Last month Dear Readers I began telling the amazing story of Hasil Adkins, a real rock’n’roll legend, whose greatness was under-valued during most of his lifetime. This month we will continue and complete the story of this legend, whose life and music were wild and on the edge.
As I advised last month, Hasil Adkins began his music career in the mid-1950s and recorded his first official records in the early 1960s. His style was wild and eccentric to say the least. He was kind of belatedly “discovered” in the early 1980s by the psychobilly movement that was emerging at that time and became an icon for the followers of that genre of music. He played as a one-man band, performing multi-instrumentally. His personal life was as extreme as his music.
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 “Red’s Breakfast Experience” and starred in a comedic horror film entitled “Die You Zombie B*st*rds!” He was inducted into the West Virginia Music Hall of Fame in 2018.
As mentioned above, Adkins is often cited as an important precursor to the psychobilly genre of music. The famous psychobilly group the Cramps attribute much of their punk-psychobilly style to Adkins; they covered some of his original songs. This helped towards turning Adkins into cult status as an underground musician.
His unconventional sound was a by-product of the makeshift studio equipment he used for the majority of his career. “I didn’t try to be primitive, I just had bad microphones”, he wrote. His lyrics explored topics such as eating peanut butter on the moon and the suggestive strut of a chicken. Recurring themes in Adkins’ songs included sex, heartbreak, decapitation, aliens, hot dogs and poultry. Yes, he was a real Wild Child !
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 de-tuned 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 were Hank Williams, Jimmie Rodgers, Little Richard; plus Col. Harland Sanders the inventor of Kentucky Fried Chicken !
Many of Adkins’ songs were accompanied by a dance. “The Hunch” was a dry humping dance. He used the term to describe anything to do with sex, 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”. His record “Poultry in Motion” introduced quite a few chicken dances. “The Chicken Walk” involving shaking yourself from head to toe, was to mimic a chicken, while “The Chicken Flop” entailed flopping all over the place.
Adkins primarily recorded and performed his own songs. He loved to eat meat, specifically poultry. Following the release of his album in 2000, “Poultry in Motion”, Adkins toured with “dancing go-go chicken” dancers. His diet also reportedly consisted of 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 his 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. A local newspaper reported the car tumbled 70 feet into nearby Pond Fork. While the driver died at the scene, Adkins survived, although he sustained a permanent back injury.
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. Her mother 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 were consensual. In October the 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 having an illegal possession of a shotgun and spent five months in jail.
In 2005 Adkins was run over in his front yard by a quad bike. Eleven days later, Adkins was found dead in his home, three days before his 68th birthday.
As I mentioned in my first article about the Haze, I am grateful to my friend Andy Loug for introducing me to the greatness of this artist. Andy is lead guitar and vocalist of the famous and iconic Russian neo-rockabilly and psychobilly band “The Beat Devils”, who you can see performing in some of the photos accompanying this article. Andy sums up below in an excellent way just how special the Haze was to rock’n’roll:
Although my musical personality was brought up with the help of such heroes as Cochran, Vincent, Burnette, Perkins, etc., in fact the real impact was given to me by the non-standard style and crazy musical manner of Hasil Adkins. I came across his legacy while already a member of a band and that psychological “meeting” with Adkins formed a lot of my vision of psychobilly music and understanding of its real roots.
Hasil Adkins was the true symbol to the highest degree of that Rockabilly Wilderness, with his under-estimated lyrics and mad music. He didn’t realise at the beginning of his career that he had conceived the style of music that would be named later “psychobilly” and that since the beginning of 1980s has given to the World hundreds of bands world-wide.
He was “true” in what he was doing, being not one of those “glossy rock stars”. He followed his three main passions – girls, guitars and cars – till the end of his life. That is very admirable and respectable to me, ‘cause the modern community of “weekend rebels” lack those qualities by quite a bit ! Many people think nowadays more of their “fashionable” looks, than about the wild spirit in their souls, while Hasil laughs with his branded voice at them.
His raw and honest guitar sounds and often unpredictable riffs are a true rock’n’roll power, without pop compromises. Besides the famous “She Said”, “Chicken Walk” and “No More Hotdogs”, my Adkins’ favourite tracks are “I Need A Date” (aka “We Got A Date” and which is real psychosis !), “Get Out Of My Car” (a crazy mix of rockabilly, country and garage), “Connie Lou” (a pre-history of the psychobilly guitar style of playin’) and many more.
According to the rumours, he was mentally ill in different aspects of his life and was said to suffer from manic depression. But I always asked myself, what if he was the one and only really normal one and his talent was a reason for that “illness” ? I hope the personality of the one they called “The Haze” will be given some day the acknowledgement he truly deserves, in the pantheon of rock’n’roll heroes.
Thankyou, Andy. And Hats Off to the Haze, a true rock’n’roll pioneer, who as Andy says above will hopefully be acknowledged by an even bigger audience in posterity, as a real rockin’ legend.