by Penne J. Laubenthal
Dangerous Highway is an amazing documentary about the life and music of the incredibly talented and tragically fated Eddie Hinton, called the "greatest unknown musician you have ever heard." The film was made by my long-time friend Deryle Perryman (pictured on the left) and the distinguished filmmaker Moises Gonzalez (on the right). I had the privilege of seeing the premiere of Dangerous Highway at the ninth annual George Lindsey Film Festival and Gala in Florence, Alabama. Following that event, the documentary went on to be shown in film festivals coast to coast.
Here is what JPW, an Alabamian living in San Francisco, had to say in his blog Alabama Ass Whuppin’ about seeing Dangerous Highway at the Noise Pop Film and Music Festival: “A fantastic look into the life and times of not only Eddie Hinton, but the remarkable music scene that occurred in Northwest Alabama during the last half of the twentieth century. Interviews with Jimmy Johnson, David Hood (hell, about all the Swampers) Dick Cooper (a lot of time is spent with Dick , who sports a Muscle Shoals Sound t-shirt through-out the doc) and a ton of other historical figures from that time and region. The accents were very familiar and comforting and the stories were sometimes sad but often very funny. Not only are these men able to produce amazing music, they are first class story tellers as well.”
The screening of the film Dangerous Highway about soulman Eddie Hinton brought Deryle back to his hometown of Florence, Alabama. I talked with Deryle at his home in Albuquerque, New Mexico, about his experience in making the documentary.
What prompted you to undertake a film about Eddie Hinton?
Serendipidity, a love of music, especially Southern Soul and a chance, providential meeting with Mr. Robert Cray in an elevator on the 7th floor of the Redmont Hotel in Birmingham, Alabama, back in '05--June, I think. Mr. Cray had just closed a stage at CityFest.
As for doing a film about Hinton, if one looks at all the wonderful music that came out of Muscle Shoals back in the day, Eddie Hinton's name is all over it. Singer, songwriter, guitar player , arranger, producer. All in all, he played on over 200 sessions and probably wrote at least that many songs. His songs were recorded by the likes of Aretha, Bobby Womack, Lulu, Dusty Springfield, Tony Joe White, UB40, Percy Sledge, Bonnie Bramlett, The Kentucky Headhunters. He played guitar on albums as wide ranging as Otis, Elvis, Waylon Jennings, the Staple Singers, Toots and the Maytalls, John Hammond and Solomon Burke. Yet nothing was out there about him save the good work done by Peter Thompson at Zane Records over in England. Seemed an intriguing topic with a compelling story. Actually, Robert Cray, who I later learned is a great Hinton fan, sorta talked me into it. Then he (Cray) narrated the film--all for the love of music as he did it for gratis. Can't thank him enough. What a gentleman.
Did you know Eddie when you were growing up in Florence?
Nope. While I had friends who worked there in the business, I wasn't in on the deal. I wish. I love that music. I listened to it, and I'm telling you , for a local white boy bereft of anything musical save a loving ear, it was something else all-together. I didn't care much for country music then because it was everywhere. But the local radio stations there in the Shoals were getting that magical music being made there out for people to hear. I listened. Still do.
Was Dangerous Highway your first effort at film making?
Second. Wrote, produced, and directed another documentary back in the early 80s, "Maybe Tomorrow, " about the folks who had lost their land, homes, lifestock, and spirits to the White Sands Missile range on account of The Great War, our daddy's war. It made the rounds of some PBS stations in the Southwest for awhile. As a youngster, I worked for a national youth advocacy organization that set up three segments of CBS "60 Minutes." I guess I must have gotten the bug back then. But I’m learning the craft from Moises Gonzalez, a real filmmaker. He has made four films and won awards for all of them. He's a pro. He presented me with my "Jr. Filmmaker" badge for DH. Got it framed over my desk
How did you get hooked up with Moises?
He always says "shanghaied and bamboozled." Mutual friend introduced us. He did agree to come on this adventure, regardless of how loud he screamed. No way this would have happened without him. It was a lucky and blessed encounter.
How does it feel to be a film maker whose documentary has been shown all over the US?
"Chop wood, Carry water". Feels good to watch people looking at your work and later discussing it with them later .We've made a few friends along this path, that's really nice. Viewers seem to like it--Eddie's story, or his wonderful music but a critic or two has laid on it, mostly for a pre-ceived, or lack thereof, production value flaw only he's ever seen. Everybody’s a filmmaker, nowadays. Everyone, it seems, has found something they liked about it. Dangerous Highway has been in festivals coast to coast, and at the invitation of The Art Institute of Chicago, we showed it it at the Gene Siskel Film Center. We've had pretty good houses. That feels good, too,. Matter of fact, it has to be one of the treats of this line of work, 'cuz it really isn't very easy and ain't paying no bills. It is storytelling, though, and you know how important that is.
I hear you are planning to take Dangerous Highway on the European film circuit.
Yes, we're taking DH abroad now that we've made it to final cut. Moises and
I always thought there was a market there. Europeans are such enthusiastic and passionate lovers of American music, especially Southern Soul. Several folks who helped us with the film live in Europe. Peter Thompson of Zane Records and Irish filmmaker Paul Duane have been encouraging towards our putting the film in European Festivals. Both of these gentleman have extensive experience in that market and have agreed to share their contacts. We're excited about the possibilities. We'll see how it goes.
Speaking of Europe, I’d just like to say Eddie Hinton's music and talent were a rare gift. It is a shame his star had such a short ascent, but he did leave us a treasure chest and we've got Peter Thompson to thank for keeping Eddie's flame alive. Peter actually started a record company to keep Eddie's music in circulation. Go to Zane Records and check out Peter's labor of love.
What do you see for the future of Dangerous Highway?
Again, "chop wood, carry water" is where we're at now. We've shown the film in several versions at these festivals and gotten a range of comment and critique. When it felt like other comments could make a contribution, we tried to incorporate the best of them. Meanwhile, there wasn't a set of harsher critics on the planet than the two of us. We screened a 107 minute version at the first few festivals, a 74 minute version at a couple and now we have cut it to 65 minutes. We wanted to tell a longer story, but repeated viewings showed us that even rabid fans get restless at somewhere about an hour. They butts get tired. For all intents, DH is a new film. We're anxious to see what the viewing experience will be like now.
You have been living in New Mexico for nearly 30 years now. How did you end up in ABQ?
I was living in Austin, working in the music bidness and co-wrote a song called "What I like About Texas" which was recorded in Cerrillos, New Mexico. Fell in love with the beauty and big ol’ wide open spaces and moved over here. Lived in Northern New Mexico for several years. Came to Albuquerque to start the Cornstalk Institute ,a youth development program I've been running for the past 16 years...my day-job.
Tell me about your current project, the one I know that has always been close to your heart.
Do you mean the Vietnam Project? "Dancing in the Fire" about what the Vietnam
War has meant to the lives for so many of us now that we're 40 years
down the road and bogged down in another fiasco? Looks like we coulda
learned something, huh?
Yes, "Dancing in the Fire."
I have over 15 hours of interviews with Vietnam Veterans in can already –starting in Chicago in August at the 40th Anniversary Meeting of Vietnam Veterans against the War. Moises and I are headed to Vietnam next week for the 40th anniversary of the 1968 TET Offensive, to interview Vietnamese Veterans including the Senior General in charge of all Viet Cong Forces .We'll be interviewing some Southern friends/vets in the spring. Then West Coast folks including Wavy Gravy, Country Joe McDonald and Tom Hayden. Academy -Award winning Mark Ulano ("Titanic" --Sound Design-) will be working on the soundtrack with us. Long way to go, but this one promises to be interesting.
Man, you never cease to amaze me. You not only talk the talk you walk the walk. Congratulations on all that you have accomplished. I would like to thank you personally for taking time to share your experience with me. And I would also like to thank you and JPW at Alabama Ass Whuppin’ for sharing the photos with me.
Aww, you’re welcome, Penne. Thank you. You know, it takes one to know one, that’s why all the penguins are at the South Pole.