One of the best signs of the level of fame reached by a musical artist is the number of recordings appearing on the charts, but when a country music star also demonstrates the ability to cross over and show up repeatedly on the pop charts, you can bet that he’s special. That was the case with Hank Locklin, who has died at age 91 at his home in Alabama.
Although he was probably best known for his biggest hits, “Send Me The Pillow That You Dream On,” (which he also composed) and “Please Help Me I’m Falling,” he had dozens of charted records, and was one of the best of the honky-tonk tenors. He’s also given credit for being one of those who first made an art out of ‘concept’ albums — collections of songs based on a common theme.
Florida-born Lawrence Hankins ‘Hank’ Locklin first became attracted to music while recovering from a childhood accident. By the time he was a teenager in the Depression era, he’d turned his skillful guitar play and singing voice into a burgeoning radio career — although he wasn’t an immediate hit.
He kept working all over the South both before and during the war years (exempted from service because of the effects of his childhood injury) but real success continued to elude him. As the war drew to a close, he began finding a little traction with some of the better country bands around, including Jimmy Swan’s, where Locklin sometimes found himself appearing alongside Hank Williams.
In the post-war years Locklin began forming his own groups, including the Rocky Mountain Boys, a bunch that went through some ups and downs — including the fatal stabbing of a record producer on the eve of their first recording session. Still, Locklin eventually began to find some success in record sales, and after a series of decent sellers he hit it big in 1953 with “Let Me Be the One.”
Although he had some things to work out with his record companies, the balance of the decade was good for Locklin. Joining producer Chet Atkins and RCA led to hit after hit, including “Why Baby Why,” “Geisha Girl,” and “Livin’ Alone,” along with “It’s A Little More Like Heaven.” He closed out the decade with “Send Me The Pillow That You Dream On,” and “Please Help Me I’m Falling,” and was solidly in place as one of country music’s biggest stars.
Over the next two decades, he continued to sell records, with many of his best songs coming out of this era. The highest charting was 1968’s “Country Hall Of Fame,” but there were many others. He also began exploring themed albums, and found a lot of success with collections of European songs and tribute albums, such as one dedicated to Roy Acuff.
His spot as a country music legend securely in place, he eventually retired to his home in Alabama, just a short distance from his birthplace in the Florida panhandle.