Lawrence Hankins "Hank " Locklin

Singer, Songwriter, Artist/Producer

1918 - 2009
Inducted in 2007

Biography

Florida native Hank Locklin was one of country music's early honky-tonk singers. A three-time Grammy finalist, Locklin saw more than 15 million copies of his songs sold worldwide before his death in 2008. In a career that spanned nearly seven decades, he recorded 65 albums and charted 70 singles including eight that became Top 10 hits.  Although he didn't write the song, Locklin's "Please Help Me I'm Falling," released in 1960, was ranked the second most popular country song for the first 100 years of Billboard Magazine. Today he's immortalized as a major player in taking country music's popularity to an international scale.

Locklin's own songs have been recorded by more than 1,000 artists including Willie Nelson, Dolly Parton, Dwight Yoakam, Charley Pride, Roy Rogers and Gene Autry. He influenced a wide range of artists, including Vince Gill, George Jones, Willie Nelson, Kenny Rogers and Merle Haggard.  Locklin was bestowed many high honors in the country music field, and in 1960 was inducted into the Grand Ole Opry. 

Locklin (born Lawrence Hankins Locklin) was the youngest son of four children born to a farm family living in the tiny Florida Panhandle hamlet of McClellan, near the town of Milton in Santa Rosa County.  He grew up picking cotton to help support his family.  His mother, Hattie, played piano at church, which is where as a young child Locklin started singing. 

When he was 8, Locklin was severely injured when struck by a school bus.  During his long recovery at home, he began to learn to play guitar.  When he was 10, he won an amateur performing contest in nearby Milton.  By his mid-teens, Locklin had mastered the guitar, honed his Irish tenor voice and had become something of a radio star, being featured on the Pensacola station WCOA.

Eager to launch a career in music, Locklin dropped out of high school and hit the road, learning his chops as an entertainer.  By the mid-‘40s, he was a regular performer on radio and in honky tonks throughout the Southeast.  When the U.S. entered World War II, Locklin's childhood injury kept him out of the draft.  In the late war years, he joined Jimmy Swan's dance band in Mobile, where he met another up-and-coming Hank who sat in occasionally–Hank Williams.

In 1947, Locklin formed his first band, the Rocky Mountain Boys.  The group became popular radio favorites and led to Locklin's first big break, signing up with Four Star Records in Houston.  Locklin soon had his first major regional hits, "The Same Sweet Girl," and "Send Me the Pillow That You Dream On" written by Claude Casey.  In 1953, he finally drew national attention with "Let Me Be the One," which shot to the top of the country music chart.

After signing with RCA in 1955, Locklin's career took off.  In 1957, he had three songs that reached the Top 5 on country charts, beginning with "Geisha Girl," a re-release of "Pillow" (soon covered to great success by both Dean Martin and Johnny Tillotson) and "It's a Little More Like Heaven." 

But in 1960, Locklin scored his biggest hit of his career with the Chet Atkins-produced "Please Help Me I'm Falling," written by Don Roberson and Hal Blair.  The song spent a total of nine months on the country charts, including 14 weeks as No. 1.  For the recording, Chet Atkins hired session pianist Ralph Cramer, who introduced his signature "slip-note" playing style into the song.  The technique of slurring keystrokes, combined with twangy guitar, became associated with a rebirth of country music later identified as "the Nashville Sound."

"Please" became Locklin's entree to the Grand Ole Opry, which invited him to join in 1960.  He followed the song with an unbroken, 17-year string of hits, often with multiple chartings each year from 1960 through 1977.  Three songs reached the Top 10 on country charts, "Happy Birthday to Me" (1961); "Happy Journey," (1961) and "The Country Music Hall of Fame," (1967). 

Locklin's music became popular overseas, particularly in Norway, Britain and Ireland.  In 1963 he recorded an album targeted specifically for his Irish fans entitled Irish Songs Country Style.  After touring Japan with Chet Atkins, Locklin began to be credited as the performer who spread the honky-tonk sound around the world.

Locklin stayed productive almost his entire, long life.  In 2001, he recorded Generations In Song, which included duets with Dolly Parton and Jett Williams.  An all-gospel album, By The Grace of God, followed in 2006–his 65th album.

In 1970, Locklin married his second wife, Anita Crooks of Brewton, Alabama, a town close to his home place in Florida.  Four sons and a daughter were born to the couple.   He retired to his Brewton home in 1984 and died there in 2009 (at 91) as the oldest member of the Grand Ole Opry at that time.