Born Lawrence Hankins Locklin, 15 February 1918, McLellan, Florida
Hank Locklin had one of the purest tenor voices in country music history. He is best remembered for two songs : “Send Me the Pillow You Dream On” and especially “Please Help Me I’m Falling”, one of the biggest country hits of the 1960s, which also had major crossover success onto the pop charts. While most country singers had to compromise in one way or another to find wider acceptance, Locklin has always remained true to his roots.
As a kid in the 1920s, Locklin chopped cotton on his family’s farm and took up the guitar in his early teens. During the tough Depression years he earned his keep as a manual labourer and took part in local dances and talent contests. By 1942 he was a featured performer on Pensacola radio station WCOA. Later he was also a regular on the Big D Jamboree on KRLD-Dallas and the Louisiana Hayride in Shreveport. Around 1947 he formed his own band, the Rocky Mountain Boys.
In 1948 he cut his first record, “Rio Grande Waltz”/“You’ve Been Talking In Your Sleep” (Gold Star 1341). From 1949 until 1955 Hank recorded for the 4 Star label, owned by Bill McCall, who leased several Locklin masters to Decca, simultaneously releasing others on Four Star. Locklin’s first 4 Star release. “The Same Sweet Girl”, was an immediate hit, peaking at # 8 on the country charts. He had to wait four years for his next chart entry, “Let Me Be the One” (1953), which became his first number one and stayed on the country charts for 32 weeks.
In 1955 Locklin signed with RCA, where he would stay until 1973. His first success for the label was a cover of George Jones’s “Why Baby Why” (# 9, March 1956). The next year he had his first crossover hit, with “Geisha Girl” (# 66 pop, # 4 country). The second pop hit came in 1958. Hank had written “Send Me the Pillow You Dream On” in 1949 and had already recorded it twice when he re-recorded the song for RCA in June 1957. It was third time lucky : this time the song went to # 5 country and # 77 pop. Many others have recorded “Send Me the Pillow …” ; versions by the Browns (1960), Johnny Tillotson (1962) and Dean Martin (1965) all made the Billboard Hot 100.
Locklin’s follow-up was “It’s A Little More Like Heaven”, which made # 3 (country) and was covered by Johnny Cash on Sun (as "You’re the Nearest Thing To Heaven”). There followed a two-year period without any Top 40 hits (at least in Billboard ; “Foreign Car” went to # 30 on the Cash Box country charts in 1959). And then came “Please Help Me I’m Falling”. It was co-written by Don Robertson, the composer of “Born To Be With You”, who scored a hit of his own with the instrumental “The Happy Whistler” in 1956 (# 6). “Please Help Me I’m Falling” topped the country charts for no less than 14 weeks in 1960 and also reached # 8 on the pop charts. It was the first record to feature the distinctive ‘slip note’ piano trills of Floyd Cramer. Hank then joined the Grand Ole Opry, also in 1960.
Locklin went on to score country hits throughout the 1960s, though few reached the Top 40. Occasionally he also entered the UK charts, for instance with “We’re Gonna Go Fishin’” (# 18, 1962). His last US Top 10 hit (country) was “The Country Hall of Fame” (# 8) in 1967. In the late 1960s Locklin was elected mayor of his hometown, McLellan, where he lived in a grand ranch surrounded by the field in which he’d once picked cotton as a child. In the 1970s he hosted TV shows in Dallas and Houston, but his days as a hitmaker were over, after 33 hits on the country charts between 1949 and 1971. His long association with RCA ended in 1973, after which he recorded for MGM (1974-75) and Plantation (1976-77) with no success.
Locklin was very popular in Ireland, where he recorded two albums in 1979, aimed at the Irish market. In 1984 he moved to Brewton, Alabama, where he would spend the rest of his life. There was a long hiatus before he re-entered a studio. Eventually Locklin released a new CD in 2001, “Generations In Song”, for the Coldwater label, followed by a gospel album in 2006, both produced by his son, Hank Adam Locklin.
Until his death at the age of 91 in 2009, Hank Locklin was the oldest living member of the Grand Ole Opry. Surprisingly, he has not (yet) been inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame.
Official website : http://www.hanklocklin.com
Obituary (from The Independent) : http://tinyurl.com/quxf8p
Discography / sessionography :
Acknowledgements : Walt Trott, Rob Finnis, Joel Whitburn.
Dik, May 2017
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