Spirit Grooves Blogs

Published on November 30, 2014

[Each of these "Inscape" series is meant to introduce those interested into an area of music that they might never find otherwise. Let me know if you like these, and if you don't want to read the history part, just listen to the tunes. When I founded the All-Music Guide many years ago, the idea was to show folks where the best music is for a particular artist, so that you could know if you like that style. If you don't like the "best," then you at least have heard the right tunes for that artist.]

Country music is an acquired taste for many people, in particular in areas of the country where about all you can get on the radio is country. I live in one of those areas. And we have all heard the joke: what happens when you play a country-record backward? "You get your house back, your wife back, your dog back, and your truck back," etc.

I happen to love country music but, like walking in a cow pasture, I have learned where to step. And one safe place is early country music. Perhaps my favorite country tenor is Hank Locklin, but it is not his chartbusting tunes that interest me, although, of course, they are nice too. It is his early work that I consider some of the best in country music, and I am going to play you some. First, for those who don't want to know more about Locklin (some history). If you want to get right to listening, jump to the link area below if you wish.

Hank Locklin (Lawrence Hankins Locklin), one of country music's great tenors, was born February 15, 1918 in the small town of McLellan located in the lumbering district of the Florida Panhandle. The youngest son of four children, he went to a one-room schoolhouse and was musical even as a young child. Hank was injured at the age of eight in an accident and the long recovery process was the time when he first began to learn music.

Although interested in the guitar early on, it was not until his mid-teens that he really began to master that instrument. Hank was active in music in high school (which he never finished) and at eighteen won first prize in a talent show. He went on to do spots on the local radio station as he became more and more interested in entertaining. By the mid-1940s he was playing on the radio and doing in-person performances in Florida and nearby states. For the next ten years of so, Locklin worked many jobs (musical and otherwise), played with a variety of groups, and, through a variety of trials, gradually worked his way up the country music ladder to recognition. A good account of these years can be found in the Bear Family box liner notes as written by Otto Kissinger.

His career did not really take off until he joined the RCA Victor label in the spring of 1955. Locklin's work with RCA has the added advantage that almost all of it was produced by Chet Atkins, often with Atkins himself on rhythm or lead guitar and with the added trills and fill-ins of Floyd Kramer on piano. The extreme simplicity of his early works makes this combination of his clear voice and these particular sidemen very effective.

Hank's big popular hits "Send me the Pillow that you Dream On" (written by Locklin), "Geisha Girl," and "Please Help Me I'm Falling" everyone knows, and I will list them at the end of this article, but they are not the ones I most want for you to hear.

True Locklin fans like myself are in love with his very simple heartfelt tunes, so leave your cynicism at the door and give this listen:

"Sittin' Alone at a Table for Two."

"A Good Woman's Love"

"Who Am I to Cast the First Stone"

"Seven or Eleven"

"I'm Tired of Bummin' Around"


"Lessons in Love:

"Golden Wristwatch"

"In the House of the Lord"

And there are many others tunes like these. These early songs are characterized by Locklin's crystal clear tenor, the ultra-simplicity of the songs themselves, and their straight-to-the heart emotional plea. Kitty Wells has this same kind of gift. The result is a group of incredible songs that, first released as singles, later became available on Camden, RCA's budget label. Now, after many years of neglect, many of these songs are now available on the Bear family Box “Hank Locklin, Please Help Me I'm Falling” Locklin stayed with the RCA label until the mid 1960s.

Locklin helped pioneer the idea of concept albums; his albums; “Foreign Love” and “Irish Songs, Country Style” are examples. He also recorded an album tribute to Roy Acuff, “A Tribute to Roy Accuff, King of Country Music”. His Irish songs are pretty near definitive. As time goes by, the vocal chorus begins to creep into the Locklin albums a little more than purists might like, but his crystal clear tenor never deserts him.

Hank hit the top-ten charts again in the 1968 with "The Country Hall of Fame." In the 1970s he toured overseas often, was very popular in Ireland and Great Britian, and made at least one tour with Chet Atkins to the far East (Japan). After leaving RCA, he went on to record for a number of labels including MGM and Plantation. He is retired now and lived in Brewton, Alabama, only some 20 miles from his birth place. He died March 8, 2009 at his home.

And here are a couple of the more popular Locklin tunes that charted:

“Hank Locklin, Please Help Me I'm Falling”

"Geisha Girl"

“Hank Locklin, Please Help Me I'm Falling”, Bear Family box BCD 15730

This is a four-disc retrospective of Locklin's years with RCA Victor from 1955 through the mid 1960s. Of course Hank's big popular hits "Send me the Pillow that you Dream On" (written by Locklin), "Geisha Girl," and "Please Help Me I'm Falling" are there. While a great many important early Locklin songs are missing from this collection ("I'm tired of Bummin' Around," "Sitting Alone at a Table for Two," and "Golden Wristwatch"), many fine songs are included that have been unavailable for many years. Songs like "Who Am I to Cast the First Stone," "A Good Woman's Love," "Seven or Eleven." It is this precious early material that has been unavailable, most produced by Chet Atkins, often with Atkins on guitar and almost all with the excellent piano accompaniment of Floyd Cramer. Also included are a number of Locklin's concept albums: “Foreign Love” , “Irish songs, Country Style”, plus his album tribute to Roy Acuff, “A Tribute to Roy Acuff, King of Country Music”.

Of course his early material on Four Star Records (pre RCA) and his later material on MGM and Plantation are not here.

Most of these songs in this box set are taken from albums that appeared on Camden and RCA. They are “My Kind of Country Blues” (Camden CAL 912), “Hank Locklan” (Camden CAL 905), “Please Help Me I'm Falling” (RCA LPM 2291), “Foreign Love” (RCA LPM 1673), “This Song Is Just For You” (Camden CAL 765), “Happy Journey” (RCA LSP 2464), “A Tribute to Roy Acuff King of Country Music” (RCA LSP 2597), “The Ways of Life” (RCA LSP 2680), and “Irish Songs, Country Style” (RCA LSP 2801). Unless RCA decides to release all the early Camden material, this fine box set from Bear Family is what we have for now.