There’s crazy, bat-shit-crazy, and then there’s Hasil Adkins. Hasil, pronounced “Hassel”, was born and raised in the Depression-struck state of West Virginia, USA, in 1937, and endured a childhood blighted by extreme poverty and lack of education. Nonetheless, he became a songwriter and multi-instrumentalist, performing his hardcore, stripped-down rockabilly numbers, usually as a one-man band. One element of the Adkins mythology includes the alleged misunderstanding of the songs he heard on the radio while growing up. As his sister Irene explained, “He heard Jimmie Rogers and Hank Williams on the radio, and he thought they was playing all those instruments themselves.” One of his earliest gigs included sharing the bill with The Collins Kids and Patsy Cline. He began recording in the mid-1950s, exploring themes for his songs which included, zombies, peanut butter, sex, serial killers, and an obsessive love of poultry. In the mid-1960s, Adkins first official single, Chicken Walk / She’s Mine, was released in very small numbers through a tiny, local label, as were all his subsequent releases in this period.
However, it wasn’t until the 1980s that his songs began to become known outside of his home State, (although he was by no means successful in West Virginia), and he soon acquired a cult following as the outsider’s outsider. Legendary punk and rockabilly band, The Cramps, recorded a remake of Adkins’ song, She Said, which brought his music to a much wider audience in 1983, on their Smell of Female album. This led to the creation of the Norton Records record label, which was formed by former Cramps drummer Miriam Linna and her husband Billy Miller specifically to re-issue Adkins’ back catalogue. This included the release of Out To Hunch, a compilation of Adkins’ songs from 1955-65.
No More Hot Dogs comes from this compilation. Typical Adkins fare, this dainty rockabilly number is about decapitating a girlfriend, and then keeping her head as a wall-mount. (As you do). The opening 20 seconds of laughing-policeman madness lets you know you’re in for a wild ride, and as the song proceeds, Adkins tells his recently decapitated girlfriend that, in addition to not being able to talk anymore, she “can’t eat no more hot dogs”. Quite. It’s wild, it’s mental, it’s rock n roll. I love it.
Although Adkins cited Elvis Presley and Hank Williams as key influences, the music he produced had a much more primitive, and a verging-on-deranged quality, and was a key influence on the punk rock/rockabilly mash-up genre of the early 1980s, psychobilly. Robert Palmer of The New York Times called Adkins’ songs, “some of the most enthusiastically demented records in the annals of rock ‘n’ roll.” By Adkins’ own reckoning, he wrote around 7,000 songs, his creative juices stimulated and fuelled by his alleged two-gallon-per-day coffee habit, and a diet composed entirely of (often raw) meat. It was also a tradition of his to post a copy of each album he released to the sitting President of the time. In 1970, Richard Nixon took the time to write back, and said, “I am very pleased by your thoughtfulness in bringing these particular selections to my attention.” The Guardian newspaper said this of Adkins in an obituary for him in 2005:
“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”.
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