Hank Locklin — the Grand Ole Opry star and
singer of country music classics “Please Help Me, I’m Falling”
and “Send Me The Pillow That You Dream On” — died Sunday at his home
in Brewton, Ala. He was 91.
Mr. Locklin sang in a tenor both pliant and unadorned, and his voice
remained a powerful instrument throughout most of his life. Even in his late
80s, he sang his hits (and a thrilling cover of Irish standard “Danny Boy”)
on the Opry stage and performed the songs in the keys in which they
were initially recorded.
“He was the rarest of the rare, for his voice to stay as pure as
it did,” said “Vince Gill. “I think he might have held onto his voice better
than anybody I’ve ever heard. I sang with him a few years ago and I had to
really get up on my toes just to hit the notes.”
Born in the Florida Panhandle town of McLellan in 1918, Mr. Locklin began
playing the guitar at age 9, after an accident — he was hit by a school bus —
left him bedridden. He made his radio debut at a Pensacola, Fla., station in the 1930s,
and in the 1940s he and a band began working clubs and southern radio stations.
Mr. Locklin’s recording career began in earnest in 1949, when he recorded
“The Same Sweet Girl” for California-based Four Star Records. He also
wrote “Send Me The Pillow That You Dream On” in 1949. Often, he’d play
the song live on radio stations, and listeners would then mail their own
pillows to him in care of the station.
“The pillows started rollin’ in,” he told journalist Rich Kienzle, in a conversation
recounted in the liner notes of Mr. Locklin’s RCA Country Legends CD.
When Gill was a child, he told his mother, “You’ve got to get me one of those
“She said, ‘What are you talking about,’” Gill remembered. “I said, ‘One of those
pillows you can dream on.’ There was this connection I had to him, from the
time I was a little boy. I don’t think those things happen by accident.”
When Mr. Gill met Mr. Locklin, he told him that story. Mr. Locklin then gifted
Gill with an embroidered pillow, which Gill subsequently gave to his mother.
“That blew her away,’” Gill said. “She told me, ‘When I die, I want that pillow
under my head.’”
Mr. Locklin’s 1960 recording of “Please Help Me, I’m Falling” spent 14 weeks atop
the Billboard country chart, and 30 weeks in the Top 10, and it also crossed
over into the top 10 of the pop chart. Recorded in one take, that single
remains a hallmark of the much-vaunted “Nashville Sound,” and it found Country
Music Hall of Famer Floyd Cramer playing for the first time in what would
become his signature “slip note” style.
“It’s one of the kind that won’t die,” Mr. Locklin told The Tennessean, “Because it
tells a beautiful story.”
Mr. Locklin became a member of the Grand Ole Opry in 1960, where
he was known for his jovial presence both onstage and backstage. He preferred
to live life unhurriedly, seeking a pace that he described as
“Somewhere between a gentle breeze and a cyclone.”
Though the country music industry is centered in Music City, Mr. Locklin felt
centered elsewhere: He rented an apartment in Nashville for a couple
of years, but soon moved back south, winding up in Brewton, not
far from his birthplace of McLellan. For Opry appearances, he would
pack some stage clothes and drive six hours up the highway just to sing
a couple of songs.
“The Lord has blessed me in my voice, you know,” he said, and he was intent
on sharing the blessing.
“Hank was always a great singer,” said Bob Moore, who played bass on most
of Mr. Locklin’s RCA recordings, including
“Send Me The Pillow That You Dream On,” “Please Help Me, I’m Falling,” “Geisha Girl,”
“Happy Birthday To Me” and “Livin’ Alone.”
In 1995, Gill joined Mr. Locklin onstage at the Opry to harmonize
on “Send Me The Pillow That You Dream On.” In 2001, Mr. Locklin released
the Generations In Song CD, which included guest shots from Gill, Parton,
Jeannie Seely, Jeanne Pruett, Jett Williams and son Hank Adam Locklin,
who is now a senior manager at the Country Music Association.
Recently, Mr. Locklin released his 65th album, a gospel effort called
By The Grace of God.
The family is planning a private burial
and memorial service.
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