WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT . . . HASIL ADKINS (2012): Howling at the night

 |   |  2 min read

Hasil Adkins: She Said (1955)
WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT . . . HASIL ADKINS (2012): Howling at the night

Whatever his style was, fame had no interest in embracing it. The closest this rockabilly blues screamer -- who started in the mid Fifties -- came to wider recognition was when the Cramps covered his song She Said and some of his music appeared in the film White Lightin'.

But for Hasil (pronounced "hassle"), he just had to make do with juke joints and bars, and being a punk rocker long before the term was even thought of.

The indifference of major record companies (to whom he sent tapes) didn't trouble him much: he started his own company and released 16 or 17 albums on it, and it is widely believed he wrote as many as 7000 songs -- at least that was his claim -- before his death in 2005 when he was probably about 67. (The actual date of his birth in West Virginia isn't established.)

Many of Adkins songs were recorded at home and they have a primitive, primal and unapologetically raw quality. He could wail like a bluesman, get a bit country-rock or simply deliver throat searing proto-rock'n'roll. A lot of people can't stand his voice -- but it came roarin' out of him anyway. Psychobilly his style was called.

51WFgn5e9QL._SL500_AA300_He was a self-taught singer and guitarist (some say he should have spent a bit more time on it) and was known as "The Haze". He was demented in performance (as you can hear from She Said, one of his most "famous" songs) and his lyrics sometimes didn't make much sense. Those that were audible.

The '86 collection Out to Hunch pulled together some of his songs from '55-'65 and they are staggering in their energy. Aside from his originals he also covers High School Confidential (with a band) and Chuck Berry's Memphis.

The final track is I Need Your Head (This Ain't No Rock'n'Roll Show) and it sounds like he's sung it down a telephone line into a tin can then slowed down the tape. It makes Pere Ubu sound like easy listening.

A note at the foot of the album says "Sound quality on some tracks may vary with intoxication levels".

Hasil was a ferocious drinker.

HASIL_ADKINS_CHIKEN_COLLECTIONHe also loved chicken and there is a collection of his chicken songs (Chicken Walk, Chicken Hunch, Chicken Blues, Chicken on the Bone etc) entitled Poultry in Motion. He was a funny guy.

On She Said he "sings" about waking up with a girl so ugly "she looked like a dying can of commodity meat".

He sang blatantly about sex (when he sings "open up baby and let me come in" he's not standing outside the door) and eating peanut butter on the moon, and about decapitating young girls' noggins and hanging them on the wall.  

He was mostly a solo artist for a simple reason: "I can't have no band. I like to change to different chords and can't expect nobody to follow me."

He couldn't afford drums so he just stomped his foot. His song The Hunch should have been a huge hit in the early Elvis era -- but it probably needed to be recorded rather more cleanly.

American writer Nick Tosches said, "Like the Bible and toilet paper, the music of Hasil Adkins belongs in every household, and none is a home without it." He might also have said that Adkins wrote the rockabilly Bible on toilet paper. 

Hasil Adkins was like the bastard love child of Screamin Jay Hawkins and Jerry Lee Lewis who sounded like an explosion in biscuit tin factory -- with a rockabilly beat.

There is a posthumous website which sells his albums and CDs, and a doco My Blue Star: The Life and Hunchin' Times of Hasil "Haze" Adkins.  

A star still waiting for the call.

For other articles in the series of strange characters in music, WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT . . . go here.

Share It

Your Comments

post a comment

More from this section   Absolute articles index

JAH WOBBLE INTERVIEWED (1996): Spiritual traveller stay-at-home

JAH WOBBLE INTERVIEWED (1996): Spiritual traveller stay-at-home

The message had a kind of road-to-Damascus ring to it: “Jah will meet you at Bethnal Green tube station next to the ticket counter.” And there he is: Jah in jeans and a sweater.... > Read more

2012, THE YEAR IN REISSUES: Look out behind you!

2012, THE YEAR IN REISSUES: Look out behind you!

At a rough count rock'n'roll is getting close to pensioner age. Elvis's first hits are a long time gone (so is he, 35 years), there are only two remaining Beatles and Who members, and in the Who... > Read more

Elsewhere at Elsewhere

Easy Star All-Stars: Thrillah (Easy Star)

Easy Star All-Stars: Thrillah (Easy Star)

And of all the tributes to Michael Jackson, this might be the most expected. Easy Star All-Stars make a habit of taking classic rock and giving it the reggae/dub treatment (Beatles, Radiohead,... > Read more

GUEST DIRECTOR DAVID TRUEBA from Spain discusses his new film which isn't about John Lennon

GUEST DIRECTOR DAVID TRUEBA from Spain discusses his new film which isn't about John Lennon

The backdrop of my film Living is Easy With Eyes Closed is 1960s Spain. A place full of contradictions, grey, under the control of an authoritative regime, a generation living with... > Read more