The year of Hasil Adkins' birth is unknown. The date recorded in a missing family Bible (April 29,193?) will probably remain a mystery. Hasil is actually the subject of a good deal of conjecture and myth, much of which is surprisingly true.
Hasil (pronounced "Hassle") was the youngest of 10 children of coal miner Wid Adkins and natural singer Alice Hale. He was born into severe poverty in the backwoods of Boone County, West Virginia with the great depression in full bloom. His early memories included plenty of hunger and not getting his first pair of shoes till 4 or 5 years old. He was schooled for all of 4 days.
At a very early age Hasil thought that musicians, like Jimmie Rodgers, on the radio played all the instruments themselves. He set out to do the same. He started beating on a milk can. The sound of him banging on that milk can aggravated his daddy. He told Hasil, "Son, go beat that thing out there at the chimney corner." which is where Hasil would sit for hours every day beating out rhythms on his milk can. Hasil worked his way up from a milk can to a four pound lard bucket, then an eight pound lard bucket. When his mommy was gone he would turn her washtub and dish pan into instruments, making music from anything available and learning to be the greatest One Man Band that ever lived.
Hasil saw his first guitar at a neighbor's house. He would go watch the man play for hours on end, completely mesmerized by the sounds and
studying what the man was doing. He would wait for hours and days until the grown ups got drunk enough to agree to let him touch the guitar. That is how Hasil Adkins first got his hands on a guitar as a young boy. He fashioned his own guitars out of barbed wire and water buckets and such. His parents recognized his gift and saw it as a way for their son to escape life in the coal mines. The family saved up and finally were able to buy him a guitar when he was a teenager.
Hasil traveled the country for years playing honky tonks and bars, sent tapes of himself to every record label imaginable, and had several near misses with fame. He never wavered from his style, staying true to himself and his vision, arguably, inventing punk rock along the way. Some of his early singles he actually cut at home making him the first D I Y bedroom band. For several years Hasil stopped touring in order to stay home and take care of his mother, still recording and sending tapes all the while. He started his own publishing company and record label A.R.C. Records. Later the Cramps helped turn Hasil into an underground phenomenon when they covered his song, "She Said."
Hasil released 16 albums and 21 singles in the United States along with several demos and European releases. He wrote over 7,000 songs and knew about 2,000 cover songs. His live performances were simultaneously chaotic, graceful, and mesmerizing. Occasionally, Hasil would bring a guest to play with him for a song or two but no one could really keep up with him. That's why he always remained a one-man band. During one session with a band, a musician asked Hasil 'in what time is the song'? Hasil's only response was a scream.
Hasil Adkins was not a novelty act. He liked his wild, "Halloween" songs but was most proud of his country songs through which he could express his deepest feelings. He was very complex and could be raw and primitive at times but also very spiritual, unschooled yet brilliant, always joking but quite serious. Hasil was as authentic and genuine a person as ever walked the earth. If he felt like getting happy and destroying your drum kit, he did it. If he felt serious, sad, quiet, and lonely, he would sing about that. If he wanted to eat ten pounds of tomatoes in one sitting, ten pounds of tomatoes would be eaten. Whatever Hasil did he did with sincerity and with complete abandon.
On April 15, 2005 Hasil was intentionally run down by someone he had never seen before on an ATV while on his back porch. The kid then went down the road and ran down someone else for good measure. Hasil survived the incident, identified him from a picture, and said he hoped the kid would only do 5 years or so, learn his lesson and still have a chance to do right in the world. We lost Hasil ten days later.
Throughout the history of music there have been a few originals and many imitators. Hasil Adkins is certainly among the most original of
them all. He was a rare individual who carved out a completely new road from the wilderness and then burned the ground behind him making
it nearly impossible for anyone to truly follow.
God Bless Hasil Adkins, may he finally Rest in Peace!