Veteran country star who recorded with best artists in the business
THE COUNTRY singer Hank Locklin, who has died aged 91, will be best remembered for his 1960 hit Please Help Me, I’m Falling, an archetypal example of the polished idiom known as the Nashville sound.
Locklin’s smoothly plaintive vocal was memorably enhanced by the sliding “slip-note” piano figures of the renowned session musician Floyd Cramer, and the record spent several months at the top of the American country music chart.
It also reached the UK pop Top 10. In 1994, the trade paper Billboarddeclared it the second most successful country single of the modern era.
Born in Santa Rosa county, in the northwestern panhandle of Florida, Locklin began playing the guitar aged nine when confined to bed by a childhood illness.
He had already begun singing at the local church, where his mother, Hattie, played the piano. As a young man in the Depression, he was employed by the Works Progress Administration, building roads. Later he picked cotton and did other farm work, singing at weekends in local roadhouses and performing on the radio station WCOA, in Pensacola.
From there, he graduated to the roster of The Big D Jamboree on the Dallas station KRLD.
In 1949, he joined the prestigious Louisiana Hayride, in Shreveport, and began to find success with records for Four Star, culminating in his first No 1 country hit, Let Me Be the One.
In 1958, by then signed to RCA, he scored yet another hit with his composition Send Me the Pillow That You Dream On, a hit four years later for pop singer Johnny Tillotson.
Geisha Girland It’s a Little More Like Heavenwere other 50s hit songs by Locklin.
Following the success of Please Help Me, I’m Falling, Locklin joined the Grand Ole Opry. He would remain with the Nashville show for 47 years, and latterly could claim that he was its oldest performing member.
He also had a considerable following in Europe, which he visited frequently, and especially in Ireland.
The 1963 album Irish Songs Country Styleacknowledged his audience there, which evidently included the group U2, who sang Locklin’s composition Wild Irish Rosein the 1989 BBC-TV documentary Bringing It All Back Home.
Locklin made other examples of what would later be called concept albums, such as Foreign Loveand tributes to Roy Acuff, Hank Williams and Eddy Arnold. In the 1970s, he hosted TV shows in Houston and Dallas.
He bought land in his home town of McLellan, Florida, for a ranch, the Singing L, and became the town’s honorary mayor.
Locklin continued to make records, and although he never repeated his early success, he could say proudly: “I’ve recorded with the best musicians in the business and have called many of country music’s biggest stars my friends.” Two of them, Dolly Parton and Vince Gill, joined him on his 2001 album Generations in Song. By the Grace of God(2006), a collection of gospel songs, was reportedly his 65th album.
Locklin belonged to a generation of country singers who were not afraid of extravagant stage wear.
One of his suits – cream and gold, sequined and with bell-bottom trousers – was recently added to the collection of the Alabama Music Hall of Fame. He had made his home for many years in Brewton, Alabama. He was also recognised by the state of his birth when he was inducted, in 2007, into the Florida Hall of Fame.
His wife, Anita, and son Hank Adam survive him.
Lawrence Hankins “Hank” Locklin, country music singer, born February 15th, 1918; died March 8th, 2009.