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Eddie Hinton Does Porretta--Again!

by Penne J. Laubenthal

Eighteen years ago in April of 1991 an Italian named Graziano Uliani, founder of the Porretta Soul Festival, came to Alabama in search of blue-eyed soul singer and multi-talented musician Eddie Hinton. Uliani not only found Hinton, he also convinced him to appear at the Porretta Soul Festival in Italy in August of that same year. Eddie died four years later on July 28, 1995, at the age of 51. (Pictured Uliani and Hinton at Porretta)

This year Hinton will return to Porretta in the documentary film Dangerous Highway, created and produced by Deryle Perryman and Moises Gonzales. The film will be shown on July 19, thirteen years to the month after Hinton’s death. The song "Sandwiches For The Road", by fellow Alabamians Drive By Truckers, is written about and dedicated to the life of Eddie Hinton. The song appears on their 1998 album Gangstabilly. Here are the first two verses

All packed to go, baloney and mayonnaise sandwiches for the road
lay them out across the dash in the August sun
and if they turn green don’t be afraid
nothing can hurt you but yourself
nothing can hurt you but yourself

I been given to visions from time to time (Mighty fields of vision)
and the voice in my brain can be a little unkind sometimes
Go ahead, point it at me, I ain’t scared
nothing can hurt you but yourself
nothing can hurt you but yourself

In 2006 Graziano Uliani wrote an article about his quest for Eddie Hinton for the booklet of the Porretta promotional CD entitled Porretta Historic Performances. Uliani wrote the following: 

April 27, 1991. Decatur, near the Alabama / Tennessee border.

I’m to see John Wyker at his home. John is a member of some association, possibly even a sect, by the name Mighty Field Of Vision.

I’m trying to track down one of my personal legends, Eddie Hinton. I’m determined to have him in Porretta, a newborn music festival.

Nice houses scattered all around in the greenery just like in the American movies I had seen so many times.

It’s early afternoon, and the air is as sultry as it gets in the South. I find John Wyker home, his house is a mess. The floor is covered with magazines, articles and pictures from newspapers. There are many letters, too; among these, the ones I had sent.

John tells me Eddie is on his way. He lives in Birmingham with his mother and stepfather.

Hours later, no one has shown up, and Luciano Morotti, my friend and photographer, is getting nervous. So I turn to John and ask him if we’re going to see Eddie at all. John takes a totem (just like one of those of the native Americans), walks to the four corners of his house, raises the totem to the sky and says: “God only knows if Eddie is coming!”.

Disappointed as we are, we ask John to show us around at the famous Muscle Shoals Studios.

“At least, we get to see those,” I say to myself.

Jimmy Johnson and Dick Cooper welcome us warmly at the Studios. They sympathize with us and tell us Eddie Hinton is incredibly talented and gifted, but always dependable.

We linger around a little bit, then John invites us to go with him to see his friend Owen Brown in the nearby Town Creek.

A colonial house right in the middle of endless fields of grain. It sure must date back to the pre-civil war years. There’s a small recording studio in the living room: Birdland Studio.

A few minutes later we see a van approaching. It’s an old Dodge.

“Here he comes,” says John.

A big guy gets out the van. His pants are tight under his big belly. They’re too long, and every step he takes, they sweeps the floor.

I start thinking to myself “It can’t be Eddie Hinton. He just doesn’t look like the one on the pictures from Letters From Mississippi. He was so skinny”.

He has a large bag filled with beers and menthol cigarettes. It starts raining, and we run inside the Studio.

Eddie sits at the piano and goes in a funny Italian “What’s up, Graziano, paisà!.......you like Otis Redding, don’t you?” And he goes…. “Fa, Fa, Fa, Fa, Fa.” It’s definitely him.

I pray Owen Brown to start recording, but it’s a massive thunderstorm out there, the electric power goes on and off all the time. I scream and curse, but there’s nothing we can do about it: we can’t record.

I ask Eddie how come he knows some Italian. “My stepfather”– he replies– “fought in world war II in Italy, and learnt some words.”.

Eddie then sings “Security” and “She Caught The Katy.” An amazing voice, a unique style. It’s getting dark and we need to move on to Memphis. What a shame! That thunderstorm blew my chances to have a tangible memory of that unforgettable moment.

But dreams do come true sometimes. Once I’m back to Italy, I find a package from Town Creek, Alabama! It’s a compact cassette from Birdland Studio. I can’t believe it, it’s the three tunes Eddie had played for me! A few months later, Eddie Hinton would be in Porretta with John Wyker for his only European performance.

I figured the least I could do to honor Eddie Hinton was to work on the tunes he had performed for me naked style – just his piano and voice – and tailor them with the help of Memphis Sound. So I asked some of the artists who played with him in Porretta to dig all their feelings out of themselves end put them into that performance.

To tell the truth, “Fa, Fa, Fa, Fa, Fa” had already been re-edited with a different arrangement by the Muscle Shoals Rhythm & Horn Section in Decatur in 1997. That release was then included in the CD Hard Luck Guy for Zane Records in 1999.

“How’s that, Eddie……paisà!”

Graziano Uliani, May 2006
The Poretta Soul Festival, now in its 21st year, pays tribute to legendary soul singer Otis Redding (1941-1967). Eddie Hinton’s album Very Extremely Dangerous (Capricorn Records, 1978) was also a tribute to Otis Redding. According to John Curry, when Redding died, his widow asked Eddie to teach Otis Junior how to sing like his daddy. Other versions say that she asked him to teach young Otis how to play guitar.

The 2008 festival will take place July 17-20 in the charming little town of Porretta Terme located in the province of Bologna between the cities of Bologna and Florence.

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