A friend of mine first turned me on to Hasil Adkins from West Virginia who claimed she had seen him play live many a time in and around Charleston. She spun fantastic tales about this musician drinking out of a big jug of cheap wine throughout his show; his words and guitar slurring more and more as the night progressed. She even told me that on one of Hasil's albums (that he recorded in his shack back up in the hills of Boone County) you can actually hear "The Haze" getting increasingly hazy. The result, she claimed was that Hasil did an alternate version of his song "I Need Your Head" as "No More Hot Dogs." I don't know how much, if any, of the aforementioned is true but I always think of those stories when I listen to the music of Hasil Adkins, the One Man Band and creator of The Hunch.
If you've not heard of Hasil Adkins, don't fret. While he does have quite a loyal following among rockabilly cats and connoisseurs of offbeat music, Hasil never got his big break. According to Hasil, he missed his chance at fame by just a few hours, leaving California and a troop of eager talent scouts on the night before opportunity came knocking at his door. Instead of being the next Elvis Presley, Hasil didn't even become the next Carl Perkins. Hell, even no-talent Hank Williams, Junior(!) gets more respect among country music fans.
His talent fermenting in the back woods of West Virginia like moonshine in a rusty still, Hasil began producing his own music. Often it'd be just him, his guitar, his bass drum and high hat, and maybe a female companion or two recording a track onto a cardboard record. And, truth be told, his career didn't get much more glamorous than that.
Hasil is not a slick Nashville recording artist. His music is raw, unvarnished. His songs usually consist of one or two chords with solos so primitive they would make Neil Young jealous in their simplicity. The music is frequently interchangeable from song to song and the lyrics usually border on being overly repetitive if not incomprehensible. But, when singing a song with a refrain of "punchy wunchy wicky wacky woo," one never doubts Hasil's boundless creativity.
Showing the viewer Hasil's polka-dotted abode, ardent fans, and awe-struck county litigators, director Julien Nitzberg helps to shed some light on an eccentric man that many folks consider a national institution. Running at a mere twenty-three minutes, Nitzberg doesn't allow Hasil to outstay his welcome while packing the documentary with interviews and performances. Luckily, there's no "fish out of water" subplot or ham-handed theatrics. The Wild World of Hasil Adkins is as genuine as its subject.
Looking at Nitzberg's other work; it would seem that the Appalachians are rife with oddball talents. Nitzberg produced Dancing Outlaw, the story of mountain dancer Jessco White (see CdC #8) while on hiatus from his project with Hasil (due to "The Haze" having a bit of a nervous breakdown after a coffee and bourbon bender). Recently, Nitzberg directed Bury Me in Kern County (see CdC #10) where he again demonstrated his ability to portray characters that might be considered "trailer trash" without exploiting or demeaning them.
Hasil's records can be purchased from finer record stores across the country or purchase them from Crypt Records (www.crypt.de). Nitzberg's video is available at www.appalshop.org