Hank Locklin was an American country singer-songwriter known for his long association with the record label RCA Victor, his clear tenor voice and also for the simple, hearfelt songs. His career actually took off when he signed up a long contract with RCA Victor in 1955. From then Locklin scored hits like “Send Me The Pillow That You Dream On,” “Geisha Girl” and “Please Help Me I’m Falling” the last which went to the Billboard Top 10. He also became a fixture on the Grand Ole Opry from 1960 until 2007. After being with RCA in over two decades Locklin recorded for a string of record labels (MGM, Plantation, Coldwater, Top Spin and Yell). He retired and lived his remaining years in Brewton, Alabama, where he died in 2009, aged 91.
Locklin’s early life and struggles
Country music singer-songwriter and musician Hank Locklin was born Lawrence Hankins Locklin in McLellan, Florida on February 15, 1918. Coming from a poor family of cotton farmers, Locklin began to learn music while he was recovering from an accident, at age 8 (some sources say he was 9 years old when he began to learn music). Although interested in guitar early on, Locklin only mastered in playing the instrument in his teens.
As Locklin grew older and became more active in playing music despite struggles. After winning a first place from a local talent show, Locklin began to do spots for radio shows as his interests gradually shifted more to performing and entertaining.
Locklin was drafted during the Second World War, but was eventually exempted because of his old leg injury. He continued to sing and play guitar in various bands in Mobile, Alabama. One of Locklin’s first influences was Ernest Tubb whose singing style Locklin tried to emulate, but later on he developed his own singing style. Locklin also began to write songs as well.
Locklin as member of the Four Leaf Clover Boys/Rocky Mountain Playboys
Locklin was a member of the group the Four Leaf Clover Boys, and then the Rocky Mountain Playboys, where Locklin was one of the founding members. The Rocky Mountain Playboys became popular on the radio, and got a boost from businessman Ernest Laird, who was also a songwriter. Laird planned of establishing a record label and signing up Locklin and his group. Unfortunately, Laird was killed on the day before the group should have started recording.
The Rocky Mountain Playboys recorded for labels Gold Star and Royalty, but without much success. The group broke up soon after.
Successful solo career
Almost immediately after the group disbanded, Locklin was signed to Houston-based label Four Star in late 1940s. It was in Four Star where Locklin achieved his first hit with “The Same Sweet Girl,” (#8 country), followed by his first #1 hit “Let Me Be The One” (#1 country).
Locklin’s career took off when he signed with RCA Victor label in 1955. His recordings were later produced by Chet Atkins, who often joined sessions for Locklin’s recordings. Locklin’s crystal-clear tenor graced his biggest hits and fan favorites such as “Geisha Girl” (#66 pop, #4 country), “Send Me a Pillow You Dream On” (#77 pop, #5 country) and his biggest national hit “Please Help Me, I’m Falling” (#8 pop, #1 country), and “Who Am I to Cast the First Stone,” “A Good Woman’s Love,” “Seven or Eleven,” “I’m Tired of Bummin’ Around,” “Golden Wristwatch,” “Sitting Alone at a Table for Two,” and many others.
In the 1960s Locklin built a ranch house which he called The Singing L in the field of McLellan near the cotton fields where he grew up and worked as a child.
He remained popular in Europe, particularly in Ireland — he was so popular there that he recorded an album called Irish Songs Country Style, which was one of those that Locklin helped pioneer the idea of concept albums.
Later career and final years
In 1968 Locklin achieved his last top ten country hit “The Country Hall of Fame” (at #8). After leaving RCA, Locklin went on to record for several different labels including MGM and Plantation. He released his 65th and final album The Grace of God: The Gospel Album, in 2006.
In 2007 Locklin was inducted into the Florida Artists Hall of Fame. Locklin retired and lived his last few years in Brewton, Alabama, only some 20 miles from his birthplace. He died there on March 8, 2009, aged 91.