| Hasil Adkins makes a habit of sending his records to the White House. (courtesy photo)
There is a brief, contemplative pause on the line before a casual "Well, yeah," issues forth. Hasil Adkins could be talking about the weather, but -- though he does like to go on about the cold - this particular conversation is about the time he served for shooting up a trailer home.
"It's true, I was drunk," he says. "A woman caused it all. There was about six of us and we all got shot."
Tall tales of rock 'n' roll hillbilly wild man Hasil (pronounced "Hassle") Adkins are legendary, endless, and, as it turns out, mostly true.
Adkins resides in Boone County, West Virginia. These aren't the country roads that John Denver sang about. This is the Deliverance version: a place of inbreeding, squirrel-eating, and serial killing. Yet despite the myths, Adkins turns out to be a genuinely honest, frank, deeply spiritual, gentle soul of the earth, who rambles much like Boomhauer on King of the Hill: fast, funny, and damn near impossible to decipher.
His history is a bit sketchy, but it seems music may have been a good excuse for him to stay out of the mines. "My daddy lost a lung down there," he says. "I started beating on a milk can when I was 6 years old, started on a guitar when I was 8 or 9."
Adkins started putting his raunch 'n' roll to tape about the same time as Elvis, but one was changing musical history in a Memphis studio, while the other was in a backwoods shack. "They called it rockabilly, but I called it country rock, 'cause I lived in the country." Those rough and dirty ditties slapped onto cheap tape ensured relative obscurity, but once folks got a listen to the primal sexual urgency of "Chicken Walk" ("Push in and a-push out") and the humping dance craze "The Hunch," they said, "Hasil, move away from here."
So he loaded up the truck and moved to Los Angeles. Quickly disillusioned by the music business, Adkins headed back to the hills, where he resides to this day, recording songs (he claims to have 7,000 in his repertoire), fixing cars, and hunting squirrels.
"Good eating," he says of the rodents. "Up here in the '40s, squirrel hunting was one of the big things going."
Adkins' break came when the Cramps unearthed and recorded "She Said," with Lux Interior stuffing his mouth full of Styrofoam to achieve that crazed Adkins sound. Suddenly, folks were searching out rare Adkins 7-inches released in Europe. After a shack visit, upstart Norton Records launched their new label with a collection of his raucous sides. Released in 1986, Out to Hunch was a landmark of garage rock debauchery, a hilarious psychobilly slab delivered by a volatile raw talent. Songs about chopping girls' heads off, eating commodity meat, etc. Making up for 30 years of lost time, Adkins has lived a charmed rock 'n' roll life since then, recording - sometimes in real studios - and performing on a regular basis.
|Adkins turns out to be a genuinely honest, frank, deeply spiritual, gentle soul of the earth, who rambles much like Boomhauer on King of the Hill.
Seemingly isolated in the hills, the young Adkins did manage to hear new sounds coming out of Memphis, but claims to have preceded Jerry Lee Lewis and company. When asked if he was the real king of rock 'n' roll, Adkins bashfully replies, "Maybe. I just wasn't in the right place."
Adkins isn't shy about his music, though. He even sends his records to the White House so the chief executives can have a listen. "Got me a real nice letter from Nixon, too," he says.
Erratic rhythms and tempo changes ensure that Adkins remains a one-man band. He prefers it that way, often playing several instruments at once, 'cause that's what he thought everyone did.
"I heard Hank Williams on the radio, and they never mentioned a band," he says.
So is it much different to be a clean Hasil Adkins these days? "Oh, it's about the same." This comes from a man who once pulled a gun in mid-performance to take out a disruptive fan. The fan, by the way, was of the overhead, air-circulating variety. There was no ensuing jail time. •