There is a travelling man of myth and legend with an almost two-decade-long road behind him littered with empty bottles of party likker, the echoes of award-winning self-induced comedic-country music perfection, thousands of dedicated cult followers and longing womerns, and a passion for his own particular brand of a strict and deathly raunchy Southern lifestyle hither unknown to the folks incapable of recognizing comedic genius. He’s been called a 400-year-old hillbilly vampire or, even better, the King of Country Western Troubadours, but to most he’s known as Unknown Hinson.
On June 23, he’s directing his path back to Murfreesboro after a couple of years’ absence from Middle Tennessee for an appearance at Gilligan’s, and with him, his brand of honky-tonk country/psychobilly rock capable of dismantling one’s preconceived notions of what those genres are supposed to be and what they’re supposed to be represented by.
The path back here: Hinson’s back story isn’t the best life to lead for the fainthearted. He was born a bastard child in the hills of North Carolina to Miss Hinson and an unknown father (Miss Hinson thought it appropriate the boy have his father’s name the way it was labeled on his birth certificate), but his mother sang him traditional country-western songs as a boy, eventually handing him a guitar when she felt he was big enough to hold one up and play for himself. After he turned 14 and Miss Hinson mysteriously disappeared, Unknown left the hills to join a carney that was touring the Southern states with county fairs as a sideshow, eventually giving him the opportunity for his first musical performances that led to increased ticket revenue for the fairs he worked and the billing name, Troubadour Boy. Major country labels began paying attention to him, too, throughout his short-lived carney days until a group of men he calls “the pioneers of country music” sabotaged any possibility of further success he had by framing him with 19 paternity suits, three counts of murder, some grave robbing charges, and vampirism. All of which landed him behind bars until his release in 1993 (Hence, the old fashioned persona and hatred for rock and roll, though he plays the hell out of it at live shows just “to show young’uns it don’t take no talent to play that mess”). He came out spitting and feisty, though, hitting the road immediately to take back the deserved destiny he was deprived of, just he and his six-string at first. And he still shows no signs of stopping.
A façade, of course, Hinson’s full-out stage persona came from the brilliant mind of North Carolina native and former studio musician/music teacher Stuart Daniel Baker one day in 1993 after he slicked back his jet-black hair revealing a wicked widow’s peak, slapped some long fake mutton chops on the side of his head, blacked-out his front teeth to accentuate his fangs and put on his signature black suit similar to something Conway Twitty would wear to a funeral. All just to goof around with friends on a shoddy public-access show airing out of Charlotte called The Wild, Wild West, later renamed, The Unknown Hinson Show a couple years after its debut. Since then, Baker has toured the country through and through, touting (to some) his chosen era’s witty persona inspired by nothing more than traditional western music, booze, women and the guitar he carries in a coffin. One of the best parts about Baker’s beautifully devilish creation is, he never breaks character when in public. Ever. It’s a dedication worthy of envy by comedians and actors alike.
Folks that know of him know just how over-the-top he can be, too, as an over-boozed and charmingly abusive ’60s/’70s style country musician down to the thick, stubborn, trailer-park Southern drawl. But as seriously goofy (or vice versa) as Hinson can be, his abilities with that six-string electric of his are no joking matter as it’s received him a signature “celebrity instrument” guitar and featured artist position from Reverend Guitars, who is known for how they get their nonconformist guitar sounds. It’s rumored that when Tom Petty met him, all Petty wanted to know was how Hinson got his sound.
“I love him, and I’ve seen everybody live. I mean, everybody: Eddie Van Halen, Slash . . . and Unknown Hinson. He’s the second-best guitar player alive. The first is Prince, and that’s only because he’s jumping around, wearing assless chaps and doing the splits,” said Renner Wilson, front man of former local rockabilly band The Hellbillies/current front man of Calhoun/huge fan of Unknown Hinson.
Backed by Jimmy Church on the pedal steel and guitar, Rick Cutshaw on drums and percussion, and Hugh (Tuff) Blanton on bass and backup vocals, Hinson has great opportunity with this tight rhythm trio to show off his vast variety of chops as well as politically incorrect lyricism in five studio albums: 21 Chart Toppers in ’99 and The Future is Unknown in 2000 out of Uniphone Records, Rock n Roll is Straight From Hell in ’02 out of Capitol, Target Practice in ’06 out of Coffin Case Records, and his latest recorded live, Live and Undead in ’08 out of Uniphone/sdbmusic). And Hinson’s musical talents and deep-woods personality within the albums and stage presence have helped to continue the snowball of success all around him with further accomplishments like “Find of the Year” from Rockabilly Magazine in 2007 and an invite to join Billy Bob Thornton’s band, The Boxmasters, as bassist and guitarist (which he did). Also, Hinson has toured with Reverend Horton Heat, Hank Williams III and Willie Nelson on some of their recent tours, and on top of that, he voices the character Early Cuyler, the fatherly truck-boat-truck driving squid on Adult Swim’s animated series, Squidbillies.
He is a self-made man with a short-tempered heart and fingers that make people wonder if he’s made a deal with the devil. Even though you may not know exactly who he is, his voice is highly recognizable when he speaks.
For more information on Unknown Hinson, including tour dates for 2012, Unknown merchandise, music downloads, and even fan club membership, go to unknownhinson.com. Vidoes of live performances or little shorts he and his production crew have put together over the years (numbering in the thousands) can be found on Youtube, too. Unknown’s albums are available on all the usual outlet sites such as iTunes and Amazon, as well as his fanpage. For ticket information regarding the June 23 appearance, call Gilligan’s at (615) 439-6090.
Yes, it has been a couple years since he’s been around the area, but the last time he was, he had the notion to run Lynard Skynard guitarist Ed King off stage at gunpoint because King was playing that “rawk” music. “Get yo hippie ass off my stage, right now!” he ordered.
He’s definitely a good show.
If You Go:
Saturday, June 23
Gilligan’s, 527 W. Main St., Murfreesboro