Sweet Pea Atkinson  

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

Hillard "Sweet Pea" Atkinson (September 20, 1945 – May 5, 2020) was an American singer known as one of the vocalists for the band Was (Not Was).

His solo singles includes "Dance or Die" (#27 Billboard Dance Club Songs, 1982) from the album Don't Walk Away (1982).


Life and career

Anderson was born in Oberlin, Ohio, and moved to Detroit when young. He worked at the Chrysler factory, and sang with colleagues in a local band, Hi Energy. He met Don Was in the late 1970s, when he was rehearsing at the studio used by Was. Don Was described Atkinson as "a larger than life guy.... the most flamboyant character I ever met... he's wearing this orange ensemble – hat, shirt, socks and shoes all matched the exact same shade of orange.... and it was hysterical. He had the most incredible stories."

Atkinson joined Was (Not Was) as joint lead vocalist alongside "Sir" Harry Bowens. He "became a key part of Was (Not Was)'s cross-pollinated sonic stew", and featured on some of the band's most successful recordings. In 1982, shortly after the release of the first Was (Not Was) album, he recorded and released his first solo album, Don't Walk Away.

The album was co-produced by Was (Not Was) members David Weiss and Donald Fagenson, also known as the Was Brothers.

In 1997, along with Kris Kristofferson, Atkinson starred in a 15-minute short film included on Don Was' album Forever's a Long, Long Time, which Was released under the alias Orquestra Was.

Atkinson also performed as lead vocalist on most of the songs on the album, on which Was interprets songs by Hank Williams.

Atkinson later joined forces with blues guitarist Randy Jacobs – also a longtime Was (Not Was) session guitarist who co-wrote the band's most successful hit, "Walk the Dinosaur" – in a band called the Boneshakers; together they released three albums. Two of those were studio recordings: Book of Spells in 1997 on Point Blank Records, and Shake the Planet in 1999, also on Point Blank Records. The third album that they cut together is a live album, Live in Seattle, with the groovy saxophonist Mindi Abair. It was released on Concord Records. Two more albums were credited to Mindi Abair and the Boneshakers: The EastWest Sessions (2017) and All I Got for Christmas Is the Blues (2018).

Atkinson also toured for ten years with Lyle Lovett, and sang on records by Bonnie Raitt, Bob Dylan, Elton John, Brian Wilson, Willie Nelson, Iggy Pop, Jackson Browne, and many others.

He died from a heart attack in Los Angeles, aged 74.

Critical reception

Robert Christgau gave Don't Walk Away an A– grade, writing, "Trouper that he is, Atkinson will sing any nonsense [the Was brothers] hand him, but he obviously finds his truth in Dionne Warwick, the Tymes, General Johnson, and Eddie Rabbitt, and I'll go along with that."

AllMusic's William Ruhlmann gave the album 3 stars out of 5. In his review, Ruhlmann wrote that "For all intents and purposes, this is a Was (Not Was) record" and that "mostly this record has the same sarcastic undercurrent of most of Was (Not Was)'s product."

Solo discography

  • Don't Walk Away (Island, 1982)
  • Get What You Deserve (2017)


Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Sweet Pea Atkinson" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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