|Unknown Hinson Rockabilly Magazine Article By Sean McCourt|
|Thursday, 15 October 2009|
Unknown Hinson Rockabilly Magazine Article
By Sean McCourt
He’s been called a 400 year old rockabilly vampire. He supposedly spent 30 years in prison for a murder he was framed for. He counts among his fans celebrities such as Billy Bob Thornton and Matt Groening. He carries a gun and has a penchant for drinking. He’s “ever womerns dream, and ever jealous husband’s nightmare.”
Regardless of where of the legend ends and the truth begins, Unknown Hinson’s music should speak for itself: uncompromising, highly entertaining and enjoyable songs that are firmly rooted in American musical traditions, yet unlike anything else out there today.
Hinson, the self-proclaimed “King of Country Western Troubadours,” made his first major appearance in the public eye in 1993 with a local television show in Charlotte, North Carolina, which proved to be the springboard for greater success nationally—but success has been a long time coming, as Hinson, with an accent and manner of speaking that is about as down home as gets, explains.
“I was born an only child, I never knowed my daddy, all I know about him was he was a drunk sumbitch, and I never seen him but once. My momma raised me until I was about ten, and then she disappeared all mysterious like, and I run away from home with my pet rooster and wandered around for days until I stumbled on a carnival. I made friends with the man who owned the carnival, and he raised me until I was grown up sort of, in my early twenties.”
“I done a lot of time performing on the midway at the ten in one show at this carnival, and then when things started happening for me, some fellers got jealous of what I had goin’ on, so they had me set up and framed for murder, and about 150 different other charges, so I was tried and sentenced to 30 years in the Illinois state pen, went in in 1963, I got out in 1993, so I had a lot of time to make up for.”
“With all my chart-toppin’ songs I had wrote in the joint, I put together a television show—public access, as they say—in Charlotte, North Carolina, ‘The Unknown Hinson Show,’ which featured various video vignettes of the days in the life of Unknown Hinson, which included various music videos of mine. It developed a following locally, and people started trading tapes, so I started making records, and started touring again, and here we are, been doing it ever since.”
Since he began performing on the TV show, fans have often wondered about Hinson’s name—and he’s quick to point out that he is not “The Unknown Hinson,” but that his first name is Unknown.
“When I was born see, my momma and my daddy weren’t really married, so I’m what you call a bastard. Back then I was kind of ashamed that, but nowadays it seems to be the thing to be, which is illegitimate. My birth certificate—when the doctor said, ‘What is the name of the child, Miss Hinson?’—that was my momma’s maiden name, Hinson—she said, ‘Well, lets just name him after his father,” but she didn’t even know his last name, so the birth certificate read “Mother: Miss Hinson. Father: Unknown.” So she technically named me after my daddy.”
Fans have also wondered about Hinson’s look—somewhat of a combination of Elvis and Bela Lugosi—pale skin, giant sideburns, Country Western style suit, and a mouth lacking most of his teeth.
“I have a slight dental affliction, a lot of people take it as being a vampire, or whatnot, the living dead, the undead. If they want to believe I’m a damn vampire, that’s fine, it’s just like, if they want to believe in Santy Claus, have at it. I have had a calcium deficiency since I was born. I got two teeth in me, they little but they strong.”
Before Hinson’s mother disappeared when he was young, she did manage to inspire him to become a musician.
“Well my momma, she showed me one chord on the guitar, right, she played the guitar real purdy, and she sung purdy as hell too, and she was a beautiful womern, and she showed me one chord, and said, ‘Look here, now if you want to do this, you’ll figure it out.’ So that inspired me to try learn the guitar on my own, and she told me, ‘If you’re gonna sing, make up your own songs, don’t sing nobody else’s mess, ‘cause you got to be original.’ I considered that good advice, and so far as influences, I would say my momma was about it.”
You can read the rest of this article in Rockabilly Magazine, available at all HOT TOPIC stores and also at RockabillyMagazine.com
Hinson does, however, name a couple of other performers that he liked while forming his musical identity; mainly Country Western singers, but some rockabilly, as well.
“Whilst I was in the joint, every now and then they’d let us hear some records, and I kind of liked that Farron Young, I thought he was good. And everybody likes old Carl Perkins, you know, I pretty much think he’s the daddy rabbit myself. Johnny Burnette is another name that comes to mind.”
Hinson’s first release was the cassette-only “21 Chart-Toppers,” which showcased his outstanding musicianship on the collection of tunes that could have been ripped right out of a book of classic Country Western standards—except, perhaps, for the lyrics, which are about as hilariously politically incorrect as it can get. His next record “The Future is Unknown” was again independently released, but for his 2002 release “Rock N Roll is Straight From Hell,” he signed to Capitol Records.
“I guess they felt like they needed some help cause they had lost their ass on them Beatles and them Beach Boys, so they signed me to try to help ‘em out and sell some records, which I did.”
Hinson’s latest album is “Target Practice,” (Coffin Case Records) which further cements his rebellious musical legacy with its combination of his earlier Country Western ballad style with a hard edged rock and rockabilly sound. Some have referred to his style as psychobilly when he gets down and dirty, but Hinson prefers “Country Western Metal” as a more adept description of what he does.
The album’s 16 tracks feature Hinson on every instrument—guitar, bass, drums, violin, steel guitar and more—but he doesn’t do things that way because of an inflated ego or anything like that—it all comes down to simple economics.
“Producing a record can be expensiver than hell, cause you got to pay this feller to do that, and this feller to do something else, and another feller to do this and that and whatnot. It ain’t that I don’t like nobody else’s playin’, it’s just that it’s expensive. There’s a lot of great players, but I can’t justify payin’ ‘em to play on my records, when I already hear what the hell it is what I want to hear in my head already. Why shouldn’t I go ahead and play it all?”
“It helps keep the overhead down. I mean, you could drop a hell of a lot of money producing just one song. There’s a lot more fun ways to spend money than makin’ records. I mean, there’s womerns, drinkin’ and cars—there’s all sorts of more fun ways to spend money than to try to get a bunch of musicians together in one room. There’s a lot quicker process, and a hell of a lot cheaper to do it all.”
The fact that Hinson is such a prolific songwriter, and knows exactly what he wants, also makes his recording style more viable.
“I write songs everyday of my life, I have to, it’s what I do in life, so there’s some mess going on in my head all the time. So when I got time off from playin’ on the road, I come in and go at it. It’s like a layerin’ process, I hear the whole thing in my head, like old Mozart done, he heard them symphonies in his head, every damn part, he heard it all in his head. I like to cut to the chase; I want to hear the finished product as soon as possible. I can’t wait—when I write something I want to hear the sumbitch recorded within hours, I want to hear it finished. I don’t go in and lay down drums and then come back next week and lay down rhythm guitar—I mean that loses the juice, the spontaneity. I like my things to be cut that represent that particular minute in time, where my head’s at.”
When Hinson performs live, he keeps it simple then, as well—just himself on guitar and vocals, with a bass player and a drummer to back him up.
“You don’t need all them different instruments, because when womerns come to see me, that’s the deal. When I sing the songs, that’s what they pay for—or that’s what their husbands or boyfriends pay for them to get in and see is me, singing. They don’t care that I don’t got no steel guitar or piano or violins on stage, because when they hear Unknown Hinson sing, and pick his guitar, that’s it. That’s the money, right there.”
Hinson is indeed one hell of a picker, though he looks at his instruments in a more rudimentary sense than one might expect.
“Guitars to me are like tools—a guitar to me is like a hammer or a saw or a screwdriver or hell, a two by four. If it works for you when you need it, at a particular time, then it’s good. But I ain’t got no favorite guitars. I will say, that since the liner notes of “Target Practice” were printed, I been playin’ a guitar named Reverend—they’re made in Michigan, in America…by Americans. Real good guitars. Now I love a Fender and a Gibson, I love ‘em all, but I been playin’ a Reverend most of the time.”
Hinson looks unfavorably upon those in the modern music industry who don’t take the time to learn how properly play an instrument; to learn how to use the tools of the trade.
“I don’t keep up with this new mess, what they call it, hip hop—is that it? To me that ain’t music, that’s just a bunch of damn talking, that’s all it is. Anybody can talk and push a button with a damn drum loop on it, I mean come on. To call yourself a musician you got to be able to play music.”
“Country Western music takes talent. It’s a fact—womerns likes mens that shoots guns and sings Country Western music. I mean look at your Roy Rogers, look at your Gene Autry. They shoot guns, they sing Country Western. I shoot a gun, I sing Country Western. That’s what the womerns wants. And where the womerns go, that’s where the mans will be, and the mans will spend the money on the womerns, which is good for the nightclub or the theater, which is good for Unknown Hinson. That’s what I call the Unknown Hinson eco-system. If you got something womerns wants, you got money.”
In addition to his stellar musicianship, Hinson also writes some of the wittiest lyrics today, ranging in topic from unfaithful women and prison to drinking and drugs. Some listeners may consider them outrageous and politically incorrect, but Hinson doesn’t care, and rightfully so. The “King” isn’t concerned with what other people think about him.
“Well, here’s the way I look at it. I don’t care about politics at all—I got a prison record, I can’t exercise my right as an American to vote. I ain’t got no driver’s license, I ain’t got no votin’ card.”
On “Talk American,” Hinson shares his viewpoint about language and communication in the United States.
“If you gonna go somewhere—say for instance, I was going to go to Germany. For my own benefit, I think I would learn how to talk German so I could find my way around Germany. I mean it just makes sense, don’t it? It ain’t no slight to anybody in particular, it just makes sense. Plus, it shows that you got respect for the land that you was visiting.”
In “I Don’t Take Dope,” he sings about his confidence and ease of mind when it comes time for judgement, in the eyes of the almighty, or society in general, because he abstains from taking drugs.
“If a youngern takes dope or whatever, and he or she sees something that ain’t there, well hell, all kinds of chaos could break out. It makes them go on what they call a trip—it makes them hallucinagize, see things that ain’t there. Say, if they see three different colored lights blinkin’. Well they might think that is a Christmas tree. So they might think Santy Claus is nearby, fixin’ to give them a Christmas present. But it might be the damn lights on top of a police crusier, which is fixin’ to handcuff their ass and kick ‘em in the back seat. All drugs is what does it.”
“Drinkin’ is a different thing—it’s part of American heritage, our forefathers done a hell of a lot of drinkin’. I mean just look at the Constitution, they way it was wrote. There had to be some drinkin’ goin’ on. Drinkin’ is a wonderful thing. Party Liquor is what I drink; Party Liquor, to be specific, is alkyhol that I can see through, I don’t drink no Party Liquor that I can’t see through. What I prefer is the vodka, preferably in the half-gallon size.”
Hinson says that he gets his inspiration for songs and lyrics from his everyday life experiences; what he sees going on around him.
“It’s all real life experiences, or if it ain’t a real life experience on my part, at least it’s something that I witnessed with my chart-toppin’ eyes. You got to write what you know, or else people will see through it.”
And that is exactly how he looks at modern Country music—he sees right through the industry charades.
“That ain’t nothin’ but a bunch of pretty boys in cowboy hats with $900 cowboy boots and tight designer jeans. The sumbitches can’t even sing. They’re up there dancing around, with a little McDonald’s microphone strapped on their cheek. Same for the womerns, they’re just a bunch of damn Barbie dolls with purdy faces, they’re just skeletons with big boobs, they can’t sing neither.”
“You got to sing from your heart. If you got people to pay a fee to come and see you, then you best give ‘em something for their money, and that’s what I try to do. I will sing and play my chart-toppin’ guts out for them all night.”
Hinson points to modern artists such as Hank III as the real deal in the current music scene.
“Hank is a good friend of mine, I consider him a fellow troubadour, I really do. He’s real, he’s honest as he can be, and believe me, in this day and time, that is a rare thing. He’s the kind of feller that if there’s a thousand people standing in line at his merchandise table, he will not leave until he has met and talked to each and every one of them, and that to me, is a damn good man who does that. I try to do it myself, except more times than not, a womern will come on to me and her husband will get all mad and jealous and want to whoop my chart-toppin’ ass, so sometimes I have to leave—especially when I sign their breasts. See, that’s a big thing at my shows, womerns wants me to sign their breasts. It’s a big fad, I mean the womerns wants it. And that’s what I try to do, please the womerns, because it all gets back to the Hinson eco-system, if the womerns come to see you, the mans will pay for the womerns to get in, the mans will buy drinks for the womerns, which will make money for the bar, which will make money for club, which will make money for Unknown Hinson.”
The future looks bright for Unknown Hinson, who is currently at work on a new CD and a DVD. He is also reaching new fans with his work as the voice of “Early Cuyler,” the drunken redneck inbred cephalopod on Cartoon Network’s “Squidbillies” show.
But playing for, and interacting with his rapidly growing fan base appears to be where Hinson seems most comfortable, and enjoys himself the most.
“If people hear about me comin’ to their town, I hope they’ll come and see me. If you’re a woman fan of mine, shoot me some email, come see me at my website, tell me a little something about yourself. Are you purdy? Do you live alone? Do you have a security system in your house? Just a couple things. And if you’re a man fan of the King, and you like me, then great, but if you don’t get it and you’re jealous because your womern is going wild over me, I’m sorry I can’t help nor hinder your ass in anyway.”