Hasil Adkins: Out to Hunch

hasil-adkins-out-to-hunch

At one point I was visiting a friend in Chicago. I (thought) I knew his address, and since I was arriving at 3:00 in the morning or so (must have been Greyhound) he said he woulfd leave the door to his apartment unlocked when he went to bed. When I finally made to the building I realized I didn’t quite remember the address or apartment number, but I tried a door and found it open so I went in. Tentatively creeping upstairs quietly, I found the living room and a stack of records in the corner. I started flipping though them, and Out to Hunch was the second or third one in. I was surprised that my buddy had that record since it wasn’t his scene, but it a mutual friend had it so I knew I was in the right apartment. The chances of me walking into a random house and finding someone else with that record seemed about as possible as a famous bad actor getting elected to a high profile public office.

This record was originally released on vinyl back in 1986. At the time Hasil Adkins was kind of a well know secret amongst record collectors and rockabilly/psychobilly aficionados. The back story on Hasil was that he was a teenager who lived in the Appalachian mountains in a shack somewhere and was so into rock and roll in the 50’s that he recorded all kinds of crazy rock and roll ditties one-man-band style in a cabin in the woods somewhere. They were crazy because he was somewhat warped, and the fidelity of the recordings would vary depending on the amount of moonshine in his system at any given moment. The crowning glory being a feral song about cutting off a girl’s head and picking her up for a date later. He sounds like he’s moaning from beyond the grave as he strums a guitar like a freight train slowly backing down the wrong track to crush some unaware teenagers petting in the back of a jalopy parked on the tracks… It’s truly great. The Cramps certainly drew inspiration from him, even covering a tune of his called “She Said” which sounds almost pale in comparison to the Adkins original.

Although the truth to the legends are not always quite as severe as they sound, Hasil was legit. He recorded everything himself because that’s the way he thought everyone did it. He released or somehow found someone to release his singles. Eventually they made their way to Norton Records as a compilation called Out to Hunch. Still alive at the time, he even had a resurgence in popularity (if you could ever say he was popular in the first place. He would perform occasional shows in the 90’s in Chicago and eslewhere where promoters would have to babysit him to make sure didn’t get too drunk or disappear. A lot of his tracks are straight forward rock songs from the era that have nary a trace of David Lynch highjinks. They are still interesting in an outsider art kind of way or even for the overall freshness of the approach. Sound quality varies all over the place, but you should expect static and crackle and enthusiasm that will make the imperfections fade into the backgrouond.All songs were recorded between 1955 and 1965 with Hasil on all instruments.

The CD release of Out To Hunch features four extra songs and more importantly extensive liner notes when compared to the vinyl release. Part of what made this record so amazing when it first came out was the lack of information on Hasil. You could only listen and imagine Hasil lurching around in cabin dancing, singing, and haunted the woods in the Smoky Mountains somewhere, like Bigfoot with a pompadour. Tryingto fathom how he could make this music in his day and age was fascinating. The liner notes certainly shed some light on the situation. In some ways it’s disappointing, like visiting the Loch Ness monster at Seaworld. It’s ultimately a positive experience because it adds depth to an otherwise two dimensional cartoon character. He was, after all, a real man, and his take on his place in rock and roll and his experiences are interesting. After all these years some of the wilder tracks might seem a bit tame compared to what the kids listen to these days, but even out of context it’s still a good article to own. At $12 direct from Norton you can’t go wrong. Unlike me. When confronted with a somewhat frightened, somewhat angry stranger in their underwear, I found out I was in the wrong apartment after all.

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