Hasil Adkins // (April 29, 1937 – April 26, 2005) was an American singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist. His genres include rock and roll, country, bluesand more commonly rockabilly. He generally performed as a one-man band, playing guitar and drums at the same time.
From humble beginnings, Adkins' spirited lifestyle is reflected in his music. His songs explored an affinity for chicken, sexual intercourse and decapitation, and were isolated in obscurity until being unearthed in the 1980s. The newfound success secured him a cult following, spawned the Norton Records label, and helped usher in the genre known as psychobilly.
- 2 Career
- 3 Legacy and death
- 4 Musical style
- 5 Discography
- 6 Filmography
- 7 References
- 8 External links
Adkins was born in Boone County, West Virginia in 1937, where he lived his entire life. He was the youngest of 10 children of a coal miner, raised in a tarpaper shack on property rented from a local coal company. Born into the Depression, Adkins' early life was stricken by poverty. Legend has it that he didn't receive his first pair of shoes until he was four or five years old, and that he attended school for a very brief time, as few as two days of first grade.
Adkins' given name, Hasil, pronounced "Hassel", was often mispronounced. One of his brothers was named Basil, similarly pronounced "Bassel". Hasil also dated a girl named Hazel, and later he was given the nickname The Haze. As he explained it, the nickname came about "'cause Starlight records wanted something catchy and I didn't have no middle name."
Hasil Adkins passionately loved to eat meat, specifically poultry, the subject of many of his songs. Following the release of 2000's Poultry in Motion, Adkins toured with "dancing go-go chickens". His diet also reportedly consisted in as much as two gallons of coffee a day, and copious amounts of liquor and cigarettes.
Aside from his fondness for meat, Adkins claimed to have but three loves in life, "girls, guitars, and cars. All three of [which] got me into trouble over the years." One such incident occurred in 1957 when he and three friends drove a car off a mountain. While one of the friends died, Adkins survived, although he sustained permanent back damage.
In the 1980s Adkins again found himself in trouble with the law. In 1983 he was living with his girlfriend who was still a minor. The girl's mother eventually reported to police that she had been raped, and Adkins was subsequently charged with third-degree sexual assault, although the girl insisted the sexual acts wereconsensual. In October of that same year, another relationship ended with jail time, when a shootout occurred between Adkins and a jealous husband. No one was hurt, but Adkins was charged with felony illegal possession of a shotgun and spent five months in jail.
Nicknamed "The Haze", Adkins career began in the mid 1950s in a primitive studio in his home near Madison, West Virginia. There he put his vibrant Elvis Presley and Jerry Lee Lewis influences to work by recording scores of songs, beginning with the track "I'm Happy". In a later interview he exclaimed "I couldn't afford no drums so I just stomped my feet." He eventually learned to use percussive instruments to accompany his guitar and vocals, which would become his hallmark sound.
In 1961 Adkins headed to California in search of fame, auditioning with talent agencies in and around Los Angeles. With little to go on, he returned to West Virginia, though claimed he missed a callback from an agency a single day after departing for his home. Back at home, Adkins began performing at local nightclubs, behind a store-bought sign that read One of the Greatest Shows on Earth, the One Man Band Haze Adkins and his Happy Guitar.
|Hasil Adkins "No More Hot Dogs" (1955)MENU 0:00 "No More Hot Dogs", originally recorded in Adkins home studio before being released by Norton Records in 1955. It'srockabilly roots mixed with unhinged lyrics and a low-fi approach are what laid the foundation for the psychobillygenre.----|
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The mid 1960s brought Adkins first official release through a local micro-label, with the 45 record Chicken Walk / She's Mine. What followed were the releases of some of his most notable songs, though at the time they received little attention outside of Madison. "She Said" revealed his imaginative tone in writing, in which he compared the woman of a one-night stand he had to "a dying can of that commodity meat." "No More Hot Dogs" was a song about decapitating a girlfriend and keeping her head as a wall mount.
Adkins began to transition from his rockabilly roots to country by the 1970s, producing several self-released records. It was a tradition of his to mail a copy of each album he released to the sitting President of the United States. In 1970 Richard Nixon wrote back, saying "I am very pleased by your thoughtfulness in bringing these particular selections to my attention."
The early 1980s saw a resurgence in Adkins' fan base when the American punk rock band The Cramps did a remake of Adkins' "She Said". In 1985, he was approached by former Cramps drummer Miriam Linna and her husband Billy Miller about releasing some of Adkins' work. Resultantly they created the independent record label Norton Recordsand released the compilation album Out To Hunch in 1986, which became an underground success. Billy Miller soon was appointed as Adkins' manager, and together with Linna they headed to New York City for Adkins' first professional recording session, yielding 1987's The Wild Man. Upon release, the album was featured as the The New York Times "Rock Album of the Week".
By the 1990s Adkins had gained a cult following and began touring regularly, receiving offers from more record labels. In 1994 Miles Copeland III of I.R.S. Records purchased the rights to Adkins' recordings, and although an album was planned for release, it never materialized. Frustrated, Adkins soon gained back rights to some of his songs after a deal with Mississippi blues label Fat Possum, who recorded and released 1999's What The Hell Was I Thinking? and booked him a tour alongside T-Model Ford and Elmo Williams.
In 2000 Norton released a compilation of new and previous recordings about Adkins' devotion to chicken, entitled Poultry in Motion that included such songs as "Chicken Run," "Chicken Hop," "Chicken Flop," "Chicken Wobble," and "Chicken On The Bone." In total, Adkins claimed nearly 7,000 songs to his repertoire.
While music was his true passion, Adkins enjoyed a career in the film and television industry. He played himself as a street musician in 2004's The Heart Is Deceitful Above All Things, partially narrated The Red's Breakfast Experience and starred in a comedic horror film entitled Die You Zombie Bastards!. As a composer he helped score Hair High in 2004. Adkins was also the subject of the Julien Nitzbergdocumentary The Wild World Of Hasil Adkins, distributed by Appalshop.
Adkins is often cited as having been an important precursor to the psychobilly genre. New York City's The Cramps attribute much of their punk-psychobilly traits to Adkins, and covered "She Said" on their 1983Smell of Female live release. This helped usher Adkins into cult status as an underground musician, and inspired Cramps' drummer Miriam Linna and her husband Billy Miller to create the Norton Recordslabel. North Carolina psychobilly group Flat Duo Jets also covered Adkins with "Let Me Come In" on the 1993 lo-fi compilation Safari, which was released on Norton Records.Adkins playing guitar and drums during a 2003 performance at Seidel Lanes in Baltimore
Frenetic in progression and explicit in lyrical content, Adkins was known for having an unconventional take on traditional rockabilly. His unpolished sound was a praised by-product of the makeshift studio equipment used for the majority of his career. "I didn't try to be primitive, I just had bad microphones", he wrote. His lyrical perspective explored topics such as eating peanut butter on the moon and the suggestive strut of a chicken. Recurring themes in Adkins' catalogue included sex, heartbreak,decapitation, aliens, hot dogs and poultry. Together with country and honky-tonk, Adkins' assortment of styles helped delineate a genre known as psychobilly.
Adkins performed as a one-man band, using foot pedals to play the drums, or simply stomped his feet on the floor to an often detuned guitar. He once vowed that he would play "twelve to twenty" instruments simultaneously, including playing the piano and organ with his elbows. He noted in interviews that his primary heroes and influences wereHank Williams, Jimmie Rodgers, Little Richard, and Col. Harlan Sanders, the inventor of Kentucky Fried Chicken. Adkins attributed his desire to perform as a one-man band to these artists, stating that when he was a child, he assumed the only credited musician in the band must have played all the instruments in the recordings.
Many of Adkins' songs were accompanied by a dance of the same name. "The Hunch" was understood to be a dry humping dance craze, although Adkins failed to define it in interviews. He used the term to describe anything of sexual relation, even naming his car the "Hunchin' Wagon". "The Slop" was a song and dance Adkins pioneered for "the drunks", which he made so "you could just go left or right or fall down or anything you ran into". 2000's Poultry in Motion introduced a slew of chicken dances. "The Chicken Walk" involved "quiver[ing] yourself from head to toe" to mimic that of a chicken, while the "The Chicken Flop" was simply "flopping all over the place".
- The Wild Man (Norton, 1987)
- Moon Over Madison (Norton, 1990)
- Peanut Butter Rock and Roll (Norton, 1990)
- Live in Chicago (Bughouse, 1992)
- Look at that Caveman Go!! (Norton, 1993)
- Achy Breaky Ha Ha Ha (Norton, 1994)
- What the Hell Was I Thinking (Fat Possum / Turnstile, 1998)
- Drinkin My Life Away (Shake It Records, 2003)
- Evening Show Road (Nero's Nepture)
- He Said (Big Beat Records)
- Chicken Walk (Dee Jay (Germany), 1986)
- Out to Hunch (Norton, 1986)
- Poultry in Motion (Norton, 2000)
- Best of the Haze (CIA / Copeland International Arts, 2006)
- Night Life (2009)
- White Light/White Meat (Norton)