Hobo Jack Adkins

Hobo Jack Adkins was given his stage name by a radio station manager during an era when radio was closely involved with newly developing strains of old-time, country, and bluegrass music. It places him in the unique category of players whose names connote a rambling lifestyle -- Ramblin' Jack Elliot would be the most famous example -- as if all musicians weren't already partially hobos because of the wandering demands of the occupation. An orphan, Adkins grew up during the worst years of the Depression and claims to have never known any family besides a mother who died when he was 16, and a father who had apparently been poisoned when Adkins was just a baby. It was a haunting memory that he claims to have visualized while performing country & western masterpieces decades later. He went on to record some of the most beautiful examples of early bluegrass music in the company of most of the membership of the legendary Lonesome Pine Fiddlers: stellar old-time players such as mandolinist and vocalist Red Ratliff, banjoist Ray Goins, and fiddler Ray Cline. Adkins always had one foot solidly in country music despite the enormous influence of traditional Appalachian string music, and made historic early use of electric guitar on tracks such as "You Have Let Me Memories," originally cut for the Lucky label in the mid-'40s.

The memories Adkins did have were certainly ones of deprivation: his toys were rocks which he pretended were cars, the family stowed apples in the cellar in order to have something special for Christmas, and "a candy bar was really somethin' back then!" A cousin that played guitar got him into music at around the age of 12, also coinciding with the beginning of his days of hitchhiking and roaming. Around 17, he actually acquired a guitar of own, after a bit of barter involving a .22 rifle and a bushel of shelled corn. The Acme company, perhaps the same firm supplying endless ordnance and gadgetry to Wiley Coyote, made the first recordings of Hobo Jack Adkins in 1944. It was a time when the regional recording industry was operating about on the same level as moonshine, with fellows such as Jim Stanton selling his Rich-R-Tone sides out of the back of his car. "Going Back to Kentucky" was a marvelous number cut in 1945 with a sprightly bluegrass feel to it; Adkins backed simply by Ratliff on mandolin, a bassist, and a spicy banjo player identified only as "Red Onion." The Lucky company picked up on Adkins after Acme failed in the promotion department, but then the singer tossed dirt in the face of discographers by starting up his own label with the same fortunate name, Lucky. There are also theories that the Adco label was his, an abbreviation for "Adkins company." He also had a contract with the Starday label, releasing a series of singles in the late '50s including numbers such as "Kentucky School Boy" and "Country Boy Went to Town," the former number included on the label's marvelous compilation release entitled Tragic Songs of Death and Sorrow.

Adkins is an accomplished songwriter, and has turned out numbers that have been recorded by the Stanley Brothers, and other bluegrass and country acts. The modern Howlin' Dog Moon progressive bluegrass outfit covers his song entitled "Another Night," but may have learned it from Ricky Skaggs or Alison Krauss, both of whom have also recorded it. As he got older, Adkins focused more on this type of income, shifting almost permanently into the realm of gospel music by the '60s, when he also suffered a series of health setbacks including heart attacks. Despite these problems, he seems to have been a dynamo, eventually running three record labels and a publishing company, as well as preaching gospel as a minister. In the '70s, he fronted a gospel group called the Old Regular Baptists. ~ Eugene Chadbourne

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