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Hasil Adkins

Hasil Adkins

Hasil Adkins (pronounced "Hassle," not "Haysil") (April 29, 1937 – April 26, 2005) was an American singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist. His genres include country, rock and roll, and blues, though he was frequently considered rockabilly and sometimes primitive jazz. He generally performed as a one-man band, playing guitar and drums at the same time.With his 45 recordings of "Chicken Walk" appearing on Air Records in 1962 and "She Said" on Jody Records in 1966, Hasil's original, frenetic sound meshed with demented lyrics ushered in the genre known as psychobilly. He is also responsible for the birth of Norton Records and a suggestive dance called the "The Hunch".Personal lifeAdkins 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". He also dated a girl named Hazel, and later he was given the nickname "The Haze". As Adkins explained it, the nickname came about "'cause Starlight records wanted something catchy and I didn't have no middle name."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 him and three friends drove a car off a mountain. While one of the friends died, Adkins survived, although 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 were consensual. Not long after, another love story ended in 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.Adkins was said to have suffered from manic depression and insomnia among other mental illnesses. He never married.CareerNicknamed "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, what 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".The mid 60s 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 outlandish 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 70s, 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, and 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 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, 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 90s 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 Nitzberg documentary The Wild World Of Hasil Adkins, distributed by Appalshop.Legacy and deathAfter the mid-1990s, Adkins began performing less often, though he retained his popularity with music critics and other celebrants of outsider music, such as Joe Coleman and John Zorn. Hasil Adkins had a strong influence on the band The Cramps, as well as the Flat Duo Jets, who have recorded him. All acts bands have played various shows together in different combinations. Adkins' cult status is kept alive to the present day by the growing appreciation of, and demand for, outsider music and primitive rock and roll.On April 15, 2005, Adkins was deliberately run over in his front yard by a teenager on an ATV. The perpetrator was apprehended by police (after running over another person a short distance down the road from Adkins' house), and Adkins identified him in a picture the police showed him. Ten days later, on April 26, Adkins was found dead in his home.Musical styleRacous in sound, frenetic in progression and demented in lyrical content, Adkins was known as having a bizarre 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 was distinctly crazed and often humorous in nature, with song 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 poulty. 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 were Hank 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".Adkins primarily recorded and performed his own songs, although Peanut Butter Rock and Roll included covers of "Blue Suede Shoes" and "Day-O (The Banana Boat Song)".


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