Hank Locklin: Country singer and guitarist

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The Independent Online

Most country stars who have found wider acceptance have had to compromise in some way, but Hank Locklin remained true to his roots, singing heart-wrenching country ballads in a high-pitched nasal tenor. His international success, "Please Help Me, I'm Falling", recorded when he was 42 years old, divided listeners with as many fans as detractors. "Some people might not like me," he would joke, "but if they listen to me long enough, I'll get to them."

Lawrence Hankins Locklin was born in McLellan, Florida in 1918, and started to learn to play the guitar at the age of six. At the age of eight, he had the double misfortune of being run over by the school bus and being hit with a bout of rheumatic fever. Locklin's recovery period included intensive practice on his guitar; by the time he was a teenager, building highways to earn a living, he was entertaining his workmates. The Second World War interrupted his progress to an extent, but after completing military service he worked for radio stations in Mobile, Alabama and Houston, Texas. These experiences cemented his desire to become a professional entertainer.

In 1949, Locklin joined the Louisiana Hayride radio show in Shreveport and achieved his first country success with "The Same Sweet Girl", a song written for his wife, Willa. He recorded for the Four Star label and even though he had a US country No 1 with "Let Me Be the One" in 1953, he was never paid.

Locklin soon realised that the label owner, Bill McCall, was a rogue. He began writing songs such as "These Ruins Belong to You" under Willa's name, so that McCall could not claim them. After an argument with McCall, Locklin moved on to a much bigger label, RCA, where his records were produced by Chet Atkins and recorded with top Nashville session musicians.

In 1957, Locklin had a country hit with "Geisha Girl" and recorded a concept album, Foreign Love (1958), aimed at servicemen overseas. He also wrote "Send Me the Pillow You Dream On" in the same year, another song for servicemen, which became a pop hit for Johnny Tillotson in 1962 and is now a standard.

The story of Locklin's biggest hit began with the country songwriter Don Robertson, who wanted to write a cheating song with a difference: in it, the man's conscience would not let him cheat. He discussed it with Hal Blair, who had confronted his own marital problems in "One Has My Name (the Other Has My Heart)", a hit for Jimmy Wakely in 1948. The result was "Please Help Me, I'm Falling".

Although the song was turned down by Jim Reeves, Locklin recognised its potential. "Please Help Me, I'm Falling" topped the country charts for 14 weeks in 1960 and was also a Top 10 pop hit in Britain and America. It prompted an answer version from Skeeter Davis, "I Can't Help You (I'm Falling Too)".

Locklin never duplicated that success, but he did have several popular records including "Happy Birthday to Me" (1961), "From Here to There to You" (1961), "This Song Is Just For You" (1962), "We're Gonna Go Fishin'" (1962), "Flyin' South" (1963) and "The Girls Get Prettier (Every Day)" (1966). One of his best singles was the good natured "Insurance" (1966).

Locklin was one of the first country stars to tour army bases and country clubs in Europe. He acquired a large following in Ireland and his best known album is Irish Songs, Country Style (1964). He also recorded tribute albums to Roy Acuff, Hank Williams and Eddy Arnold.

In the late Sixties, Locklin moved back to McLellan, having built a ranch, The Singing L, on the cotton field where he worked as a boy. He took an interest in local politics and he became one of the first celebrity mayors, even releasing an album called The Mayor of McLellan Florida in 1972.

As the years went by, Locklin retained his singing voice, attributing his good fortune to not smoking. His grandson, Hank Adam, produced two albums for him, Generations in Song (2001), which also featured Dolly Parton and Vince Gill, and By the Grace of God (2006). At the time of his death, Locklin was the oldest member of the Grand Ole Opry radio show.

Spencer Leigh

Lawrence Hankins Locklin (Hank Locklin), singer: born McLellan, Florida 15 February 1918; married 1938 Willa Jean Murphy (marriage dissolved; one son, two daughters); 1970 Anita Crooks (one son); died Brewton, Alabama 8 March 2009.