International country music legend and Grand Ole Opry star Hank Locklin, who soared to stardom with the mega country/pop hit Please Help Me I’m Falling and wrote the country classic Send Me The Pillow You Dream On passed away on Sunday March 8th. He was 91 years old.
Locklin had been a Brewton, Alabama resident since 1984 and was well known among the locals as a friend and were never a stranger after meeting the cordial performer.
One of country’s greatest tenors, Locklin scored one of the biggest hits of the music’s golden era with “Please Help Me, I’m Falling,” which spent a remarkable 14 weeks at No. 1 and 30 weeks in the Top 10 in 1960. With that hit came membership into the Opry, an honor he maintained for the rest of his life. Locklin’s other big hits included Geisha Girl, Let Me Be The One, Country Hall of Fame and Danny Boy.For nearly two decades Locklin recorded for RCA Records (1955-1974). Locklin helped usher in the famous 1950s-60s Nashville Sound, which also featured the likes of fellow performers Jim Reeves, Patsy Cline and The Browns. His legacy grew overseas helping to spread country music popularity to Japan, Germany and especially to Ireland, where fans took to his clear, crisp tenor voice and claimed Locklin as an adopted son.
He was born Lawrence Hankins Locklin in the piney northwest Florida community of McLellan. In later years, after gaining international popularity, he was nicknamed the Mayor of McLellan by television/radio personality Ralph Emery. The name stuck as Locklin maintained residence there on his 350-plus acre Singing L Ranch until moving to Brewton 25 years ago.
While he was born into a family that reared doctors and educators, Locklin discovered very early he was to be a performer. Hank was picking guitar for amateur contests in nearby Milton, Florida, by age 10. In his teens he was a featured performer on Pensacola radio station WCOA. For the next several years, he played with a variety of groups through the South and worked at various jobs in Florida, including farmer, ribbon mill hanker, and shipyard worker.
After World War II ended, his career started taking off, and he appeared on Shreveport’s Louisiana Hayride and the Big D Jamboree inDallas, Texas. He recorded briefly for Decca, and after meeting producer Bill McCall, Hank recorded for McCall’s Four Star Records for five years. Hank scored his first Top 10 song in 1949 with “The Same Sweet Girls.” Four years later, he had a No. 1 with “Let Me Be the One,” and a recording contract with RCA Victor followed.
The next year started a string of hit singles, with “Send Me the Pillow You Dream On,” which he wrote, “It’s a Little More Like Heaven," "Geisha Girl," "Fraulein," "Why, Baby Why," and “Blue Grass Skirt.” In 1960, the remarkable success of “Please Help Me, I’m Falling”—the song not only dominated the country chart that year, but crossed over into the Top 10 pop charts in both the United States and the United Kingdom—earned him membership in the Grand Ole Opry. It also introduced the slip-note piano style to country music through legendary pianist Floyd Cramer and was a major factor in creating the “Nashville Sound.” Locklin remembers, “Chet played me the demo and Don Robertson (one of the co-writers) was playing that slip-note on the piano…I told Chet if we could get Cramer to copy that style, we’d have us a hit, and we did.” The slip-note piano style was synonymous with Hank's recordings from20that point forward and considered his signature sound.
Many hits followed throughout the ’60s, including “We're Gonna Go Fishin'," "Happy Birthday To Me," "Happy Journey," "Followed Closely by My Teardrops,” “The Country Hall of Fame,” “Danny Boy” and "Where The Blue Of The Night, Meets The Gold Of The Day." During this time, Hank pioneered the creation of concept albums in country music with releases such as Foreign Love and Irish Songs, Country Style. Hank is also credited with taking country music to unprecedented heights of popularity with International audiences throughout the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s. In all, Hank has sold more than 15 million albums and received numerous industry awards from The Grand Ole Opry, BMI, ASCAP, Cashbox, Billboard and NARAS.
Long a favorite with Opry audiences, Hank returned to the studio in 2001 to record Generations in Song. Featuring long-time colleagues such as Dolly Parton and Jeannie Seely, newer friends and admirers like Vince Gill (who cites Hank as an influence) and Jett Williams. Recently, Hank recorded his 65th album, a gospel album, with an award winning cast of artists such as The Oak Ridge Boys, The Jordanaires, Gold City and Jeff & Sheri Easter.
Locklin is survived by his loving wife of thirty-nine years, Anita Locklin, his children Margaret Kent, Maurice Locklin, Beth Padgett, Nina Hendricks, Amy Alford, and Hank Adam Locklin, along with his beloved grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Locklin was a member of Red Rock Lodge F. & A.M. in Munson, Florida, The Scottish Rite Bodies of Nashville, Tennessee and Hadji Shrine Temple in Pensacola, Florida.
Visitation is scheduled for Thursday, March 12th from 4 to 8 p.m. at The First Baptist Church in Brewton, Alabama. Arrangements are being handled by Williams Memorial Chapel Funeral Home of Brewton, Alabama, (251) 867-4304. In lieu of flowers, the family requests that donations be made to Covenant Hospice 1023 Douglas Ave, #204, Brewton, Alabama 36426, (251) 867-6993, or The Opry Trust Fund, 2804 Opryland Drive,Nashville, TN, 37214, (615) 871-5812.