Sunday, May 08, 2005

RIP: The Duchess (Norma-Jean Wofford).

Bigger versions at
To mark the sad passing of Hasil, Miriam wrote this piece and has OK'd me to post it here. I shouldn't have to explain what an honour that is, just take it as read... and read on because there's only one person on earth that can tell it like this.

The WFMU tribute is a wonderful thing, don't forget to check it out. Like Billy sez during the show, Hasil was "equally at home with the Carter Family and The Addams Family"... what a guy...

NO MORE HOT DOGS by Miriam Linna

Ten days ago, we lost a great one, a really great one. Hasil Adkins was found dead of a heart attack in his home in Madison, West Virginia on Tuesday, April 23, following an apparently unsolicited attack several days earlier by a man who drove a four wheeler into him. Billy and I, along with many friends from far flung places, got the call while at the Ponderosa Stomp in New Orleans. We were stunned, chilled and deeply saddened at the loss of a true original, who happened to be not only a gifted man-- a genius-- but also a guiding light to so many of us. Hasil was a musician, first and foremost. Music was his calling from the time he was a child, and he lived to deliver a musical message from his heart to yours, to anyone's who happened into his path.

We left driving to Hasil's funeral in West Virginia as soon as we got back to New York from Louisiana on what would have been Hasil's 69th birthday. Brooklyn artist Joe Coleman and his wife Whitney Ward accompanied us for the drive.

Hasil had performed at the couple's nuptials and Hasil plays heavily into Joe's work, as is evident in his documentary REST IN PIECES and as the subject of one of his intense biographical painted portraits. The drive took us two days, as the weather was as dismal as our mood, and navigating (Billy did all the driving) the slick mountain highways and dense fog in the lesser roadways was a challenge. By day, we counted our progress by counting passing billboards for hot dogs, and semi trucks loaded with cheese, chicken and farm meats and by night watched tail lights and mile markers through flapping windshield wipers.

We played Hasil's music the whole way, the happy records, the sexy records, the head-lopping records, and the heartfelt, sorrowful dirges that pull at the heartstrings with a purity and depth that few artists ever shake a stick at.

The funeral was on April 30th, one of the rainest, foggiest, most mournful days on God's holy planet. I give details here now, because so many of you have asked. If details upset you, scroll on a couple of paragraphs. Otherwise, bear with me. The funeral was held at Handley Funeral Home in Danville, close to Hasil's home in Madison. It was attended by his sister Irene and her four sons and four daughters, and a couple of her grandkids. A handful of locals and a few fans seated themselves in the back pews. Hasil's long distance sweetheart Amy from Minnesota had come in with a friend, and Jim Tucci, Hasil acolyte, steady friend and road manager, had traveled from Georgia. Billy, Joe and Jim served as pallbearers, as did the dancing outlaw Jesco White and a couple of Irene's sons. The open casket service was met with such shock and grief from Irene, that she fainted several times. One of her daughters also lost consciousness. Hasil looked good, but different. A cowboy hat was leaning against the lid of his casket. He was wearing a new red and white striped button down shirt and as people filed up to pay their repects, they slipped in a rose wrapped in crunchy clear plastic, some CD's, and a ceramic angel figurine and one lady pinned a religious medal on his pocket. Hank Williams III had sent a beautiful floral display which featured a huge toy guitar and it was prominently displayed.

The casket was closed when Pastor Garry Bowman, a Baptist minister, began the service by announcing that he didn't know Hasil, and that he only remembers meeting him once, in 1958. He began a brief, basic dust-to-dust sermon, after which the bereaved filed out through the rain into their cars, some moving into position for the headlights-on vehicular entourage to a remote cemetary in Van, WV. I could never find myself back to that location without an Indian guide, a compass and a divining rod. It was THAT remote. We drove at a snail's pace for what seemed forever, finally winding up a dirt road to a tiny hillock clearing, where a small tent was set up over a ten foot square of astroturf. It was fairly pouring as they brought the casket out once again for final words from the pastor. The pallbearers were signalled to carry the deceased to the interment site and the family and locals returned to their cars and headed back down the hill to their homes. We stood confused for a moment. The pastor told Whitney that we "didn't have to go down there" and of course she promptly picked up her the muddy hem of her long black skirt and went stumbling down the ravine with the faithful. The pallbearers were ankle deep in yellow mud and the rain was beating viciously against the casket by the time we all reached the remote woodsy vale where Hasil's grave had been prepared. No further words were said. Two grave diggers (is there a euphemism for this profession? If so, tell me) kneeled in the mud to lower the casket via alternating squealing manual pulleys. It took forever. Some invisible rain birds chirped nearby, maybe in response to the squeaking GD's. Several times, the men realigned their mechanism, then finally satisfied, loosened the belts, set a piece of pine atop the casket and stood apart from us, soaked with rain and covered in mud, leaning against their shovels and waiting. Nobody moved for a long time. The rain kept pelting, boom-ba-boom, now against the piney wood panel. Rain gushed down the gullies, along the path we had trod, and a heavy mist hovered inches from the ground with a decidedly gothic demeanor. A bit further down the glade were some old gravestones leaving in various directions. Someone remarked that Hasil's mother and father were there. The rain kept on. Eventually the small entourage began their way back up to the road, some dropping a flower or a handful of dirt onto the grave. The shovel guys looked impatient. At the top of the hill, I looked back and Jim was still there, head bowed. He would stay to help the gravediggers. The four of us scraped off mud and got back into the car. We rode in silence for a while. Joe spotted a KFC and suggested chicken, so we pulled in for a couple of king size buckets to bring to the wake at Irene's place, one extra crispy and one original recipe. At the wake, one of Hasil's four Bibles was passed around, revealing markings and notations by Hasil throughout. Memories were exchanged. Chicken was eaten. Tears mingled with occasional chirps of laughter, but only the tears relayed true feeling. Someone in the kitchen did the Chicken Walk and a semblance of the Hunch. The rain kept on coming. It got dark fast as we left the Mountain State.

Whitney got lucky and found some commemorative hot pants in a Goodwill store located right next door to the local court house where Hasil had many comings and goings, and by the second day of driving home, midway through the Pennsylvania meat-belt, we hit upon what would have been Hasil's dream-- a general store stocked with every possible variety of commodity meat in every possible configuration.. with free samples aplenty. We bought packages of hotdogs and local cheese and crowded back in for the last leg of the journey. It had stopped raining by the time we got back home. Clean blue skies and a hint of May. I wished it had been such a nice day for Hasil's funeral. Then again no, Hasil would have wanted the rain-- a big giant, dreary, bone crunching rain with mist and clouds and fog and flooding and gushing gullies and busted umbrellas and buckets of chicken and hot pants for everyone...

So then, and anyway... our Norton label started with Hasil-- OUT TO HUNCH was our first LP, and HAZE'S HOUSE PARTY was our first seven incher. Billy and I had been publishing KICKS magazine, dedicated to the great unknowns and the great unlauded. Hasil had been interviewed in KICKS #3 and got written up in all subsequent issues. We originally located Hasil with the help of a great friend and R&B collector Donn Fileti, and immediately drove out to meet the Haze (as he liked to be called). We released OUT TO HUNCH, a collection of his original early home recordings and brought him to New York to play. Hasil was in prime form and wowed audiences wherever he played. Billy recorded Hasil for the first time in 1986 and continued recording and releasing Hasil material over the years. He was a very close friend and we were never out of touch with him.

Over the years, Hasil traveled all over North America. He made plans to tour overseas many times but each time, when it got down to the wire, Hasil would not board the plane. He was, in his heart of hearts, a homeboy. Even on relatively short out of state trips, he would become despondently homesick. And he was in essence a West Virginia homeboy, and even closer to the bone, a Boone County homeboy. Hasil lived his entire life in the house where he was born, in the woods, off the beaten path, nary a dot on even a local map. His records and stage shows were one thing, but his eccentricities no doubt expanded his legend.

Guns and ammo, meats of all nations, crazy dames, murderous psychopaths, and political figures peppered the everso topical subject matter of his songs, alternately endearing him to a fringier element and causing the politer country fans to step back in confusion. Despite his ability to wear many hats- to be many things to many people-- he was true to his calling. He was an entertainer, a self-made man, a gifted songwriter, a keen observer and commentator on the world as he knew it.

Haze's final show was at the Las Vegas Rockaround this past September, where he was appropriately introduced by none other than Rudy Ray Moore. Many overseas fans were seeing Haze for the first time, and may have been shocked, surprised or at the very least, amazed by him. Pounding away at his guitar and stomping on the drums, shrieking and hollering, he may have frightened some of the fainter hearts, reinforced others who'd come to quaff at the well. None of us knew it would be the last time. No more hot dogs, or then again, perhaps, too many too soon.