Devil horns, Satanic rituals, and a 45-year-old debut album that became a benchmark for what has since become known as occult rock – in darkened circles COVEN – and their album ‘Witchcraft Destroys Minds And Reaps Soul’s – legacy is of paramount importance. At the tail-end of 2013, a new album, entitled ‘JINX’ was released marking a new era for the pioneering troupe. JINX DAWSON – High Priestess and the original wicked woman– spoke to Iron Fist about its creation and the legacy that she and her band has created. Now as the band prepare to perform a brand new ritual at ROABURN FESTIVAL we present that interview once more in its entirety
Tell us about the creative process of the new album… Was it a continuous process or has it been carried out over a longer period with breaks?
“In some ways, this album has been over 40 years in the making. But summer of 2013 was when I decided it was time for a new Coven album. One must always close the circle, so I starting mixing together a wicked brew of olde and new. There were a few songs back in the day that were never finished or considered too bizarre and extreme by the record companies at that time to release. ‘Danger JuJu Goat’ even features our good friend, the long-passed Tommy Bolin, on slide and lead guitar. It was a tape never finished, so we just went in and finished that recording. The added lyrics came to me like a bat out of Hell, as did all the other lyrics.”
How difficult was the making of this album?
“I had to conjure up some tricky Magick. But the flow was swift and spontaneous once I cast my musick spell. It was recorded in three different cities, using both analogue and digital. Since I have had a lifetime of experience in these matters, it was very easy to finish. I like to work swiftly. I do not care to pick everything apart and mull over a recording. I prefer the fire of spontaneity.”
You have reworked ‘Wicked Women’ from your debut – what was the motive behind doing this and what does the reworking mean to you?
“Actually, reworking the song was the idea of a new band called Wolfpack 44, headed up by Electric Hellfire Club’s wicked Ricktor Ravensbruck and with the very diversely talented Nikk Dibs, engineer and co-arranger. They were doing a remake of the song and happened to contact me to see if I would be interested in singing on it. I was not keen on the idea until I heard the instrumental track. It was fresh approach and it started to grow on me. I wrote new words for an added bridge. Then off I was to Chicago to record it at Nikk’s Glitch Mode Studio. Nikk and I worked seamlessly together. His attention to my vocal style was perfect. Ricktor added screaming guitar solos and I adored it when we got it mixed.
“On the 1969 original, the record company did not allow me to record the ‘fucks’, which were original to the lyrics in the chorus and were always sung on stage. They wanted to release the song as the single, so I had to change the ‘fucks’ to ‘chop, chop, chop’. I was angry at having to change it and the 1969 recording of that part came out sounding like a mixture of ‘chop’ and ‘fuck’. So I was most excited indeed to set that straight in this new version.”
On listening to the album there are almost two musical approaches to it… a ‘classic’, darker sound on songs such as ‘Out Of Luck’ and ‘Epitaph’ and a more metallic, almost industrial sound on songs such as ‘To The Devil A Daughter’. Is this intentional, how have people reacted to this?
“Absolutely unintentional, while in the back of my mind seeming somewhat intentional. Not planned, nor particularly mapped out. Just how the situations magickally presented themselves.
“I would be bored to death with musick if I had to do the same sounding songs on every album. I abhor the whole idea of genres. And never tried to adhere to such boring compartmentalisation. I refuse to be put in a musical box. Tis very limiting and not creative in my mind. And, I like fresh blood infused with olde blood. ‘Tis such an intriguing mixture. I think it gives the listener more audio places to visit.
“I do though, like to follow my Magickal roots, for all I present. And, I like some technical advancements if they are appropriate. ‘To The Devil A Daughter’ was also an instrumental track sent to me by Ricktor. I played around with it and wrote the lyrics and vocal melody. The sound on the darker songs is pure classic Coven. Recorded as a rehearsed band, as always.”
Tell us some stories and inspiration behind some of the other songs on the album.
“Some of the other selections are pure Coven theatre, which stem from my opera roots. The prelude and finale, ‘Ave Satanas’ are similar to stage presentations we did starting back in the late 1960s, with vibration calls, chants, invocations and secret messages. And the long jam on ‘Quick And The Dead’ is very stagey. ‘Out Of Luck’ hath a ritual drone and ritual spoken word.”
There is also a musical collaboration on the song ‘WDMRS’ – tell us about this.
“I was in the studio when a band called We Are Hex asked me to sing on a song they were recording in an adjacent studio. I met them and asked the name of the song. They replied ‘WDMRS’. I asked what that stood for. They replied ‘Witchcraft Destroys Minds And Reaps Souls’ – the name of Coven’s album, so how could I refuse?
“They played the track and off the top of my head I spoke the beginning speech, then between my screeches and howls I doubled the lyrics with Jilly, their lead singer. It is their song and I only added those touches here and there. But I was so humbled that they had a song named after a Coven album, along with the fact that our paths had crossed so fatefully, that I decided to put it on the album.”
The initial pressing of your new album has seen you sign and number each copy – why was this an important thing for you to do?
“There were several reasons for the pre-release of 1,000 numbered and signed copies. Numbers can be very strong Magick. I have studied numerology since a child. Each of these copies has been signed by my hand and numbered. It brings a personal connection with my cherished friends, and a humble thank you. Friends write me and say that they relate to the number they received. Also, it serves a practical purpose. There are many Coven bootlegs and this assures the owner a genuine Coven issue of a collectible value.”
What was is like working with your Coven boys Steve Ross, Ozzie Osborne, Rick Durrett in 2013?
“It was like putting the parts of the body whole again. Scattered to the winds yet never apart. They are my brothers in arms. My family. Some say blood is thicker than water. I say Magick can be thicker than blood.”
How would you describe your relationship with them throughout the years? What paths have they taken since the debut and how would you describe their lifestyles in the present time?
“We have all stayed close over the years awaiting the right time to re-emerge for a short while, then we shall disappear once again. We are a tight circle and we are family. We grew up together in the musick business. And grew up in Magick. I had not seen them for a time, but when we had our recent reunion it was like we had never been apart.”
When people talk of Coven, they automatically think of ‘Witchcraft…’ and yet you have also had other recordings out since then – how does this make you feel, what are your thoughts on your other recordings?
“I think our ‘Blood On The Snow’ album was a hauntingly beautiful work, one of my favourites. It was at first produced by Shel Talmy of The Who ‘Tommy’ fame. But we remixed and reworked it ourselves to make it into what it was supposed to be. We were able to do the cover art with an elaborate gatefold exactly as we wanted and produced one of the first videos through the Disney Studios, who immediately distanced themselves from it in 1974 after they saw its extreme Occult nature.”
The Black Mass at the end of your debut has almost defined what most people associate with Coven to a greater or lesser extent – would you agree?
“I hope it is not the main thing, but it is surely an integral part. I know it was the first, and to my knowledge it is still the only complete recorded Black Mass that was actually performed for real in a studio with our entire coven of 13.”
Artists like Alice Cooper shocked the world, and now talks about the pantomime aspect of his act and plays golf… was the world hoodwinked or is that just the nature of show business?
“Sometime after Coven started playing live with our ‘Witchcraft’ show in 1968, Alice Cooper was one of the bands we played with on the same bills often, on the Midwest circuit of festivals and ballrooms. They had a drag rock type of show, dressed as women with no horror at all. When we moved to Los Angeles in 1970 to sign with Zappa’s manager, the Cooper band had also moved there and was rehearsing and storing equipment at Zappa’s hall where we were also. We never ended up signing with Zappa’s Bizarre/Straight Records but Cooper did, and right after that Alice Cooper had changed their act to a horror themed show.”
Your then label, Mercury, pulled the plug on the album because of the content and cultural goings on at the time – such as Charlie Manson. How did that make you feel at the time? Had you met Charlie? If so, describe your relationship with him.
“The label did start cowering down to the forces of government, churches and the press. So we walked out. We thought they understood that our entire reason for being was to stand up to those entities. They were ambitious at the beginning of the project but did not hold up to the pressures that arose as soon as the album was released. Never met Manson. His unnecessary blood party hurt our mission. He was photographed holding a Coven ‘Witchcraft…’ album outside Tower Records in LA.”
What was your initial reaction when you heard Black Sabbath’s debut album?
“I have never heard their debut album nor any of their other albums. I only heard a bluesy ‘Cream’-type band live when we played with them at the Whisky in 1970.”
Musically there appears to have been many years of ‘public wilderness’. Can you recall the darkest periods of your life? Understanding how this industry works, how have you survived financially over the years?
“Coven went on a legally imposed hiatus in the mid 1970s. Coven drummer Steve Ross was asked to play in Rainbow and did rehearse with them until Cozy Powell became available and they hired him. Steve Ross and I started a side group called The Equalizers, that played live almost every night for three years. A punky outfit comprised of Glenn Cornick [Jethro Tull, Wild Turkey], Michael Monarch [Steppenwolf] and Mark Anthony [of Hollywood Stars and Alice Cooper writer fame], among others. We moved the band from LA to NYC for a time where I also did some modelling, just for amusement. I had a clothing company since moving to LA in 1970.
“Bands would always ask where Coven got their clothes. I designed them, so bands started begging me for outfits. So I started that side venture. I have designed outfits worn by such artists as Jimmy Page, Cher, Motley Crue, Barbra Streisand, Michael Jackson and many more. I also did a couple of films and headed up some family enterprises. I enjoy business diversity.”
How envious are you of the wealth that Black Sabbath have generated?
“One cannot be envious if one was the first with an idea, then imitated. One can only be flattered. Money never meant much to me. I came from olde family money and always had enough money, so was never concerned with others’ wealth.”
Your use of the ‘devil horns’ hand sign pre-dates Ronnie James Dio’s use of the same sign, although to many metal fans, Ronnie is always credited as the first person to use this. What are your views on the matter?
“I think many more people are now aware that Ronnie was not the first. There are live shots of Coven onstage in 1968 and on our 1969 debut album there are photographs of Coven doing the Sign of the Horns.”
It’s been over 40 years since your debut – when you created it, did you ever imagine people would still be interested? Why do you feel the album has remained important?
“It is indeed a definitive scholarly work on the subject of Witchcraft and the Occult in recorded form. It hath been used in research for many films and books and undoubtedly many other forms. I had no doubt it would stand the test of time.”
You have previously stated that “Left Hand Path is a lifestyle and a Practice, not a religion and definitely not something to be taken so lightly and glib” – is it fair to assume you’re not a women to be messed with?
“I was taught to never draw first blood… But if that blood is drawn, be sure that the consequences shall be great.”
You were born on the 13th of the month – what does the number 13 mean to you?
“My great-aunts who ran the big house and were Left Hand Path thought it special that I was born under the sign of the Goat, on a Friday the 13th and delivered by a Dr Jinks. And the only female born in my generation. They were part of the Post-Victorian Spiritualist Movement, heads of Secret Societies and Ancestral Covens. Very powerful women in their day when women were not considered so powerful. Their wish was that I carry on their history.”
You were raised by in an artistic family – can you describe your upbringing?
“Opera lessons, piano lessons, ballet lessons, etiquette lessons, painting and art lessons, hunting lessons, and last but not least, Occult lessons – a long series of lessons.”
Describe your life growing up in Indianapolis.
“My world was a mix of post-Victorian and the wealthy country club set. We had several homes at the same time. Besides Indianapolis, we had one near Chicago and one in Florida, so I did not grow up in one particular place.”
Signing a contract in blood – way before Manowar did the same thing in the ’80s – back in the ’60s, this must have been seen as a true act of evil…
“To this day I have people come up to me and say that they were terrified of us back then. Sounds strange to the younger generations since an Occult form of musick hath now become ubiquitous.”
What does Satanism mean to you?
“In my experience, one would have to have been a Christian at one time to be a theistic Satanist in its modern day definition. My ancestors were never into religion. They were Left Hand Path, which is vehemently against all religions. Thus why the presenting the Lord’s Prayer backwards, wearing upside down crosses, or the rewording religious rituals. The Satanic imagery is used to mock the church as being an unenlightened path, not to believe in any literal being. I see so-called ‘Occult’ bands wearing Christian crosses. It makes no sense to me. And they give the Sign of the Horns on stage while wearing a Christian cross. This has confused the true meanings of the practice.”
Your public image has been an integral part of the Coven experience and legacy – how comfortable are you with this notion?
“I am the head of The Coven. I am the Magus High Priestess among the ancestral LHP, one of very few left. My now passed family coven named me as the messenger when I was 13. To keep the flame alive. But sadly, the true flame hath been almost extinguished-tarnished and misinterpreted over the years and become an entertainment public relations novelty instead of a serious notion of enlightening people to a more scientific and intelligent future.
“But since much of its secret nature has gone public now, I suppose I am now a part of it all. Besides Crowley and a few others, perhaps I am a main reason for the exposure of once well-guarded secrets. So in this internet age I suppose I have become a ‘poster girl’ of sorts. I am not necessarily comfortable with that as that was not the essence of my projects. They were for an interested few and for history, scholarly works through musick. But since so many misconceptions had begun to circulate, I felt it proper to try and clear up some of these issues. Thus this and other recent interviews. I never did a proper interview about these matters until 2008. My ancestors wanted the secrets kept. I fell out of favour with their coven and lost my inheritance over the ‘Witchcraft…’ album.”
How comfortable are you, as a woman in your 60s, promoting an image of sexuality?
“Life is all about sexuality. None of us would be here without it. I am most comfortable when I am perceived as a sexual being. But, I embrace my years of knowledge in a most precious way. A mix of sexuality and knowledge is a powerful combination.”
Is there a difference between the way Jinx Dawson is publicly perceived and the real, private Jinx?
“I am probably more humorous than most imagine. I am a quick witted jokester. And I adore laughter, even when it is at myself.”
You suffered a heart attack in 2008, six years on how do you look back at a life threatening moment. How did it change your attitude to life?
“I was pronounced DOA at the hospital. I got to experience something first hand that we all wonder about and live to tell about it. I was dead for approximately 20 minutes, put in cold storage awaiting a doctor and then revived. So I am a true walking dead. All this time now, as a human on Earth, is extra for me. I now have time to finish the unfinished. I am stronger and in better health than I was before the experience.”
Describe yourself in three words.
“Sex, witchcraft and musick… Not necessarily in that order depending on the moon.”
Do you feel any pangs of regret in the way you have spent your life?
When was the last time you considered a different path?
What taboos do you have left to break?
What has happened to the planned autobiography you are writing?
“It is about two thirds through. Just still filling in some of the years. There is much to write about, and being busy with the new album cut into the book time.”
What impact has Coven had on the musical world?
“I have hopes it may clear up some misconceptions and close the circle. Since every form of entertainment as of late, as books, other bands, television shows and films have diluted the use of the name Coven and the Sign of the Horns, ’tis hard to not be a bit disgusted. On one hand it pleaseth me because I had always hoped the concept would give religion a run for their money. But on the other hand, I feel the concept hath been bastardized into a big ugly monster with no intelligent direction. I hope to change that. We are also planning to tour this year. And Coven in 2014? We shall see… So mote it be…”
ORIGINALLY PRINTED IN IRON FIST #9
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