Coven's Jinx Dawson on 50 Years of Witchcraft Destroys Minds & Reaps Souls

Jinx Dawson, Coven frontwoman and arguably heavy metal's founder, talks about the 50th anniversary of her groundbreaking debut.

Coven's Jinx Dawson on 50 Years of Witchcraft Destroys Minds & Reaps Souls
Addison Herron-Wheeler

Some know Jinx Dawson, frontwoman of Coven, as the progenitress of metal. But unfortunately, many don’t know her at all. But anyone who has truly studied metal history is familiar with the band's debut record, Witchcraft Destroys Minds & Reaps Souls, and how heavily it ushered occult practice and devil worship into the world of. Despite its little-known status in the larger world of metal, the album has been around longer than most classic metal albums and bands.

That record turns 50 today. But what makes Coven special is not just their longevity, but the major impact they had on metal. A year before Black Sabbath would drop their debut offering, Dawson and Coven were releasing an album with metal riffs, themes, and lyrics -- even a song called Black Sabbath. Dawson was even throwing up the famed sign of the horns, too, a symbol she learned from her occult family. (In recent years, Gene Simmons has tried to take credit for, and even trademark, the horns, but Jinx posted on Facebook that she’d sue him if he tried. He never followed through with it.)

Fifty years later -- despite Coven’s reunion -- much of the metal community still doesn’t know Dawson’s name, or the fact that Coven was responsible for a lot of the metal firsts. That said, Dawson claims her role was never to be a celebrity, and recent years have seen a major underground return in popularity for Coven.

In honor of this landmark anniversary, we spoke to Jinx about her impact on the past and her views on the present and future of metal and occult rock.

When you first started Coven, did you think you were pioneering a new form of music?

It was actually meant to be a scholarly work; it really was not meant to be a band like the other rock bands. It was almost meant just for the stage, a sort of rock opera situation, because I had come out of extensive opera training, and I was not really familiar with the recording world or rock music.

How do you feel about Ozzy and other men who have taken up a lot of the spotlight when it comes to being the “fathers of heavy metal?"

You can say that it is a form of flattery, but it is odd that they never mention anything. People talk about Ronnie Dio, and we knew him very well; we knew him from Rainbow, and he used to see us do the sign of the horns. That was way before he did the sign of the horns on stage, and I knew he thought it kind of looked like the Mano Cornuto ‘poke your eyes out’ Italian symbol, but that is a different sign, and then Gene Simmons did the deaf sign. It did end up that people did sort of take on things that I was doing and said they were the first to do that, but what are you going to do?

What about the recent appreciation you’ve received from underground metal fans?

I really think it is very nice; I really appreciate it. We’ve been all over the world, which is really amazing. We go down and play in Brazil, and they know the words to Wicked Woman. It is a good feeling, really nice. I kind of missed a few years that I would have liked to be playing out, but better late than never.

Of course, back in the day, it was very male-oriented, and I remember many times that I would take tapes in and they would say, ‘You didn’t do those tapes.’ They would even say things like, ‘You look too Vegas for rock‘n’roll; you don't look like Janis Joplin.’ And look what happened; of course there are tons of gorgeous women out there singing today. They expected me to look like I was drug through the dirt just because I was in rock‘n’roll.

It is interesting how things turn out, and it is very nice for the women. I saw things on the Internet years ago; people did not know the truth about the sign of the horns, and all these women were saying nasty things. Now they are saying, ‘We don’t want to do the male-type metal thing; we want to do a little female metal too.’

I do not really think I’m so much metal, though; I think I am maybe underground heavy occult rock, and we just never did the heavier riffs. We were not so riff-oriented, and to me, heavy occult music is more eerie, more scary, and some of the modern metal stuff sounds like you are building a big building or something. I do like some of the metal that is more of a good, heady type situation. I have heard some of that, and it is very good.

How much do you think you’ve influenced metal, doom, and female inclusion in metal?

I think a lot, and I think a lot of people say, ‘Oh, yeah, I’ve never heard of that,' but I can see that the Witchcraft album is there; I know some people got it from Ronnie or got it from Black Sabbath, but if they got it from them, I think they really got it from me. I think it is really funny though, really interesting.

How do you feel about the current trend towards women being “witchy” in rock?

That is a hard question -- not a hard one for me to answer, but a hard one to let other people know about. Because they have not really lived it, not really come from it. It is like footprints in the sand, here went my footprints, and the water washed over it, and then everybody got on the beach.

Sometimes I do get aggravated, because like I said, it can be very dangerous, but I have also been a left hand path practitioner for a while, and I am against formed religion. I think it’s been very dangerous in our whole being, it has caused wars.

It is like fashion. I am like, 'Oh, I wore that back in ‘69! Many record companies tried to mess me up from doing that; they tried to sabotage my career; they thought a woman bringing out that situation was not good, but my thing was not to make money. It was only for people interested in that. But like you said, it is becoming so huge. TV shows like American Horror Story, they get things wrong, but what can you do?

The interest is there, and I think that is okay, but my ancestors would not think that is okay, and that is why I lost my inheritance. I agree with them now; it is not very secret anymore, and then it gets diluted. It is not real anymore. There are a lot of bands out there that I do not think have read even one occult book, and I do not think they should, either.

Who were some of your biggest influences back then?

I was listening to a lot of classical. I was not really listening to rock. It was not part of our house or family. Of course, I had heard a couple of Elvis Presley songs; I had heard blues albums, but mostly my mother had opera, big thick 78s. I would not say anybody was really an influence as far as rock goes; I know some would say we sounded like Jefferson Airplane, but I think the producers pushed it that way. But after I put the band together, they made me listen to some rock music, because I really had not listened to much. They made me take some acid and listen to some rock albums, King Crimson and A, and I loved that.

What about present day -- what are you working on at the moment?

Many things! Touring is coming up, and the box set is coming out in several months, which is going to be the first three albums. And there are going to be a lot of pictures that have never been released to the public.

I also just got my ancestry DNA back, and I have always heard all these things from ancestors, but you can never be sure because they are just stories. But apparently, one of the lines goes all the way back to 1100 or 1000, and there was this woman who was called Gwenllian the Warrior, Princess of Wales, who was killed at 36 in battle. I looked her up and looked at pictures, and it is really weird, she had long blond hair and looked a lot like me. I am gonna play that up on the next album.

I am really excited about doing a new album. I have wanted to do one the past couple of years, but we have been touring so much that there just has not been the time. I have got hundreds of lyrics, because I write the lyrics anyway without the music, with all the magik stuff that I know. My head is flooded with this stuff, because I was born with it. I thought it was normal, even though my family kept saying, “Don’t say anything.” It is just flooding my mind even more lately, so I am really excited about that, excited about recording a new album. We already recorded two tracks, and we are going to put some book excerpts in the new album.

Then there is also the book; I just recorded an excerpt from the book for the box set. The book is an autobiography of my life as I remember it. It is hard to go back that far, all the way to childhood, and it is hard to get it exact. I had to look up years and what has been happening in those years, and it was quite difficult. It is almost done though, and it is pretty interesting. I am surprised that I have been writing like that, that I almost have an entire book finished.

Does ritual still play a big role in your life, and your music?

Ritual is probably the whole reason I even did music, besides the fact that I liked music. I always did piano lessons, singing lessons, guitar, sitar, and like I said, the band was a scholarly work when I first put together the group. I think it is really important information that should be out there. As a teenager I actually rebelled against the rebellers; here I am trying to put out information that I was not supposed to put out. As a matter of fact, my great aunts went up to Chicago when I was recording the Witchcraft album. They were screaming and yelling that I could not do the sign of the horns, and I lost my inheritance because of it.

Would you like to share any final words?

I’m excited about the new lineup of Coven; I call them the new blood because they are all young, in their 20s and 30s, and you always need new blood for a ceremony.

I am not angry at anyone; I had money anyway, and I was not trying to make a living; I was not trying to shoot my way to the top. That was not my journey; it was not to be any kind of rock star. There’s really no hatred there, but I do think that people should get history right. That bothers me, when people say, ‘I am the first to do this; it’s wrong to do that,’ but you know honestly my ancestors would like that, because you know magik can be dangerous. I have done a few things, had some dangerous things happen, and now I think it is important to put a blind in there. I will do a ceremony, but I will not show you how the whole thing is done.

Record companies wanted me to be a blond Cher, and I was not into the money. I am just trying to make good, scary music and stories, stories of witchcraft and the occult. That was my main thing, I would get a record deal and they would make me change the material. My path was meant for information, and I am very pleased.

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