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So Sad and Lonely and In the Groove
Hasil Adkins is alive!
But still I remember the day I learned of his passing (April 25, 2005). My heart broke, and I listened to all of his records that I had. I wrote and talked to friends who gave me loose details of the circumstances surrounding his leap into immortality—I’ll leave what I was told to legend and lore.
Now, here some seven years later, I find myself sitting alone and listening to his music again. You know, many people remember Hasil for his songs about Mars, chicken, or peanut butter and hotdogs, but there was some for-real, late-night, lost and wayward crooning coming from Mr. Adkins as well. Pick up a copy of Achy Breaky Ha Ha Ha, or Moon over Madison, both on Norton Records; you’ll hear it. Then, one night, deep into the darkness, wrap yourself up in those records for a few warm Budweisers and see how it sits with you.
What follows, a number of lines below, is the result of an evening in 2004 spent with Hasil on his property in West Virginia. It was a trip I almost didn’t make. It was a trip that, at the time, put me in the red. It was a trip that I could have excused myself from and stayed home, but it was a trip I was required to make by all that is good and great. And so I did. I’ll take with me till the end the warm reception me and my good friend Matt Comer received when we showed up at Hasil’s property. He was a welcoming and gracious host.
“Tell what you feel,” Hasil said to me. Yes sir, I will.
–Bradley Williams, 2013
Water trickles down from the rocks along the side of the road. We haven’t passed anyone except a few boys riding four wheelers. We’re high up in the mountains of West Virginia. We could well be on our way to camping or some hunting, but we’re not. We’re looking to find a man who some say is one of the greatest known living country singers. Not only is he a great country singer but one of the greatest and most well known one man bands ever. Period. This man has the power to bend things into shapes that most people have never thought to exist. Crooked rock’n’roll. That stuff which flows out of us and we don’t know where or why, and that don’t matter as much as the fact that it’s here, and it don’t look right. It don’t fit with what everyone else is doing. It’s got its own blood and sometimes it don’t look of this world.
We’re still driving down the road. In my lap is a piece of paper, and on it is a phone number. The name of the town is Madison. The number is for Mr. Hasil Adkins. We have no address.
About eight months prior to this I was at work. I had access to a computer that was hooked up to the internet. I was bored and somehow got the idea to start emailing people who I felt sure would never write me back. Hasil Adkins was one person on that list. The way it went was that I wrote, not to Hasil, but to a gentleman named Jim Trocci, Hasil’s manager. I didn’t get a response for about five months. Jim emailed me. Two weeks later, I was on a plane to the East coast where I was to meet up with my friend, Matt, and drive over and into the hills of West Virginia. All of it in search of a man who now is even more of a mystery of complexities and ideas than he was before I sat down on the bench in his living room.
The road runs along the tops and the edges of the mountains for hours. The air is clean. The sky is clear. It is the start of fall and the forest is all yellow, red, and green. It goes like this for a while until the road winds down to the base of the mountains. The road runs alongside a small creek and a conveyer belt used for hauling coal which is ripped from the mountains: coal for the electricity to read at night by. We pass through small communities. The thought that the rest of the country doesn’t even know this place exists and the lives here go unheard passes through my mind. This area and other places like it are only whispers in our minds. The road follows the creek bed. The conveyer belt runs. After a while I start to notice the train tracks. They run together through the hills and through towns, which after each name is the word “incorporated.” Not really a town? Maybe. We roll on.
I had written to Jim and asked for an address. Jim wrote back saying that an address wouldn’t do us much good, and that it was best to drive into Madison, call Hasil up and then he’d “guide” us from there. I thought about what a bunch of bullshit that sounded like and then, at the same time, it didn’t seem like such bullshit. That was laid to rest by the time we pulled up to the Go Mart in Madison. I got out, went over to the pay phone, and made the call.
Hasil picked up on the other end, “Hello.”
“Hello, Mr. Adkins?” I said.
“This is him.”
“Mr. Adkins, this is Bradley. We’ve talked a few times and now I’m over in Madison.”
“You in Madison?”
“Yes, sir. We needed to get directions to your place.”
“Well, you need to head back about ten miles until you come to a sign that read ‘Bull Creek.’ When you see that there’ll be this wide spot where the truck turn around. Just pull over there and ask somebody. They’ll put you right on top of me.”
“Just ask somebody?”
“They’ll put you right on top of me.”
“Is there a store or something?”
“No. Just ask somebody.”
“Is there a house?”
“There should be somebody there.”
“And they’ll know where to find you?”
“They always seem to.”
“We’ll see you shortly.”
We drive back down the road until we come across a sign bearing the name “Bull Creek.” Half the sign is spray painted over. There is a wide spot in the road but nothing more. We pull off on the side of the road and look around. On up the creek bed there is someone fishing. We start to drive down the dirt road. Eventually, we see a broke-down bus, a house with numerous spray painted signs, and a polka-dot van. That has to be the place. It takes us a few more minutes until we found the driveway.
As we pull up to the house, about four dogs run out from under a trailer and start barking. We get out.
“Mr. Adkins,” I holler.
“Hush it,” comes a voice from inside the trailer, apparently meant to quiet the dogs. “Come on in,” says the voice again.
The dogs retreat to under the trailer. I push the screen door aside. The room is filled with smoke, and it shines in the rays of sunlight that come through the window. Sitting in a chair with a cigarette in one hand and a beer in the other is Hasil.
We say our how do you do’s and then I ask him if he we could start the interview. I take out my tape recorder. He looks at it and says, “What’s that for?”
“To record us talking,” I tell him.
“No. No. You a writer ain’t you? Then get out your pen and paper and start writin’.”
“It’s over,” I thought, and as I reach for my pen and paper Hasil starts laughing.
“Oh. I told you you could record me, didn’t I? Just no video cameras.”
I look up at him. He is smiling. I knew he’d been fucking with us. He takes a long pull off his Budweiser and follows it up with a cigarette.
Interview by Bradley Williams.
Originally ran in Razorcake #19 and #20, 2004
Hasil: I been working over here at the Opry. I want you to hear some of this what I been working on. Playing everything myself. I ain’t gonna but try to play twelve to twenty instruments all by myself at the same time.
Bradley: Twelve to twenty?
Hasil: Doing pretty good with it. I ain’t got ‘em all in here. Got a big rack. Got to put ‘em on where I can get to ‘em and blow ‘em and all this and that and everything. I run a test on ‘em and see what they sound like. Pretty good.
Bradley: That’s pretty hard. I’ve seen a guy, he sat down with a guitar and he had a bass below it. He played bass with his feet, but all he had was strings.
Hasil: I play a piano, organ, and stuff with your elbows. Get it in the right place.
Bradley: What got you started doing the one man band?
Hasil: Couldn’t find nobody to play with me. That’s why I started.
Bradley: You just couldn’t find nobody? There wasn’t nobody around?
Hasil: Oh yeah, there was good dancin’ bands. Crazy one-two-three-four beat, six beat, and twelve beat and all that–I can do that–that didn’t do anything for me. I didn’t like to play thataway–the way they played. They all in a time beat an’ all that.
Bradley: You can play about twenty instruments at once?
Hasil: I’m going to. Twelve to twenty. That’s a lot of instruments. I mean, they’re different things–they’re not the same, you know, instrument. Ah, it’ll come out pretty good. I’m rigging this up were I can play it all.
Bradley: I’ve seen some photos of you with some different names.
Hasil: Do what now?
Bradley: Sometimes you have a different name on the front of your drum. It’s always been “Hasil Adkins,” but sometimes it’s been, “Hasil Adkins and His One Man Band,” or “Hasil Adkins and His Happy Guitar.” What all names have you gone by in the past?
Hasil: Same thing, my name, but I had “The Lone One” on my drums. We’re trying to get a western out of that–The Lone One. I traveled by myself for years and years. You know, just me all by myself, puttin’ on shows and stuff. It’s always been a one man band. Just writings on the drum and stuff like that, different wordings.
Bradley: So, when you were touring like that with yourself, would you just pack up the car and go?
Hasil: I used to. I don’t do that no more. I sang all over the place, home to home, house to house, and joint to joint. You know, just any place you can get to sing.
Bradley: Where all have you been? All over the U.S.? Europe?
Hasil: Oh, you name it. Any place you can think of. All over Canada and the United States. I used to play here in the ‘50s and ‘60s, all these clubs up and down these rivers in and around the territories. Wyoming County, Boone County, Raleigh County, Logan County, day and night, about fifteen, twenty years of that. This was a long time ago. It went over good. We had some good times.
Bradley: How long you been playing as a one man band?
Hasil: When I started at six years old, I was playing on a milk can. You didn’t see no guitars back in here then. One old fella had one. He wouldn’t let nobody fool with it. He had a Gibson D-45. I’d like to have that Gibson. Hell, man, you can sell that and get a lot of money off it.
Bradley: You started playing on a milk can?
Hasil: Yeah, well, a baking powder can. You know what that is? It’s got a brass whisk up in there. They used to have it where you had to put it in. Now they mix it all up. Milk can and a baking powder can, four or five lard buckets, a ten-quart water bucket, and a washtub. It just keep coming up till I got a hold of a guitar. ‘Cause you didn’t see no guitars on this whole big territory here.
Bradley: Did you make instruments out of them cans or were you beating on them like drums?
Hasil: I made them. I made a lot of things. All kinds of contraptions and things to beat on and play on, and pick on. Turned out pretty good.
Bradley: Did you ever play the washtub bass?
Hasil: You like them?
Bradley: Yeah, they’ll wear you out.
Hasil: Them jugs is pretty good where you go [acting like he’s blowing into a jug] “Doot doot doot,” you know, play the bass on them jugs, like they put moonshine in? They done a lot of that back in here, too. I made that guitar. See that bottom picture, that lower picture, right there? [points to a picture on the wall]
Bradley: I’ve seen that photo before. I thought it looked homemade. You still got it?
Bradley: What happened to it?
Hasil: I traded it off years ago. I don’t even know who I traded it to now.
Bradley: Got any more around that you made?
Hasil: Nuh uh. I just made that one and quit. Don’t make ‘em. I’ve got a lot I broke up and everything, trying to put on shows.
Bradley: How many songs you think you’ve written so far?
Hasil: I’ve got over 7,000 already, and I’m getting ready to start up again. Once I get my horn up, I’m gonna try to put down another 2,000 more. [Hasil laughs to himself.]
Bradley: How many records have you put out now? You’ve been putting them out for the past–what would you say–fifty years?
Hasil: First one come out in 1961. A 45. “She’s Mine” b/w “Chicken Walk,” and I had about sixteen 45s. I don’t know how many it is now. I lost count of it.
Bradley: Did you ever play with Merle Haggard or Waylon, any of them?
Hasil: No, no. I’ve played with Kentucky Slim. You ever heard of him? He was real big. I played with him some, and a lot of others. Pretty big bands, some of them.
Bradley: What was the first song you learned to play?
Hasil: “Mule Skinner Blues,” Bill Monroe’s songs, Roy Acuff, old Jimmy Rodgers, “T for Texas.” They used to have a lot of blues singers, but you didn’t hear too much blues in this part of the country. If you had the radio you could get ‘em coming out of Nashville, WLAC. They was on that for years. Way up in the ‘50s, then Chuck Wey come along and they went out. There’s stations and all, but they don’t play no more rock or nothing. It’s all religious music.
Let me show you something. What do you think of this? [Hasil reaches over beside his chair and picks up a plastic turtle. He presses a button. Music starts to play from the turtle’s plastic shell, and its arms, head, and tail start to move. The song is something like, “You got to slow down/you’re moving too fast/you’ve got to slow down and let the moment last/you’re working too hard/you know it’s true/you got to slow down and make time for you.” Words of wisdom from a plastic turtle. He sits the turtle on the floor and it walks a little, then pauses to sing the lyrics, then it starts to walk again.] Boy, who ever made this, its tail, head, feet everything moves. Somebody’s done a lot of work on that.
Bradley: I’ve seen the singing bass, singing deer, and singing turkeys, but I ain’t seen one of these. Where’d you pick it up at?
Hasil: My girlfriend sent it to me, from Minnesota. Everybody likes that thing and I do, too. I got them fish. I got all kind of talkin’ things, sanging things, and walking things.
Bradley: I’ve never seen that one, though.
Hasil: It’s something else, ain’t it? They done a lot of work on that, man. Everything on that moves. There’s a lot of figuring out to get that thing to do all that.
Bradley: You’ve got a lot of stuff around in here.
Hasil: I lost all my stuff out there in my house, the Hasil Motel, everything in it. I had it loaded. See that picture, at the bottom over there, over top that Harley Davidson stereo over there? That was my room, but the whole house was thataway. Looked like you throwed it in there.
Bradley: What happened to it all?
Hasil: It all ruint on me. I moved out and the thing went to leaking and all that, and it all… well, I didn’t have time to get it all out.
Bradley: Did there come a storm or something?
Hasil: No, the house was getting old and went to leaking and all that. Over the years, it just kept leaking and leaking and ruint it all.
Bradley: My friend Megan wanted me to ask you if you still got women fighting to sit next to you?
Hasil: Yeah. That’s the reason I hide out around here. I don’t get out.
Bradley: You know most all these people up and down through here?
Hasil: Yeah, I know ‘em all, yeah. It don’t pay to get out sometimes. They too crazy. Them women will run you crazy, I tell you. They will if you don’t watch ‘em.
Bradley: I try but they get to me sometimes. What about the Slop and the Hunch? (two dances Hasil pioneered)
Hasil: Well, that Slop, I made that for drunks, ‘cause I played so much in the joints. It used to be beer joints. There wasn’t no clubs up in here at all. They’d come in thinkin’ they could dance and just fallin’ every whichaway. I said, “I’ll fix them up.” Yeah, it is. That’s the reason I made that Slop, so you could just go left or right or fall down or anything you ran into. Hell, they liked it, so that’s the only thing that counts.
Bradley: How about the Hunch? How’d that come about?
Hasil: Well, years ago I had two girls with me all the time, back in the ‘50s. That was before they started any of this titty doings, and they were good dancers. I already had the songs made up. They said, “Haze, let’s go with you and do it.” I said okay. So I took them along and people just went wild. They could really do it. I tell you I ain’t seen nobody dance the way they could dance. They was good at it.
Bradley: What’s it mean, the Hunch? I’ve heard things, but I want to hear it for real.
Hasil: Don’t feel bad. That judge over at Charlotte, big judge, he didn’t know what it was. My lawyer had to tell him. He said, “Can you believe he didn’t? He’s eighty or eighty-two years old and said he don’t even know what the Hunch is.” He said, “Oh, the secretary had to go tell him what it was.”
Bradley: What about younger bands? You got a Bob Log III picture on the wall.
Hasil: I met him in L.A. We played at that record shop. I can’t think of the name of it, but it’s a big record shop. He opened up for us when we was up there putting on shows, and playing that record shop and everything.
Bradley: Was it Amoeba?
Hasil: I don’t know. I can’t remember. I been through so much, man. It’s hard to remember anything. It was a big record shop, though, a real big one. We had a ball there. That’s were I met him at. I’d heard about him, but that’s where I met him.
Bradley: He’s good, huh?
Hasil: He smoke that pot like it’s going out of style. I said, “You smoke up?” He said, “Yeah, buddy.” Have you met him?
Bradley: Through some friends of mine, the Immortal Lee County Killers. They played with him in L.A. and I met him.
Hasil: You met Bob Log? What’d you think of him?
Bradley: Well, I’d never seen him play before and my buddy JR says, “Bradley, this is Bob. Bob, this is Bradley,” and I said, “Pleased to meet you,” and then I walked around front and he came out on stage in a jump suit with a motorcycle helmet on, and started out all boom boom boom boom boom…
Hasil: He looks like a robot, don’t he? He’s got that phone hanging down in the front.
Bradley: He’s got a drum machine that he runs with it, too, I think.
Hasil: He’s got them push buttons on the floor.
Bradley: He’s got some crazy stuff that I don’t understand, but there’s a band up in Portland, Oregon, I think, and they call themselves the Hunches.
Hasil: Yeah, yeah, I heard about them, but I ain’t seen them yet. Jim was telling me about them. He said they put on a pretty good show, too. He seen them out there in Georgia when they came through there. You like them Straightjackets?
Bradley: Los Straightjackets?
Hasil: Yeah, they gonna be in Minnesota sometime this coming week. My girlfriend said, “Yeah, they told me where they gonna be up there.” They’re friends of mine. They’re crazy with what they do. I’ve seen them on TV a lot. They’re on the late shows a pretty good bit.
Bradley: You ever been on TV?
Hasil: Uh huh. Yeah, different channels, different disks, I couldn’t tell you what all.
Bradley: I haven’t seen it but I’ve been told about a video.
Hasil: The Wild World of Hasil Adkins, they call it. People like to hear it, they do. Everybody that’s seen it said, “I liked that.”
Bradley: I was in L.A. and I tried to find it. You’d figure you could get it in L.A.
Hasil: It’s on the market. It’s pretty wild, but it’s pretty good.
Bradley: When I talked to you on the phone a while back, you said you been working. What all you been working on?
Hasil: Everything. I’m a mechanic a lot. I worked on a lot of cars, but it’s too hard. I’m getting up in years. I work on them sometimes, just not too much. I’m mostly working on this big room with a twelve to twenty piece band. Buddy, that’s a full-time job trying to figure out how to play it all and that’s all at the same time.
Bradley: You want anything from the store?
Hasil: You could get about a twelve pack of beer, Budweiser. That don’t make me feel too bad. Sometimes it don’t. When you go out, go down the road, right down there on your right. It ain’t too far down.
Bradley: My buddy one time told me that Budweiser stood for “Because U Deserve What Every Individual Should Enjoy Regularly.” Budweiser.
Hasil: This is about the best beer you can get. Everybody drinks it.
Bradley: My friend Megan said that in that video you was jumping on a car for percussion, and she wanted to know how you found out that a car made the perfect percussion instrument.
Hasil: I just done it. I mean, they was a-filmin’ and what, and I just done it, and they filmed it. They filmed a lot of stuff. But they didn’t use it. They got enough to come out with all kinds of videos. It ain’t but about thirty minutes long, that video. They should have made it at least an hour, forty-five minutes anyway. But they just made it thirty minutes.
Bradley: Why’d they make it so short?
Hasil: Don’t ask me. I don’t know. They had a lot of good shots they should have put in it, but they didn’t put ‘em in it.
Bradley: Another thing Megan wanted me to ask was if you know that band Social Distortion.
Hasil: What now?
Bradley: The band called Social Distortion.
Hasil: I’ve heard of them, but there’s so many of ‘em out there it’s hard for me to remember all of ‘em, too. I’ve heard of ‘em, yeah.
Bradley: Well, the cover for your album Peanut Butter Rock ‘n’ Roll, they did a cover for this album called Somewhere Between Heaven and Hell. Have you seen it? (The covers are very similar.)
Hasil: They come out with so many. I ain’t seen it. I bet this is one you ain’t seen. [Hasil goes to the back of the trailer and brings out an LP.] She Said is the name of that one.
Bradley: How old were you when they took those pictures?
Hasil: I was twenty-three.
Bradley: How old are you now?
Hasil: I was sixty, seventy years old when that one came out.
Bradley: All these photos were right out here in the yard?
Hasil: Yeah, right out there in front of the house.
Bradley: How long you been in this house?
Hasil: I’ve been here since ‘47. That’s a few years ago, ain’t it?
Bradley: Yeah. You’re hidden here. When we came up to the spot in the road to turn off, we couldn’t see you. Most people wouldn’t know you were here.
Hasil: I know.
Bradley: So what happened with the other people that you played with? You just didn’t like the beats they was playing?
Hasil: Well, they were playing the same pattern. It’s the same patterns ever since the world began, I guess. I can play that. If I had tapes, I’d show you. But that didn’t do anything for me. I wanted to just go when I got ready. It just never done anything for me. If I have to do that, I ain’t interested in playing. I just want to sit down and play. You know, just go through with it. I don’t want to fool around with one-two-three-four-five-six-eight-ten beats, just go when you get ready and go with it. It’s working, too. It’s catching on.
They couldn’t even write lead sheets to my music. They tried it that way, way back in the early ‘60s. Them people in Hollywood, they done that on a lot, and they said, “We have to put it in a beat.” They don’t know. There’s so many beats in it. I believe if they knew what they were doing they could do something with it, but they couldn’t. They couldn’t do nothing. They say, “We can’t do anything with it. We can’t write what you’re putting down, but we can write it in patterns.” That old same patterns they got out. That’s the reason people said, “They’ll never computerize your music.” I said, “I know. Every song come out is different.” They start working with them computers, they gonna waste their life. They said, “They can’t computerize your music. I’m sick of computerized music. I love your kind of music. You just play what comes on your mind and go with it.” If they could, they’d computerize it, but they cain’t. They already tried it–they cain’t.
Bradley: It defies technology. It kicks it back.
Hasil: It’s just what I started with. I just went to playing. What it is, I just want to do what I want to do. You start playing with a band, you have to wait till they come in, tang-tang-tang and all that junk. I say, “Well, you’re too slow for me, man, and you’re doing that fast.” They said, “You won’t get nobody to play with you ‘cause you’re moving too fast.” I said, “That’s what you think. I can play with myself.” Let me play you some of these, what we’re working on getting out, me and Jim. He started his own company. It’s what he should have done a long time ago. [Hasil gets up and pulls a tape from many lying about the table. The songs are “Tell Me Why” and “You’re My Blue Star.”]What do you think about that? You think it might have a chance nowadays? It should. See what you think about this blues here. [Puts in another tape.] They done a good job on it. They missed it but added a dub.
Hasil: Here’s my girlfriend, see what you think of her. She wrote this song about me. I told her I’m gonna put her to work. Just wait till I get the one woman band going. She said, “You wouldn’t do me like that.” I said, “Yeah, I am.”
Bradley: What’s her name?
Hasil: Amy. Crazy Amy. See what you think of this. [Hasil gets up and puts in another tape. Music starts up. Crazy Amy is rockin’ on the radio. Matt’s still gone to the store to get beer. When he walks in his eyes are wide.] That’s pretty good for hadn’t ever seen me. She’s seen my movies and heard my records and stuff. She wrote me a letter and sent that to me. That’s how we got to know each other. She sent me a tape of it.
Bradley: She send you that turtle, too?
Hasil: Yeah, later on she did. To tell me to slow down. I said, “What do you mean, ‘slow down?’” [to Matt] Have you ever seen one of these? [Hasil starts up the turtle that plays and crawls across the floor.] Some people thinks it’s real. Somebody done a lot of work on that thing right there, to make everything work. Head, legs, tail, everything moves. Turtles don’t go fast, anyway.
Bradley: You do a lot of your recording in here?
Hasil: Got that 4-track over there. You ever seen a Harley Davidson stereo. I got the whole outfit. Radio, TV, everything. You ever seen them?
Bradley: Nuh uh. This is like a museum in here.
Hasil: That’s what everybody says. You ought to have seen my house before it all went down out there. It was loaded. I lost all that. I had everything. You see that thing hanging on the door? [Points to some sort of zombie mask that hangs on the wall.] There’s one in the back hallway. He’s the same way. He watches. Look at his eyeballs, the way he’s got them rolled. He’s got an eye on you. [Meanwhile, the musical turtle is playing its fourth round of “Slow Down.”]
Bradley: You had some paintings that you used to do?
Hasil: Huh, do what now?
Bradley: You used to do some painting with spray paint?
Hasil: Yeah. Polka dotted car, there, in that movie.
Bradley: What got you into that?
Hasil: I’m gonna polka dot that limousine. Jim’s. He said, “Polka dot it. I don’t care. It’s going anyway.” I said, “Alright, I will.” We gonna make it loud going down the country. Can paint it. “What they’re in, you can’t miss them. You can see ‘em coming for miles.” I just love my polka dots. You know Jimmy Rodgers, way back in the ‘20s and ‘30s? He was the one who made a song about that. He’s got some songs out. He’s got that “Polka Dot Blues.” That used to be famous way back then. Then here it come back in again, then it went back out. Shirts and pants was all polka dotted. Loud, man. Can see you coming for miles with the polka dots. [Hasil gets up and grabs another tape.] This song’s about Clinton. I was testing. See what you think about mine. This is just about two or three more pieces. I’m gonna play twelve or twenty, but see what you think of this. “Clinton Blues.” Working on the blues sound. We’re gonna campaign, too, out there. [laughter]
Bradley: Hasil for president. [The music starts up. It’s Hasil Adkins on drums, guitar, vocals and saxophone all at the same time.] How were you doing that? Playing a saxophone while you’re playing the guitar?
Hasil: Yeah, and I was whistling. I’m gonna play about twelve instruments. Twelve to twenty. I’m rigging them up in the back room. I’ve got to rig them up across there where I can get to them.
Bradley: Can we take a look at the set-up you got? You got them all rigged up?
Hasil: No, no. I’m rigging them back there. I’ve got to tape them and tie them on and everything so they won’t come off. See what you think about some of this blues stuff.
Bradley: When was that one recorded, the one just now, “Clinton Blues”?
Hasil: Back in the back room there.
Bradley: How long ago?
Hasil: It ain’t been too long. [Another song starts up on the tape deck.]
Bradley: How many guitars you got here?
Hasil: I’ve had about eighty-something all together. Broke about seventy something, trying to put on a show.
Bradley: What’s up with the pickup on this one? Did you make it yourself?
Hasil: Yeah, all of them. That guitar there, I bought that in Baltimore. They just made twenty-five hundred. That’s the reason I don’t want to tear it up. I laid it down. Five or ten people said, “Do you see that he laid the guitar down?” They didn’t know what to think. They ain’t ever seen me.
Bradley: That’s a pretty guitar.
Hasil: It’s made pretty, ain’t it? Whoever designed that, I think they done a good job on it. It’s a good guitar too, it is. [Hasil puts in the song, “Play With Your Play Pretty.”]
Bradley: Why do you write songs about peanut butter?
Hasil: The kids love to eat peanut butter. I got a lot of songs about peanut butter. Everybody likes that peanut butter. [Starts talking about a song that’s playing.] I done that in Baltimore, about that girl Amy. She spent fifty thousand dollars calling me. I said, “Give me that money, man. Quit calling, just holler at me.” I get to rockin’, then I slow it down. They said, “I don’t know what to think.” I waited about two months before I called her. I said, “I didn’t know whether to call you or not. You might be crazier than I am. I had to figure it out.” She said, “I didn’t think you’d ever call me.” I said, “Oh yeah, I got around to it.” I had to study it a long time. [A harmonica blasts in the background. It’s a sad song and we’re downing Budweiser.]
Bradley: So when’s this new record coming out?
Hasil: Pretty soon. We’re working on one. Me and Jim is trying to get one.
Bradley: Where is Jim?
Hasil: North Georgia. He likes my music. That’s what it is. He does. He loves it. He’s tickled to death. Every show I’ve played, he’s counting every one.
Hasil: Yeah, he’s counting every one. [At this point, there’s lots of background noise coming from Hasil’s tape deck.] “Who Took Your Clothes Off?” See what you think of this. [The music starts in.] This is live. This is the show where I made it up. They said, “What do you do, make ‘em up on the spot?” I said, “Yeah.” [The song goes on and it gets to a part where Hasil is doing the voice of the girl trying to explain to her man why she isn’t wearing clothes.] That’s when she been hanging out all night and wants to come back. She’s running around naked and come back here wantin’ to go back inside and I said, “Get out!” She must have been pretty drunk or something.
Bradley: That really happen?
Hasil: Yeah. How you like my guitar? [It’s at a part in the song were Hasil is doing the guitar solo with his mouth. Hasil sings a new guitar part over the stereo. Then another song starts off.]
Hasil: Here we go. Some of these songs are messed up. Listen at the words to it. I had to do this buddy with a baseball bat. I ain’t kidding. Them ballplayers like this. [Hasil starts singing in his own voice.] “I don’t tell them of the nights I cried without you. I say just someone I used to know.” [He starts singing a duet with himself in a woman’s voice.] “Your lies don’t tell them how lost I am without you. I’ll say it’s just someone I used to know.” [Sings in his own voice.] “Now, honey, this last time you left on your own. I want to tell you this. Next time you come back I’m taking this baseball bat. And you’re gonna leave on your own, ‘cause I’m gonna run you off with this baseball bat. You won’t come back no more. And you won’t have to worry about this baseball bat. You don’t know. I’ll run you out the door, hollerin’ and a-screamin’, sayin’, “Hey, he’s trying to kill me with the baseball bat.” So please, honey, don’t come back no more. I can’t stand it. It’s just about to run me nuts. Plum insane. [Mouths out the guitar parts and the tape cuts off in the middle of the ending, and goes into “Do the Scalp.”]
Bradley: How do you do the scalp?
Hasil: Take your cap an’ wack you head.
Bradley: What’s your dogs’ names?
Hasil: Spot, Molly, Puppy, and Rat.
Bradley: Is Rat the little white one?
Hasil: He is a rat, sure. If Rat could beat you to death, he will. He’s worth three hundred dollars. But I wouldn’t give you a dime for him. You have to pamper him. I say, “You don’t get pampered here. I’ll get a club on you. You straighten up.”
Bradley: When we pulled up, he tried to jump through the window.
Hasil: Oh, you know how high they can jump? They can jump as high as your shoulder. They can. That sucker can jump. He’s part rabbit. Them rabbits are hard to catch. He’s fast.
Bradley: A rabbit dog. [There’s another song playing. It’s got a guy playing fiddle with Hasil.]
Hasil: Listen to that fellow there. That fellow trying to play that fiddle with me. He’s good on that fiddle, but he said, “If you show me the song, I can help you.” I said “I’m making it up myself. Let’s go with it. We doing it this way.” He said, “I ain’t ever done this before.”
Bradley: Mr. Adkins, is there any way I could get you to play me a song? I ain’t ever seen you play. I’ve just heard you on records and stuff.
Hasil: No. Have you seen this album any place?
Matt: No, no.
Hasil: It’s off the market. Come out in England with that. They done a good job on that. A real good job. You lay that sucker down any whichways, you can see it when you walk in the shop. I think they done the best job on that than what they did on any album I got out. I got all kinds of them out but I think that’s the best one they done. I sold all mine and had a time trying to get that one. My girlfriend had to get that. She said, “I’ll get you one.” You have to buy them off people. You can’t buy them off the market.
Bradley: This is the only one you got?
Hasil: That’s the only one I got.
Bradley: I just got The Lonesome Sounds of Hasil Adkins. It’s got the drum on the cover.
Hasil: You got Drinking My Life Away?
Bradley: No, I don’t.
Hasil: It’s a CD. People likes that one, they do. I like that one, too. That one there’s got some good ones on it. “DPA Up on the Moon.” [In a high voice] “I like peanut butter too.” That’s how it goes. They come out with that back in ‘85, kept it on the market until ‘92, then took it off. The contract went out. They’re getting ready to come out with it again. That’s been a long time ago.
Bradley: That’s been about ten years. The same people gonna put it out again?
Hasil: Nuh uh. You remember the man named Sting? He’s the one that designed that. Out of London, England. He’s the one that designed that, laid it out. I think he done an awful good job on it.
Bradley: Was it one of the guys in Sting’s band that did it?
Hasil: Yeah, Sting. The band Sting. They made all kinds of money. They made all kinds of hits.
Bradley: One of the albums I’ve got, Moon Over Madison, sort of reminds me of Hank Williams, Sr. Did you ever get to see him play?
Hasil: Who, Hank Williams?
Hasil: No. Got close but I never got to see him, though. Hank III, I know him. He’s a big fan of mine. [He points to an autographed Hank III picture on his wall. Hasil’s walls are full of autographed photos and records. It seems strange that this man would be the one asking for an autograph.] We were gonna try to tour some together. He’s tourin’ all over the country. Buddy, if he don’t drink that Jack Daniel’s, man. He’s thirty years old now and he’ll be dead before I see him. I said, “You’ll be dead before you’re forty, drinking like that.” I mean, buddy, it’s like this. [Hasil sizes out a cup with his hands.] Big ‘ol cups. He’s worse than Hank Williams drinking. And Jack Daniel’s, he loves it. I said, “Oh, I got sick on that. I can’t look at it no more.” I can’t drink no liquor. I was drinking five fifths and four liters in twenty-four hours. Of vodka. That vodka will kill you, too. I talked to the doctor. He said, “Don’t you know you could get sick?” I said, “Why do you think I’m in here?” He said, “You can’t do that!” I said, “I’m trying.” Drink beer or wine or something – anything. I ain’t drunk no vodka in over two years now.
Hasil: That vodka will kill you. My girlfriend stopped that. She said, “No more vodka.” I said, “Is that right?”
Bradley: So she sent you that turtle to tell you to slow down? Is that why she sent you the turtle?
Hasil: Yeah. [laughter] From Minnesota. Out in that cold country. I said, “Well, it gets cold here, but not like it does up there.” Man, it gets cold up there. She said it was real pretty today, though. She said, “Oh, it’s been warm,” and this and that. “I went and washed the car.”
Bradley: Yeah, last night it got in the ‘50s. Coldest I’ve seen it in a while. I don’t get cold in L.A.
Hasil: I know. I know.
Bradley: It stays too sunny.
Hasil: I was out there in 1956–L.A. I almost walked out there. Well, I didn’t walk out there. I almost walked back. [laughter] On that desert I almost burnt up–Arizona and Los Angeles, all through out the territory–trying to get a break.
Bradley: Were you playing out there?
Hasil: Yeah, we took all them. This fella, he was helping me. He was twenty-nine and I wasn’t old enough. And he said, “Well, the man wouldn’t let us in.” The man said, “I don’t care what you got. Ain’t either one of you old enough to get into this club.” This fella that was helping me said, “I know I am. I’m twenty-nine!” We didn’t get in. The man said, “I don’t care if you’re fifty-nine. You ain’t gettin’ in here ‘cause you ain’t old enough.” The ones we did get in, they had contests for who was the best and all that. We took all them, every one we could get in. We win every one of them. He said, “They got a big one going on here. If we get in, we’ll win it.” I met Pasty Cline at that Town Hall Party. There’s that dance party they had on TV. I was on it. I didn’t have no money to buy no record with. She was selling them 45s of “Walking after Midnight.” That’s before it become a big hit. I said, “Boy, if I’d had the money to buy that, just think of what I could get out of it today.”
Bradley: Did you get to talk to her?
Hasil: Yeah. She tried to sell me one of them records. I said, “I ain’t got no money.” I didn’t have none. I said, “We’re out here trying to win everything we can to get by.” Eating hamburger, hotdogs, anything we can eat.
Bradley: What did she say to that?
Hasil: She didn’t say nothing. She knew how it was ‘cause she was hungry, too, over there, trying to get someplace. I was on that same label. They never did get nothing out. [pauses] We never did get the tape to them is what it was. We tried to, but we could never get nothing cut. A recording, man, you had to go miles and miles here before you could find a studio or anything.
Matt: What was the closest one from here?
Hasil: Lexington, Kentucky, and that’s a pretty good ways from here, you know. Back then it was.
Bradley: Have most of your recordings been done here?
Hasil: Most of them, yeah. Oh, I’ve done them all over the country now, but way back, most of them were done here. I’ve had a lot of people say, “I like all them, man. You go a way back. They were raw, and, man, I like that raw sound you got.” I cut them on a tape recorder, most of them. I had a wall recorder. Boy, you get that stuff in a tangle and it’s just like a string of your hair. It gets to tangling up and then it goes into a whole ball. And I get a ball that big around [sizes it with his hands], about that high, and on each side of the reels, you know – rolling up – get it tangled so you couldn’t use it, and that was it. You’d have to throw it away. Boy, it was clear as a bell, to be that far back. If I had them now, I’d play you some. Way back in ‘48, ‘48 and ‘50 and ‘55 and ‘60 and ‘57, ‘58, all through them years.
This album that’s coming out with them girls behind it, the title of it is I Dreamed of My Amy Last Night. I played it on the piano and I said, “Oh, I’m gonna sing it on the guitar now.” [Hasil gets up and puts another tape on.] Watch this. [What follows is the most bizarre version of “I Walk the Line” anyone’s ever heard, followed by ten minutes of shouting and trebly guitar lines while we work on the case of Budweiser.]
Bradley: How much land you got around here?
Hasil: Twelve acres.
Bradley: What’s the listing of the songs we just listened to?
Hasil: “Baseball Bat,” “Leigh Anne Baby.” I’ve done got lost myself. I have to back off and get the first one.
Bradley: “Coco the Dog?”
Hasil: “Coco the Dog.” Yeah. “9-1-1 Bubble Gum.”
Bradley: “9-1-1 Bubble Gum!” [laughter]
Hasil: “Sad Old Rose,” “The Girl of Minnesota.”
Bradley: “Crazy Amy!”
Hasil: Yeah, “Got a Girl in Minnesota Gonna Teach Me How to Hunch that Thing.” Gonna teach me, I got a girl in Minnesota, anyway.
Bradley: “Got a Girl in Minnesota Gonna Teach Me How to Hunch” or “Got a Girl in Minnesota?”
Hasil: “Gonna Teach Me How to Hunch That Thing.”
Bradley: “Hunch That Thing.”
Hasil: That’s what she thinks. [to Matt] Did you hear her (Crazy Amy) sing?
Matt: When I was getting out of the car, I was like, “Man, this trailer is rockin’” [laughter]
Bradley: Is your name pronounced “Hazel” or “Hasssel”?
Hasil: “Hasssel.” They never could get it right. They called me everything. That’s alright. I don’t care, as long as they pay me. That’s one way to look at it, ain’t it?
Bradley: You got a middle name?
Hasil: No. They put that Haze in it. I didn’t even do that. The record company did that‘cause they said they can’t say “Hasssel” so they have to say something else. Put “Haze.”
Bradley: “Haze” ain’t nowhere close to “Hasssel.”
Hasil: Yeah, “Haze.”
Bradley: “Axle” is closer to “Hasssel.” What do you like to eat normally? What’s your favorite food?
Hasil: Meat. Any kind of meat. I eat a lot of meat, oh, yeah.
Bradley: Chicken, Poultry in Motion…
Hasil: Chicken, beef, hawg, pork.
Bradley: You get some deer around here, some venison?
Hasil: Oh yeah, I like that too. This place is full of deer–it is. It didn’t used to be that way. When I was a kid, there wasn’t none. We keep ‘em all killed out. [laughter] You’d see one every now and then. Everybody was happy.
Matt: People around here mostly coal miners?
Hasil: Well, they got every which way now, but it used to be just coal miners and timber. You know how much they used to pay a day?
Bradley and Matt: Nuh uh.
Hasil: A dollar a day, cutting timber. You go back up in them woods, cutting it down, skimming it up, and sliding it out, ‘cause you didn’t have nothing to pull it with. If we’d had a horse, we’d have killed him, ‘cause he takes off and run off and leaves us. So you had to take them J-hooks and things, twist them where they get hung up and go on down the mountain till they get to the bottom. Then they took the horses and pulled them on into the sawmill. A dollar a day. Lot of money, wasn’t it? It was, way back then, though. Then they got up to two dollars a day, they did. I used to work for fifty cents an hour, four dollars a day. Buddy, I was glad to get it, too. There was a bunch you could buy with it. You just spend and spend.
Bradley: So you did some logging?
Hasil: I have, I’ve cut some. I didn’t do too much of that. You’ll get killed. Them trees will kill you fast, jumping back and breaking off. You got to be fast as lightning. There’s a lot of people killed with it–cutting them down. Then they kick back, and splinter, and break off, run up to you. And if they went the wrong way when you were cutting them, you got to gauge ‘em which way to go. A lot of times they’d have vines in the tops to hold them and jerk ‘em around. And if they didn’t go thataway, you had to run and get out of the way of it. You had to go this way, thataway, and watch which way you’s going.
And them mines, oohhh. Back then, them mines about that high [Measures out about a foot and a half with his hands]. My daddy worked in ‘em, about that high. You had to crawl, take a shovel, and load the coal on a buggy. The buggy was flat, but it was a big buggy.
You had to lay down on your belly or your back one to work. You couldn’t straighten up. You had eight or twelve hours of loading coal on your belly. You could turn on your side a little bit to throw the coal in the bucket with them ol’ big double-shovels, that long and that wide [he measures it out with his hands]. They held that much coal, buddy. That was heavy to lift that off, layin’ down on your belly or back or something. But you had to put it in the buggy ‘cause it didn’t count if you didn’t get it in it. Hard work.
You had to load by the ton. You got paid by the ton. Some days, you got a dollar a ton. That took a lot of coal to run a ton. If you load ten or twelve tons a day, you done a good job. To make that much money, you had to be fast and hard. Moving work is what it was. Too much work in it. You didn’t want to go in no mines if you could help it. That’s what my daddy told me. I said, “I ain’t going in no mines.” I been in ‘em. Fooled around with ‘em and I said, “I ain’t fooling with that.” You go miles back up in that mountain, buddy, and you got all that mountain weights comin’ down on you, poppin’ and crackin’ when they’re takin’ that coal out. I said, “I can get outside and make somethin’.” [laughter] I ain’t gonna fool with that. It is scary back in one of them. Man, that top cracks, and you see it’s coming down, you know the weight coming down and they got to get the posts and things back up to catch it before it comes all the way down, and it’s a-givin’ and takin’ that coal out. And every time you take it out–that top–you can see it give, and crack and bang. It cracks like a shotgun going off. Loud, man. Some people went in and said, “I’m getting out of here. I ain’t foolin’ with this, man, everything’s crackin’ around me.” [laughter]
One fella quit. He said, “I quit.” He was young; he said, “I ain’t foolin’ with no more mines.” He said, “My nerves won’t stand it.” That slate falls, it’s that thing, it won’t hurt you. You know it’ll just bust up over your head and fall down, but you got that rock a-comin’ behind it. He worked two days and said, “I quit. That’s it.” So many people gettin’ killed takin’ that coal out. Well, you take all that mountain–they was down to the bottom–and all that mountain and all that weight was on top of you. It didn’t take long to get rid of you. It come quick when it comes, like lightning. They got a lot safer now. Back then, they didn’t have nothin’. They got the coal out, but it was slow.
Bradley: We saw a bunch of the belts that run the coal as we were coming in.
Hasil: Did I tell you about them movies a-comin’ out?
Hasil: You’ve got to see these. Die You Zombie Bastards. Got naked girls. Got pretty girls in it. It was made all over the country. It’s wild, it is. People seen the previews of it. It’s coming this fall. Tear It Up. It’s got everything: devils and all that. Everything, Jerry Lee Lewis, and they’re tearing up everything, breaking up everything, and it’s a wild movie, a documentary about the rockabilly music. It’s real good. I’ve seen some of it. It’s the best document they’ve ever made about rockabilly music. Scotty Moore, they got him in it, talking about playing for Elvis, and about that “Mystery Train,” and hittin’ all them notes. He said, “I don’t know. We didn’t mean it. We just done it. We was just playin’.” And he hit them licks on that guitar. The way he tells it, though, he said, “No, no. It wasn’t made up. It’s just pickin’ and singin’ and we just played and just happened to hit them licks.” Made a missed lick, but he made a right lick. That’s what made Elvis, it was. Scotty Moore did, well, all of them together with Bill Black and all of ‘em. They didn’t know what they were doing. Johnny (Burnette) said, “We didn’t know what we were doing. He just quit singin’ and we just went to playin’. That’s pretty good for it to come out thataway. They said, “We tried to go back over it, but couldn’t do no good with it. We just had to do it the first time and go with it.” “That’s Alright Mama” and “Mystery Train,” and I don’t know how many, but they just done it. They done a pretty good job for not knowing what they were doing. I said, “Well, shoot. I’ve got to try something that I don’t know what I’m doing.” [laughter]
Heck, when you don’t know what you’re doing, you’re liable to come out with anything. [laughter] Well, they played on cardboard boxes and everything–they did–you know, beatin’ on ‘em. They said, “Well, rockabilly, the music, just makes you feel good.” Well, you just get the cardboard box, and they was showing all that in the video, and they beat on ‘em with their hands, and spoons, and everything they could just to beat on it. All them old players now say, “Oh, it just makes you feel so good.” It makes you happy. It is going to be a good movie, it is. He ought to sell a lot of that one.
They had to come to get me with “She Said” and “Mystery Train” and all them and I sang them out there on the porch. Playing out on that back porch–it was in pretty good shape then–I throwed the guitar down and that camera man, he said “Boy, do it again right quick.” He couldn’t catch it quick enough. He said, “Well, I caught some of it. I didn’t know what he was going to do.” I said, “Now you’re getting right. You’re gettin’ right.” [laughter]
Bradley: You ever made a video to a song?
Hasil: Yeah, yeah. I got all kinds of videos if I had time I’d show you, but it’d take too long.
Bradley: That’s all right. You know, I did see this one documentary about this guy named Jesco White.
Hasil: Yeah. He lives about fifteen, twenty minutes from here. Something like that. He’s in Athens, Georgia tonight.
Bradley: Jesco is?
Bradley: Is it just him dancing?
Hasil: Huh? Yeah, yeah, dancing. Two shows. One in Atlanta and one in Athens. Last night he was in Atlanta and tonight he’s gonna be in Athens where Jim lives. They’re going out to see him.
Matt: So you said you were on TV with Patsy Cline?
Hasil: Yeah Town Hall Party in LA. (Town Hall Party was California’s largest country music barn dance, running from early 1952 until early 1961. The show was broadcast every Saturday night from a theatre made up to look like an old barn in Compton, a suburb of Los Angeles.)
Matt: Were you on TV any other times?
Hasil: Oh yeah, oh yeah. I’ve been on it a lot. Have you see it up in New York? It’s on cable up there. Two times a week. I didn’t think they played that, but the kids, these little… two, three, four, five, eight, up to about twelve or fourteen-year-old kids, she said they played it and they’ll dance it. Slappin’ their hands and stuff. I got a video of it from up there. Vampires and everything, you know, dancing with them kids and all. It’s a pretty good show they got going. And they got one in Chicago the same way. Only it ain’t vampires. It just all fun for the kids.
(Long pause. I didn’t know what to think about the vampires. Plus I’ve had about five or six beers and we’ve had tape rolling for right at two hours.)
Bradley: I still… I still… I want to hear you play a song.
Hasil: (quietly) I don’t fool with it. I mean…
Bradley: Awh, all right. I won’t push you on it.
Hasil: (brightening up) I could sing you one on the guitar, though, I mean just the guitar, if you want.
Bradley: Would you mind?
Hasil: This is a good guitar here.
[Starts to strum. With the tape rolling, Hasil leans towards the tape. And starts to play “When the Leaves Start to Fall.” The song rolls along low and sad, and at the end it picks up to triple time and ends with Hasil’s scat guitar lines. Something like “Ticky ticky ticky tock.” Cheers, laughter, and “thank you’s” follow.] Get ‘em all dancing slow then speed it up on ‘em. They said, “Boy, I like the way you do.” I said, “Good. I’m glad of it.”
Bradley: I’m gonna step to the bathroom real quick. That was good, Mr. Adkins. That was good.
(At the start of the second side of the second tape we start talking about All Mighty Do Me A Favor and stuff. So I’m going to skip that right now for time. But it’s right after start of the tape. He talks about ADMF and Bob Log… then)
Hasil: That’s where I met him (Bob Log III), out in LA. I’d heard about him, but that’s where I met him. They got a movie out with me and him in it. (Let Me Be Your Band)
Bradley: What’s that called?
Hasil: It ain’t out. It’s coming out… wait a minute… ah, I can’t tell you… wait a minute… Eugene Samborn you know him don’t you?
Bradley: Eugene Cyborg.
Hasil: Signburn Samborn or something they call him.
Bradley: I don’t know.
Hasil: He’s got one boy and two girls playing for him. He don’t play nothing. He can, but he mostly sings. He takes that overcoat off in that movie and throws it away and throws his hat away and gets with it. He’s crazy, I tell you. He’s from down in North Carolina, down in that country down in there. He’s pretty well known. A lot people like him. Whatchacallit–Bob Log was talking about him. He said that sucker man took a mop handle and pitched it and entertained people for thirty minutes, and he said, “I know I can get out there and do stuff to entertain people,” and he started up what he started.
Hasil: Have you ever seen Jesco?
Bradley: I’ve never seen him but on video. On TV.
Hasil: What do you think of him? [pause] He’s crazy as hell. He is. [laughter] He’s a good feller, he is. He don’t get out but once every 10,000 years or so.
Bradley: Really? [laughter]
Hasil: He just puts on a show every now and then.
Bradley: Is it just him and a guitar player?
Hasil: I used to play with his daddy. His daddy could tap dance. Jesco’s pretty good, but…why he’ll tell you he couldn’t do nothin’ what his daddy could do. His daddy could dance, man, you talkin’ about dancing. We used to go out and play and he’d get up and dance. On shows. And high school. But he could dance, his daddy could. Jessco can do all right, but nothin’ like his daddy. He knows it, too. He said, “I can’t do nothing like him, but I can do pretty good.” I said, “Well, right.”
Matt: Was there a dance hall or anything to perform in that you guys would play at?
Hasil: I don