In between the Rivers and Ridges lived some talented musicians here in the southern West Virginia mountains. None was any more famous than Hasil Adkins.
Hasil Adkins didn’t have to worry about bandmembers’ conflicting shifts, schedules of family or time constraints, as Hasil was a one-man band. He also was the inventor of a style of music called Psychobilly. Hasil was also a very skilled guitar player, playing his guitar more like a percussion instrument. He was a legendary showman in the rawest since of the word. He had a very soulful, country voice when he wanted to use it, and he also could unleash some of the most powerful screams that ever froze the blood.
Hasil the Haze Adkins was introduced to me when I was attending graduate school in Athens, Ohio. I was exploring the local record shop. The owner asked where I was from and he said you are from the home of the Haze. He immediately took me to a sizable collection of records and he educated me on the most famous musician that ever came out of our parts.
I had, of course, seen Hasil before on the streets of Madison, heard the name, and had seen the “red poky-dotted satellite” that his song speaks of. I had to know more and I went to see several of his shows at the Corner Pocket at Uneeda, and at The Midnight Sun at Foster. I was a fan and become friends with Hasil. I even was inspired to perhaps someday start a band. He tuned his guitar down to an open C tuning, which was fascinating in its own right, but the way he pounded out these primitive rhythms and played drums at the same time was a site to behold. The owner of Norton Records, Billy Miller, stated, “Some people, when you see their show, you say that was great and you may forget, but when you see Hasil, you remember.”
Hasil played all over the US, but he recorded much of his music right at home in Bull Creek, West Virginia. His music traveled the world. He became very big in Germany, France and England. He has been covered by some big artists such as The Cramps, and his body of music can now be heard on Apple.
When some of the younger generation plays the video game, “Grand Theft Auto,” Hasil’s music can be tuned onto the radio station as people are driving around crashing cars and such. On “Grand Theft Auto 5,” I like to tune in the Hasil song and drive by the section of town where another famous local resident is dancing away on a doghouse. Jesco White is also the voice of the disc jockey for the radio station in your stolen car. True genius comes in many forms.
The Boone County Legends of Hasil Adkins and Jesco White both heard on this wildly popular video game still makes me smile. Both these guys could really entertain and are now known worldwide. Hasil would tell me some great stories about playing shows with Jesco’s father D-Ray White, who was a local legend, dancer and storyteller himself.
Videos of these entertainers can be found on YouTube. If you catch a Swivel Rockers show, you can be sure you will hear at least a couple of Hasil’s tunes played any given night. Some of my recommendations of the best Hasil songs to tune into are “Big Red Satellite,” “No More Hotdogs,” “Chicken Flop” and the fan favorite “She Said.” These are all fun-loving songs that are highly entertaining — but also listen closely to some of his country tunes such as my favorite, “I’m in Misery.” It’s very bluesy and you can feel it as he sings from the heart. This is also one of the few times you will ever hear Hasil with a full band. When you enter the Empty Glass Pub in Charleston, there is a large photo of the Haze on the wall. He rocked that place to the ground many nights. The Charleston Playhouse in Kanawha City was also lucky to have hosted the Haze. Bentleys, now Sam’s Uptown Café, was also a great venue for the Haze. The Swivel Rockers toured with the Haze through these venues in Charleston and other West Virginia cities in the 1980s. I like to think this brought him new energy and a resurgence with him playing clubs and festivals all over the United States.
Hasil let us play a few of his songs mixed into our sets and sometimes he would join us. We would play before or after him. He put a dedication on the “Moon over Madison” album to myself and The Swivel Rockers. This was a big honor for Roger Rhodes and me. What I think was a really nice touch was that Hasil especially thanked Sonny and Jean Howell on that back cover. These two people helped Hasil reach so many. When the Swivel Rockers play, we always pay tribute with a song or two by Hasil. It really gets the people up dancing. You can see the Swivel Rockers outdoors at the Elk Saddle Club on July 11, and will be performing outdoors at the Madison Moose on July 18.