Interview with Hasil
Interview with Miriam and Billy
This is an interview with Miriam Linna and Billy Miller of the fabulous Norton Records.
Tell me about the Haze...
V: Tell me about HASIL ADKINS -
ML: Hasil, rhymes with Basil - and that's also his brother's name. He totally blew our minds when we first heard him. Then when you meet him, you realize he's the genuine article.
BM: I first heard "Haze" in the '70s when I found a copy of "She Said." What's wild is: that record was produced on a Brooklyn label about a mile from where we live! Then a friend showed me "Chicken Walk" and I went, "Wow - this guy made two records?" Another friend, who generally only looks for R&B groups, located Hasil in West Virginia. The great thing about him is: his personality, his vision, his talent were still intact - that's rare; most of these guys who are really crazy fizzled out or drove off mountains. He started sending us tapes which mixed up old and new record - you couldn't tell which was which. One tape sounded straight outta the 50' s I thought he was yelling, "Hey, we're rockin'!" but it turned out to be "Hey there, Reagan!" - it was new. Every record he does he sends to the White House - Nixon actually sent him a "thank you" letter.
ML: We went to West Virginia and brought him to New York and people went crazy over him -
BM: - much like the script of King Kong.
ML: People are hungry for that kind of emotion.
BM: Hasil doesn't sleep; he drinks about cups of coffee a day.
ML: He eats more meat than any other human being we've ever met; he carries around Vienna sausages in his pocket. "What would you like for lunch?" "Meat." "Any special kind?" "Meat."
BM: He'll go to a restaurant and order three separate hamburger platters, just eat the patties and say, "Hey Billy, you want these french fries?"
ML: Just meat and coffee. He has an endless supply of girlfriends; girls are always chasing him, fighting over him - he's really a popular guy in that respect...but also a really sensitive guy. His personality is like: either really up (totally up there) or so down that you can't even get him to talk. He's among that 1% of manic-depressives who cannot sleep -
BM: He'll "sleep" - like all day long he'll lay down, but he'll get up periodically. Our sax player stayed with him and at 4 AM Hasil woke him up, saying, "Come on, Lars, let's go out and play some music on the porch!"
ML: He was the youngest of 9 or 10 children and was born long after his nearest sibling. He grew up with his mom and lived with her until she died in 1985 - that really destroyed him because he loved her so much. He had lived his entire life, including his adult life, in this house where he also did all his recording. His mom cooked for him and took care of him for all that time; he'd never married. When his mom died, that sent him into this intense dimension of blueness.
BM: But he's also this outgoing wild man who takes out a couple girls and drives into telephone poles for laughs -
ML: - and puts rattlesnakes in the back seat of the car just to watch girls scream!
BM: He was playing in a club one night - he's a one-man band, playing drums and guitar at the same time. The ceiling fan was whirling around, making a creaky sound, and without missing a lick he reached down, pulled out a gun and shot it down - it was interfering with the song.
ML: We took Hasil up to Canada when he was on parole for shooting up a guy's trailer home - that was over some woman. When we got back there were all these anxious messages from his parole officer: "Where do you have Hasil?" It turned out that Hasil's cellmate from jail had gotten out and scalped his family (he hadn't actually killed them, but had removed their scalps along with the hair). When arrested, the cellmate had given his name as "Hasil Adkins," and that had inspired a temporary search for the real Hasil. Hasil has actually gotten some song ideas from this guy. He writes about things that really happen; he's like a news reporter talking about what he knows.
BM: Many years ago Miriam ran into Andy Warhol - he was standing on a street corner, and she said, "Stay right there!", ran into a deli, got a can of Campbell's soup and had him autograph it: We had it on a shelf in our house for years. Then Hasil stayed at our house, and I said, "Haze, I'm going out for a while; there's plenty of food in the fridge." I came back and asked, "Did you have lunch?" and he said, "Well, I just fixed myself a can of soup." You guessed it -
ML: I was going through the garbage trying to find the can -
V: You should have had Hasil autograph it.
BM: He's a wild man, but he is also a great musician. A lot of people think he's just bashing away because he goes way out of tune when he plays, but he actually has perfect pitch. He'll break a string in a show and replace it with a piece of fishing wire lying in the parking lot - he might come home and have some fishing line, a banjo string, some wire that was wrapped around a barrel (6 wires, none of which are guitar strings) but they're all tuned perfectly.
ML: When Hasil came to New York he was extremely distressed there were no hot pants stores.
BM: It was Easter Sunday, and he wanted me to take him to buy hot pants with rivets on them that say "New York" across the butt for his girl. He was bellowing, "All these stores, and no hot pants? Where do they get their hot pants?"
ML: He was thinking, "Boy. New York is really behind the times - all the gals in Madison, West Virginia wear their hot pants they're in the top of style. These New York women don't know how to dress!" He's got his own views as to what's great in the world.
BM: We got him a show opening for Public Image in Toronto and after soundcheck, Haze wanted to go out to our van and put on his western shirt. When he got outside, there were all these Johnny Rotten fans in line wearing ripped-up threads. Haze just shook his head and said, "Maybe I won't change my shirt - people in this town don't seem to care what they look like!" One night Hasil played in Philadelphia and we went to stay with our friend Ben Vaughn who was putting us up for the night. It was 5 AM, everybody was slumped down in their chairs, and I pulled out a record and asked, "Hasil, you want to hear some Hank Williams?" and he went, "Hank Williams, Larry Williams - it don't make any difference." He's funny he's into both Slim Harpo and Lightnin' Slim but he thinks they're the same person: "Lightnin' Slim Harpo." I gave up trying to convince him that it's two different guys. A film company that does documentaries on Appalachia was filming a documentary on Hasil, interviewing his family and friends. And in the film Hasil's walking around with this girl on his arm, a real sweet blond girl named Karen who wears a cowboy hat and coos, "Ooh, Hasil..." At one point the director asked her, "Hey, how long have you been Hasil's girlfriend?" and she replied, "Oh - I'm not Hasil's girlfriend; I just play his girlfriend in the movie!"
V: What does his house look like?
ML: A typical Appalachian 3-room shack.
BM: He's so far back in the woods that the landlord gave up driving out to collect the rent, which was $40 a month. He has ponds where he fishes and woods where he hunts. In his front yard is a broken - down New York City bus that says "HUNCHIN' BUS" - that's where he has his parties. The bus is actually bigger than the house.
ML: The home has record covers and memorabilia tacked up on the walls - not only on the inside but the outside as well. He collects discarded mannequins. One time he took some local kids fishing. Previously he had attached a mannequin head to the end of a line that was dangling in the water. At some point he yelled, "Oh - I got a big one!" He reeled it in and this head popped out of the water - the kids screamed and took off running. He loves to scare people with that kind of stuff. Hasil has that song "I Need Your Head," which I thought was just some original concept he cooked up, but it turned out to be a true story. I found this 1957 detective magazine with an article titled, "I Need Your Head." Sure enough it happened right in West Virginia: a guy had escaped from Moundsville Prison, kidnapped a family and sent a note to the warden saying, "I kidnapped these people and won't release them unless you send me my cellmate's head on a platter." This fugitive was hiding out in Hasil's neck of the woods. Having a head-chopping psycho in the neighborhood had to be big local news . He's just re-telling what he knows.
BM: He must have thousands of songs. He has a big Buick Satellite car with polka dots on it, and we suggested he make a hot-rod song out of it, like Chuck Berry's "Maybelline." He said, "Yeah, okay"; the tapes were rollin' and he just invented it on the spot. It was pretty amazing.
ML: The great thing about his singing is, not only does he sing in his "natural" voice, but he'll imitate female roles: "Oh, honey, why doncha..." And then somebody is knockin on the door [deep voice]: "Whaddaya doin' in there?" It's like a radio show where all these characters are talking.
BM: He said that when he played roadhouses in West Virginia, he'd be singing his songs like "She Said" and people would give him money to go back to singing Hank Williams-type music. He said, "Those kind of songs are great, because I get paid to do them, and get paid not to do them as well!" He does have a country side; on Moon Over Madison he does Jimmie Rodgers-type music -
ML: And they're not just romantic ballads, they're really lonely, howling songs with owl sounds on them, where you really feel the depths of his sadness. He was sending us a tape and I asked how much music was on it and he said, "About five pounds!"
BM: One thing about Hasil's reel-to-reel tapes: they'll have cheese-whiz and crumbs and dirt on them, so you have to run them through once to transfer 'em, then put the originals away.
V: How did he support himself all these years?
BM: He is an expert mechanic and radio repairman - he does odd jobs like that.
ML: Plus, he hunts and fishes for his food; he hunts deer and snake - "good eatin'!" Maybe that's why he eats meat he has such an abundance of it there.
BM: We were in New York, right by Union Square Park, and we saw a squirrel running up a tree. Hasil asked, "Billy - you do much squirrel huntin' around here?"
ML: He lives in the middle of this beautiful wilderness.
BM: - a coal-mining wilderness, though. One time when I
talked to him on the phone (he doesn't have a phone anymore),
he said, "I got my line in the water fishin' for my dinner, and
I'm sittin' back watching Solid Gold on TV." It's like Huckleberry
Finn Goes to Mars, or something. The thing about Hasil, he's been
playing his one-man band act since he was a kid because nobody
could keep up with his sudden wacky chord changes. When he was
young and listening to Hank Williams, he thought Hank was
playing everything (drums, guitar, bass) at the same time,
so he learned how to play like that. Now, I think that if we
didn't put out Hasil's records, he'd still be at home making
the same tapes. But the Haze is no dummy; he's really on the
ball. Everything he knows he taught himself. He only went to
school about one day in his life, but recently he gave a lecture
at a college on the topic of music - he was real proud of that.