TamTam Books News

Monday, May 02, 2005:

And from today's Guardian:

Hasil Adkins

Garth Cartwright
Monday May 2, 2005
The Guardian

Hasil Adkins, who has died aged 67, was a genuine American primitive. Born in rural West Virginia, the youngest of 10 children, Adkins's father was a miner who warned him "don't you ever enter those mines". So Adkins became a cult legend, writing songs about eating peanut butter on the moon, axe murderers and his cat Boo Boo.
Adkins lived his entire life in the same three-room shack. He had little education, but possessed a vivid imagination and fantasised that the country singers he heard on the radio played all the instruments themselves. Thus when he began performing he set up as a one-man band, singing in a voice that sounded, at best, garbled and often resembled the talking-in-tongues trance state popular in Appalachian churches.

Influenced by Elvis Presley, Adkins performed primitive rockabilly. Occasionally in the 1950s and early 1960s he got local labels to issue his singles, but these didn't even enjoy regional success. Then, in the 1980s, the American band, and inveterate record collectors, the Cramps popularised "psychobilly". Their recording of Adkins's She Said created a high degree of interest in "rockabilly's missing link".
Then the New York label Norton Records found that Adkins had never stopped recording at home. They issued Out To Hunch in 1986, a collection of his 1955-65 recordings, and brought Adkins to play rock clubs nationwide. His primitive sound and eccentric behaviour pulled in rockabilly, punk and "outsider" audiences, but he was indifferent to the fact that many fans considered him a freak show; having sent out tapes of his songs over the decades to little or no response he was happy to have an audience.

One recipient in 1970 of Adkins's music had been Richard Nixon, who received a tape courtesy of Virginia Senator Robert C Byrd. "I am very pleased by your thoughtfulness in bringing these particular selections to my attention," wrote the then president.

When asked why he had never given up making music Adkins replied: "People told me they wondered how I could stick with it, so many heartaches and letdowns. I had 'em by the hundreds, millions I guess. I said, 'well, I didn't start to quit'."

Adkins lived with his mother until she died in 1985. He never married. Those who knew him recall a good humoured man who suffered from manic depression and insomnia, a condition not helped by his daily consumption of two gallons of coffee.

When unable to earn a living through music Adkins fixed cars. He enjoyed hunting and his prowess with guns - at one concert he pulled out his pistol and shot the ventilator fan - landed him in jail after engaging in a shoot-out with a love rival. In 1997 he recorded the What The Hell Was I Thinking album for the hip Mississippi blues label Fat Possum and again found his audience swollen with students and socialites. Critic Nick Tosches asserted: " Like the Bible and toilet paper, the music of Hasil Adkins belongs in every household."

Tosh // 8:55 PM

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