Rock music thrives on eccentricity, but not every rock musician is eccentric enough to make an entire album devoted to chickens.
Though he wasn't a filmmaker, outsider musician Hasil Adkins was a kindred spirit to the James River Film Festival. He'll be honored at the event with two screenings of a documentary about his life and times — April 17 at midnight and April 18 at 4:30 p.m. Adkins was, partly by nature and partly by circumstance, a born independent.
According to the documentary “My Blue Star: The Hunchin' Times of Hasil ‘Haze’ Adkins,” as a young man in West Virginia Adkins thought musicians like Elvis Presley made all the sounds coming over the radio themselves. So he decided to do the same, and eventually turned himself into a loud, sometimes terrifyingly primal one-man-band, who helped blend rockabilly and punk into a new sub-genre called psycho-billy.
Richmonder Ron Smith met Adkins in the '90s, became friends and filmed the musician, as he says, off and on upon request. After Adkins died in 2005, Smith says he was convinced by friends to cut the footage into a documentary. Although he cribs stage footage from Julien Nitzberg's “The Wild World of Hasil Adkins,” Smith says he “wanted to show the man behind the myth, although that side is pretty wild, too.”
Style interviewed Smith:
Style: What is “hunchin',” and if someone wanted to hunch, how would they do it?
Ron Smith: Hunchin' is the name of a wild, hillbilly-boogie sex dance that Hasil invented back in the '50's. Hunchin' is sort of freestyle to the individual. … but I think Hasil would tell you it's best done with your clothes off and a jar of moonshine and a bucket of [Kentucky Fried Chicken] on the nightstand.
Why did Adkins write so many songs about food, especially chickens and hot dogs?
Hasil's two primary heroes in life were Hank Williams and Kentucky Fried Chicken guru Col. Harland Sanders. Hasil often said the hot dog was the most sensual of the processed meats.
What originally drew you to Adkins and filming him?
I did a painting of Hasil back in the '90s. … and sent him a print of it. He called me back a few weeks later. … and said he'd like to order some bulk copies to merch at his shows. After that he invited me to up to his holler to visit and we became friends. He found out I did video work for a living and would often ask me to tape things for him. Always at the last minute without any warning.
Did Adkins ever express any regret about the level of commercial success he achieved?
Like a lot of artists of his era, he was a victim of dishonest managers, agents and record labels. Hasil also drank too much sometimes and made a lot of bad business decisions on his own. But he was never motivated by money. He created music because it made him feel good and it made women hot.
If you could use only one clip of the film to show the essential Adkins, which would it be?
Either the clip at his trailer of him listening to his 1956 version of “My Blue Star,” which was Hasil's favorite song, or the 1994 Sleazefest footage … where a girl dancing on stage starts losing her clothes. … As our friend John Steele says in the film, “Hasil could switch gears in a heartbeat and go from the most mournful, sorrowful country song to a full-tilt rockin' scorcher that would knock your pants right off your ass.” That's no exaggeration. Hasil had that power. S
Visit www.rmicweb.org for information on the James River Film Festival.