Granted that rockabilly is a musical form with few rules, Hasil Adkins still comes on like a crazed lunatic; by comparison, Gene Vincent resembles Herbert von Karajan. Then again, West Virginian Adkins has rarely played by the rules. His recordings — the bulk of them dating from the late ’50s/early ’60s — are homemade one-man-band affairs, originally released, if at all, as singles on tiny and/or private labels. With literally no one to answer to, he has created one of the most idiosyncratic soundscapes to be shoehorned into the category of “popular music”: a Bizarro-world of uncertain meters, irregular phrases, grungy guitar and wacked-out, overmodulated vocals on even more wacked-out songs.
Out to Hunch collects Adkins’ best-known (if that’s the right term) songs: “She Said” (later recorded by the Cramps), two not-quite-dance-crazes (“The Hunch” and “Chicken Walk”), the grisly “No More Hot Dogs” and its Guignolish spin-offs “We Got a Date” and “I Need Your Head.” But with genius of this sort, inspiration can strike anywhere. “Come on Along” (on Peanut Butter Rock and Roll) features a chirping female voice mindlessly repeating the title phrase in the background. Moon Over Madison, a concept album spotlighting Adkins’ quieter side, displays his authentic vocal twang on some affecting, moody originals.
But for the title track on Moon Over Madison, those three albums were all assembled from vintage recordings. The Wild Man, recorded in 1986, finds the 49-year-old as vital as ever. Whether exhorting hordes to “Do the Scalp” or turning wistful on “Still Missing You,” Adkins — and a truly inimitable electric guitar — confirms that he’s an American original. You’ll never wrench these sounds from a synthesizer.