Walk on the Wild Side

Dear Friends, those of you who read my column regularly will know I prefer my rock’n’roll on the wild side. Personally, I enjoy more the stories of the rock’n’roll legends who were either bad, eccentric or just plain crazy, rather than those of the goodie two shoes of rock’n’roll. It doesn’t mean they were better people of course, simply that I find their stories more interesting and spicy. Even the King of rock’n’roll himself, Elvis, was not 100% squeaky clean, which only adds to the richness of his story. And this month will be dedicated to possibly the wildest on-the-edge rock’n’roll star of them all.

His name was Hasil Adkins. For those of us who know about him, the sadness is that although he was a star, even more rock’n’rollers should know more about him. He never got the audiences that Elvis, Jerry Lee and Eddie Cochran got, but his legacy proved he was something very very special in the world of Rock’n’Roll.

On 11th December we held a tribute concert at the Duma Club in Moscow. We made an excellent choice of band to perform for us. The Beat Devils are a legendary group in Russia and their style of rock’n’roll is like Adkins i.e. on the wild side. Their vocalist and lead guitarist Andy Loug is also a big Adkins fan. In fact it was Andy who first introduced me to Adkins’ music, for which I will always be grateful. Thankyou, Andy. The group put on a terrific show on 11/12/21. Some of the photos you can see were taken at the Concert.

Adkins was born in 1937 and was a singer and multi-instrumentalist. The original basis of his music was rock’n’roll and rockabilly. To say he had an unusual playing and singing style would be putting it, err, mildly. He generally performed as a one-man band, playing guitar and drums at the same time. He grew up in the time of the Great Depression in America in real poverty. His spirited and to say the least unusual lifestyle was reflected in his music. His songs, which he began recording and distributing locally in the mid-1950s, explored an affinity for chicken, sexual intercourse and decapitation. He was a renowned performer in the area of the USA where he lived, but surprisingly it wasn’t until the 1980s that he found real fame with a cult following: He was a key influence in the psychobilly movement that was beginning and developing at that time. Despite this, he spent his life in the area of West Virginia where he was born. He was the son of a coal miner and one of ten children. His parents were unable to provide him shoes until he was four or five years old.  Reports say he attended school for a very brief time. 

Nicknamed “The Haze”, Adkins career began in the mid-1950s in an improvised 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 percussion 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. He had little success, so he returned to West Virginia, though he claimed he missed a call back from an agency just one day after departing for his home. Back in West Virginia, 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.”

The mid-1960s saw Adkins’ first official record releases through a local record label, with the songs “Chicken Walk” and “She’s Mine”. What then followed were the releases of some of his most famous songs, though at the time they received little attention outside of Madison. The song “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 commodity meat.” “No More Hot Dogs” was a song about decapitating a girlfriend and keeping her head as a wall mount, because she ate too many hot dogs. And indeed, there are few politically correct moments on an Adkins record, particularly the early ones. He has composed songs about cannibals and about sleeping with extra-terrestrials. Like I said above, an unusual playing and singing style to say the least. This was one crazy banana ! 

Adkins began to transition from his rockabilly roots to country music by the 1970s, producing several self-released records. It was a tradition of his to mail a copy of each single 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, proposing they re-release some of Adkins’ work. They created the independent record label Norton Records and 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, resulting in his album in 1987 “The Wild Man”. Upon its release, the album was featured as 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 2000 Norton records 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.” You can see a theme here ! Adkins claimed to have nearly 7,000 songs to his repertoire.

This concludes my first part of the Hasil Adkins’ story. The concluding part will be in my column next month. Stay tuned dear Readers, for more crazy happenings in the life of the wildest rocker of them all, the great Haze !