opera’ on stage, we walked off at the end and one could hear a pin drop. We thought they hated it. There was no applause or sound for what seemed like forever. We looked from behind the curtains and people were just sitting there still as if in a trance. Then this huge roar came over the concert hall. And chanting for an encore, which of course we never did encores. And this happened at every show, so we got used to the reaction. We had a life size wooden cross that our Jesus look alike roadie hung from dressed in a white loin cloth. He remained perfectly still until the end when he climbed off and inverted the cross. The rest of the opera began with me being carried out in a coffin, chants in between songs and a short Black Mass ceremony. It was actually quite a production considering that kind of presentation was not so common with rock bands in those days.
Sam: What kind of opposition did you face from parents, religious organizations and community/law officials?
Jinx: We were eventually censored, banned and our tours were cancelled everywhere.
Sam: Did you have any affiliation with Anton LeVey?
Jinx: None. I had never even heard of him at the time of our first album release.
Sam: Let’s face it. One Tin Soldier was a huge removal from Witchcraft Destroys Minds and Reaps Souls and the basic peace/love message of Billy Jack. How did you get involved with Tom Laughlin? What are your memories of him? What was he like?
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 the Billy Jack producers to sing a title song for their movie. She was unavailable so 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. Like most singers or musicians living in Los Angeles would do if asked, I took the session to sing a title song for Warner Brothers Pictures. I did not think it would have any impact on my Coven offerings at the time as it was a movie title song, a departure from a Coven album. I never thought the record would be anymore that a title song so was not worried about it confusing what the band Coven was about. And I never understood it to be a peace/love song. If one listens to the words “go ahead and hate your neighbor, go ahead and cheat a friend, do it in the name of heaven, you can justify it in the end”. I heard it as hypocrisy toward the church, which of course is exactly how I was brought up. So I never thought it was that far from my philosophy, but I knew it was more commercial in sound and not underground rock that we were doing. But again, it was for a film, not a Coven project. I did not think the film would do anything anyway. I found it very dated in its content being released in 1971. The hippie thing was over by the time we recorded our first album in 1969. It was a clumsy film with poor acting. Though it had a handful of memorable moments, I did not care for it much. And I did not care much for Laughlin either. He had a Napoleon complex and was a money hungry bully who never paid us any royalties. There are many stories from people that worked with him regarding his poor treatment of his associates.
Sam: Your second LP, Coven, is said to be co-produced by “Frank Laughlin.” Frank was the son of Tom Laughlin and Delores Taylor. Were the Laughlin’s involved in the second LP?
Jinx: The only way they were involved is that we had signed a production contract due to the movie title song with their company by mistake. His son was about fifteen at the time and I assume he used his son’s name to control the content and the profits of a co producer. The teen never even went to a session. It was a very bad situation.
Sam: There was a real change of mood in your second LP. Honestly, it doesn’t feel or sound like the music that you were releasing previously. Why was that and was it a natural or an unnatural change?
Jinx: Due to the situation just mentioned, we were forced into recording more MOR type material because we could not get out of our contract.
Sam: I’ve read of talk of Coven facing mismanagement during this time. Can you expand?
Jinx: It was a very trying time for the band.
Sam: There is an obvious connection between Coven and Black Sabbath which has been commented on in nearly every article ever written on Coven. How did you feel when Black Sabbath made the scene and became iconic? Did you feel that they were ripping off Coven, or did you approve?
Jinx: Imitation is the highest form of flattery. But it is disappointing that they go out of their way to not admit to the imitation. And my deeper answer to that would be more that the record company offered much of our content to them and they accepted in order to turn their local band Earth into a recording band called Black Sabbath. 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 ’70′s 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 labels and the bands. Secrets were easily kept. I was told several years ago by a former Mercury executive that after we left the label, they looked for a band to replace us. He also said they wanted to tone down the heavy Occult references and thought an all male band would be more acceptable to the public.
Sam: How about other early shock rock acts like Black Widow or Arthur Brown? Have you ever had any affiliation of either? Did they inspire what Coven was doing, or did they find inspiration from you?
Jinx: Black Widow came after us and in recent years I was in constant contact with Clive Jones of that band who recently passed. [We had] no connection with Arthur Brown.
Sam: Blood on the Snow, once again, had a different feel but it seems like it was back to basics. It is one of the true gems of the 70’s. How did working with Shel Talmy influence that project?
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 Occult themed lyrics and we signed on Shel Talmy of The Who’s Tommy fame 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” [on the] 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.
Sam: Are you still involved with the Occult? How has the scene changed since you first made the scene in the 1960’s?
Jinx: Of course I am still involved. It is not a religion, it is a practice. A Magickal life practice. And many things have changed since the 60′s. But I seem to be able to fit in no matter the decade. I still wear all black, my hair style is the same, as is my makeup. My desires are the same. My music is pretty much the same. It only seems that people come and go around me, and that changes.
Sam: What can you tell us about your comeback album Jinx, which was released last year? Where can we get it?
Jinx: It was 2013 and 13 is an important number for me. I have always applied numerology as a method. I was born on a 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 alot 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. Guitar wizard Ricktor Ravenbruck, 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 traveled to Chicago’s Glitch Mode Studios and met their fascinating engineer/producer. He owned his separate studio and was quite versatile at recording, writing and playing. An all around talent. His name is Nikk Dibbs and has 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.The new album is available at Amazon, itunes and at the Coven eBay shoppe where one can get signed copies.
Sam: You have made jewelry which has been worn by people as diverse and Jimmy Page and Barbara Streisand. Can you tell us a little bit about your jewelry and where people can purchase it?
Jinx: I have made jewelry and clothing since age 15. It started with not being able to find appropriate stage clothes in stores. Over the years my designs were in high end boutiques. From time to time I offer my designs at our eBay shoppe.
Sam: How have you kept the secret of your youth? Was it a pact with the devil, Oil of Olay or is it something more devious?
Jinx: Probably my hedonistic desires running hot. And awake at night, sleep in the day so not much sun hits me anymore. Mind over matter…and a bit of Magick.
Sam: Do you still make public appearances? Who are your fans now?
Jinx: I pop up here and there. And planning to tour soon. I do not have fans, only Cherished Friends.
Sam: Are you surprised by the lasting appeal of Witchcraft Destroys Minds and Reaps Souls?
Jinx: Not at all. It was meant to be a scholarly and definitive musical work on witchcraft, in particular the Left Hand Path. Not only in its musical content but also in its many graphics and photographs on the double gate fold cover. That people have searched it out for information and inspiration over these many years is what it was intended for. So mote it be…\m/
Coven’s history has always been made up of a combination of fact and mythology. You, dear reader, may be skeptical of some of Jinx Dawson’s claims, but through my years of interviewing rock musicians I have spoken to many people who knew, performed and partied with Coven during the time of Witchcraft Destroys Minds and Reaps Souls. I’ve always asked them if Coven was just a gimmick or if they were really into the Occult and I get the same answer time and time again – Coven was the real deal. I want to thank Jinx for letting me bring her words to the public again, and know that I am thankful to be one of her “Cherished Friends.” May Coven’s legend and influence over the history of rock music continue to grow and never die. \m/