There's a brief, contemplative pause on the line before a casual "Well, yeah," issues forth. Hasil Adkins could be talking about the weather, but -- though he does like to go on about the cold -- this particular conversation is about time served for shooting up a trailer home.
"It's true, I was drunk. A woman caused it all. There was about six of us and we all got shot."
Tall tales of rock & roll hillbilly wild man Hasil (pronounced "Hassle") Adkins are legendary, endless and, as it turns out, mostly true.
Hasil resides in Boone County, West Virginia. These aren't the country roads that John Denver sang about. This is the "Deliverance" version: a place of inbreeding, squirrel-eating and serial killing. Yet despite the myths, Hasil turns out to be a genuinely honest, frank, deeply spiritual, gentle soul of the earth, who rambles much like Boomhauer on "King of the Hill": fast, funny and damn near impossible to decipher.
His history is a bit sketchy, but it seems music may have been a good excuse for him to stay out of the mines. "My daddy lost a lung down there. I started beating on a milk can when I was six years old, started on a guitar when I was eight or nine," he says.
Adkins started taping his raunch & roll about the same time as Elvis, except one was changing music history in a Memphis studio while the other was in a backwoods shack. "They called it rockabilly, but I called it country rock, 'cause I lived in the country." Those rough and dirty ditties slapped onto cheap tape ensured relative obscurity, but once folks got a listen to the primal sexual urgency of "Chicken Walk" ("Push in and a-push out") and the humping dance craze "The Hunch," they said "Hasil, move away from here."
So he loaded up the truck and moved to Los Angeles. Quickly disillusioned by the music business, Adkins headed back to the hills, where he resides to this day, recording songs (he claims to have 7,000 in his repertoire), fixing cars and hunting squirrels.
"Good eating," he says of the rodents. "Up here in the '40s, squirrel hunting was one of the big things going."
Hasil's break came when The Cramps unearthed and recorded "She Said," with Lux Interior stuffing his mouth full of styrofoam to achieve that crazed Adkins sound. Suddenly folks were searching out rare Adkins seven-inches released in Europe. After a shack visit, upstart Norton Records decided to launch their new label with a collection of his raucous sides. Released in 1986, "Out To Hunch" was a landmark of garage-rock debauchery, a hilarious psychobilly slab delivered by a volatile raw talent. Songs about chopping girls' heads off, eating commodity meat ... that kinda stuff. Making up for 30 years of lost time, Adkins has lived a cherished rock & roll life since, recording -- sometimes in real studios -- and performing on a regular basis.
He's even cleaned up. Well, the alcohol anyway.
"I used to drink five fifths or four liters of vodka a day. Now I just have wine and beer," he says. And though Hasil's internal systems may be a tad cleaner, the lot outside his door is still littered with cars. "Oh, I have about 20 or so, some with polka dots!"
Hasil loves polka dots. He has a polka-dot fridge and is always on the lookout for polka-dot clothes.
"They used to be big in the '20s and '30s, but you can't buy them anyplace anymore. I'm gonna have to start making them. Jimmie Rodgers, the Singing Brakeman, had a lot of songs about polka dots, you know."
Seemingly isolated in the hills, Adkins did manage to hear the new sounds coming out of Memphis, but claims to have preceded Jerry Lee and company. When asked if he was the real king of rock & roll, Adkins bashfully replies, "Maybe. I just wasn't in the right place."
Hasil's not shy about his music, though. Hell, he sends his records to the White House so the presidents can have a listen.
"Got me a real nice letter from Nixon, too."
Like Elvis, Hasil was a real mama's boy, living at home till the day she passed on at the age of 94. "I didn't just wanna walk off and leave her." The youngest of ten, at 66, Hasil is one of but three Adkins kin left -- brother Basil (rhymes with Hasil) died last year. Just to confuse matters, Hasil used to date a girl named Hazel, and was given the nickname "The Haze." "That's 'cause Starlight Records wanted something catchy and I didn't have no middle name."
Hasil attributes his spirited longevity to meat. Raw meat, that is. "Raw hamburger is good; sausage, too. Raw steak is pretty good; pork chops; bacon ain't bad, neither. It gives you a lot of strength. Gets you going, too. I used to carry hamburger in my pocket for snacking. Raw chicken, though, I don't go for that." The topic of chicken keeps entering the conversation. Adkins walked off the set of his documentary when the daily bucket of chicken failed to materialize: A rider is a rider. His obsession with poultry has taken over his recent endeavors. The last long player, "Poultry in Motion" (on Norton) compiles 15 greasy nuggets reaching way back to a rough '55 version of "Chicken Walk," and brings it all home with the recent "Chicken Run." As a topper, on the current tour a couple of go-go-dancing chickens are along for the ride.
Erratic rhythms and tempo changes ensure that Hasil remains a one-man band. He prefers it that way, often playing several instruments at once, 'cause that's what he thought everyone did.
"I heard Hank Williams on the radio, and they never mentioned a band."
So is it much different to be a clean Hasil Adkins onstage these days? "Oh, it's about the same." This coming from a man who once pulled a gun in mid-performance to take out a disruptive fan.
The fan, by the way, was of the overhead, air-circulating variety. There was no ensuing jail time.