The Crazed Father of Psychobilly Rock, the unparalleled Hasil Adkins

Hasil Adkins (April 29, 1937 – April 26, 2005) was an American singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist. His genres include rock and roll, country, blues and more commonly rockabill. He generally performed as a one-man band, playing guitar and drums at the same time.

Adkins grew up in poverty in the midst of the Depression, and his spirited lifestyle is reflected in his music. His songs explored an affinity for chicken, sexual intercourse and decapitation, and were isolated in obscurity until being unearthed in the 1980s. The newfound success secured him a cult following, spawned the Norton Records label, and helped usher in the genre known as Psychobilly.

 

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Adkins was born in Boone County, West Virginia on April 29, 1937, where he spent his entire life. He was the youngest of ten children of Wid Adkins, a coal miner, and Alice Adkins, raised in a tarpaper shack on property rented from a local coal company. Born at the time of the Great Depression, Adkins’ early life was stricken by poverty. His parents were unable to provide him shoes until he was four or five years old. Some reports say 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”. Hasil dated a girl named Hazel, and was later given the nickname The Haze. As he explained it, the nickname came about “’cause Starlight records wanted something catchy and I didn’t have no middle name.”

Hasil Adkins 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 chicken” dancers. His diet also reportedly consisted in as much as two gallons of coffee a day, and copious amounts of liquor and cigarettes.

 

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Adkins was said to have suffered from manic depression and insomnia among other mental illnesses. He never married.

On April 15, 2005, Adkins was deliberately run over in his front yard by a teenager on an ATV. Ten days later, on April 26, Adkins was found dead in his home.

Nicknamed “The Haze”, Adkins career began in the mid 1950s in an improvised 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, which would become his hallmark sound.

Adkins is often cited as an important precursor to the Psychobilly genre. New York City’s The Cramps attribute much of their punk-psychobilly traits to Adkins, and covered “She Said” on their live album Smell of Female (1983). This helped usher Adkins into cult status as an underground musician, and inspired Cramps’ drummer Miriam Linna and her husband Billy Miller to found the Norton Records label. North Carolina psychobilly group Flat Duo Jets also covered Adkins with “Let Me Come In” on the 1993 lo-fi compilation Safari, which was released on Norton Records.

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.

 

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The craziest song in his repertoire was ‘She Said’. The song tells the tale of the frightening aftermath of a drunken one-night stand:

Why’s don’t I tell you what it is?
I wen’ out last nigh’ and I got messed up
When I woke up this mornin’
Shoulda seen what I had inna bed wi’ me
She comes up at me outta the bed
Pull her hair down the eye
Looks to me like a dyin’ can of that commodity meat
And says
And says
Woo ee ah ah!
Woo ee ah ah!
Woo ee ah ah!
Woo ee ah ah!
Wooooeeeeahhh!

So this time we got waay over here
(Where?! Where?!)
I don’t know, since it was early dawn’s light
She jumped up outta the car
She pulled her hair down her eye
She looked to me like a dinosaur ’bout to jump outta that seat
She said
She said
She said
Woo ee ah ah!
Woo ee ah ah!
Woo ee ah ah!
Woo ee ah ah!
Wooooeeeeyahhhh!

So this time we got waaay over here
And then we went waay down here
We got all the way over
‘n that lady sound like this:
Oooooo! Oooooo!
She said
She said
Woo ee ah ah!
Woo ee ah ah!
Woo ee ah ah!
Yoo ee ah ah!
Wooooaaahhyahh!

So this time we went waaay over there
Now things was really gettin’ goin’
Boilin’ up with the blisters
She sound like this:
Ooooo! Ooooo!
She jumped up outta the car
Pulled her hair down her eye
And do you know what she tol’ me?
Do you know what she try to tell me?
She said
Ooooo! It feel so goood!
Woo ee ah ah!
Woo ee ah ah!
Woo ee ah ah!
Woo ee ah ah!
Woo woo eeeeeyahhhh!
Yah yah yah!
Woo ee ah ah!
Woo ee ah ah!
Woo ee ah ah!

The Cramps version:

Ded Moroz “Russian Santa”

Ded Moroz is a legendary figure similar to Saint Nicholas, Father Christmas and Santa Claus who has his roots in Slavic paganism mythology. The tradition of Ded Moroz is mostly spread in East Slavic countries and is an important part of Russian culture. Although at the beginning of the Soviet era communists banned Ded Moroz he soon became an important part of the Soviet culture. The literal translation is “Grandfather Frost”.

Ded Moroz is depicted as bringing presents to well-mannered children, often delivering them in person in December days and secretly under the Christmas tree on night at 31 December on New Year’s Eve.

In East Slavic cultures, Ded Moroz is accompanied by Snegurochka his granddaughter and helper, who wears long silver-blue robes and a furry cap or a snowflake-like crown. She is a unique attribute of Ded Moroz, since similar characters in other cultures do not have a female companion. Often Snegurochka is called Nastenka (Nastya), the diminutive of Anastasia.