Remembering Eddie Hinton
"A Musician's Musician"
by Dick Cooper
Eddie Hinton was a jewel. The many facets of his talent shone independently, and the whole was much greater than its parts. And like any jewel the light shinning on it enhanced its beauty.
Eddie was a musician's musician, and when musicians talk of his playing or the strength of his vocals they use glowing terms.
Jerry Wexler, producer of Wilson Pickett and Solomon Burke, called Eddie the White Otis Redding for his soulful singing. In his biography, Wexler cited an incident in which he watched Eddie and Bob Dylan trading acoustic guitar licks at Muscle Shoals Sound.
"How strange and wonderful, then, to remember Bob Dylan and Eddie Hinton as soul brothers - two poets, one world-renowned, the other known only to a few friends, neighbors, and fans, both riveting artists, both brilliant," Wexler said.
Drummer Jerry Carrigan, best known for his work both in the studio and on the road with Elvis Presley, recalled Eddie's musical talent went far beyond his work on the guitar. "Eddie could play anything. When you were working with him, instead of just telling you what rhythm he wanted you to play, he could sit down at the drum kit and show you."
Wayne Perkins, a Birmingham guitarist with the Rolling Stones, Bob Marley, and Albert King among his credits, was a teenage guitar slinger when he first arrived in Muscle Shoals and got a chance to show Eddie his stuff.
After watching Wayne playing blazing rock guitar lead after lead, Eddie told him, "I'll always play one note better than you."
As a guitarist, Eddie's style was sparse, and fit perfectly with the song, yet was unconventional.
Jimmy Johnson, founder and rhythm guitarist with the Muscle Shoals Sound Rhythm Section, recalled that in the early days at the Jackson Highway studio, his office was next to the guitar booth. He would have to leave his office when Eddie would overdub guitar parts, because all he could hear would be what Eddie was playing, and since he couldn't hear the track Eddie was over dubbing, it wasn't immediately evident how well Eddie's part was actually fitting.
Jim Dickinson, producer of Toots Hibbert's "Toots In Memphis," which featured Eddie on guitar during some of his darker moments, recalls how he broke into tears while watching Eddie play on ÎFreedom Train."
"The business broke his heart," Dickinson said. "You can hear it if you listen to the records. But you can also hear the endurance. Inside that destroyed human being was the spirit of Eddie Hinton, and he could still play that guitar. He just became like Van Gogh. There was this monumental genius. I never saw anyone take it further than Eddie."
Eddie not only excelled as a musician, but he was also a vocalist, songwriter, arranger, and producer, working his way through the various aspects of the music business over a three-decade career. At the time of his death, Eddie had been recording songs, which were included in a CD titled Hard Luck Guy released in 1999 in the U.S. by Capricorn Records, and by Zane Productions in Europe. Zane also released a CD in September, gleaned from demos and unreleased tracks that encompass much of Eddie's career. The CD is titled Dear Y'all.
At times Eddie terrified others. The vocalizations he would use as he prepared for a show could make the uninitiated feel very uneasy. His pre-performance warm-ups included strong cigars and various grunts, growls and blues shouts that would echo throughout studio bathrooms, backstage areas, or down alleys behind clubs.
Early in Eddie's first year at the University of Alabama, he met John D. Wyker, a kindred soul from Decatur, AL., who would play a major role in the late years of Eddie's life. Wyker, was a musician, and the two found refuge from the mandatory R.O.T.C. training in the unit's Drum and Bugle Corps.
By the mid-60's, Eddie had moved to Muscle Shoals, and teamed with Marlin Greene, songwriting and playing on some of the rhythm and blues records released on the Quinvy and South Camp labels. And Eddie's songwriting was gaining recognition outside the Quinvy stable, with cuts by Aretha Franklin, Percy Sledge, Lulu, and Dusty Springfield.
He was also testing his production abilities. Teaming with Paul Ballenger in both the music publishing company, Ruler Music, and as producer for acts released on the Quinvy and South Camp labels. It was during this period that they produced the Don Varner Soul Classic, "Tear Stained Face."
When Duane Allman left Muscle Shoals, to form the Allman Brothers Band, he asked Hinton to join him, but Eddie chose to remain in Muscle Shoals and pursue his studio career.
In 1969, Eddie launched his most ambitious effort, the unreleased "Hinton-Coleman Project" with Jim Coleman. Coleman was signed to Hinton's publishing company, and came to Muscle Shoals to see if he could get a song on the album being recorded by Lulu
Eddie decided instead to use the songs for an album on Coleman, and although it has never been officially released, copies have been available on a limited basis.
Buy Eddie Hinton at AMAZON.COM
Hinton was totally committed to the album, spending endless hours on the recording, and eventually flying to London to record "The Queen's Strings." the string section of the London Symphony Orchestra.
"They played Eddie's score--simplistic by their standards--with great personal indifference, and at the same time, total collective musical perfection," said Marlin Greene, who accompanied Hinton to the sessions. "It was as easy as falling of a crumpet for them to interpret Eddie's musical shorthand beyond anything he had hopped for, which of course is why he was there."
"There was another reason Eddie was there, which had little to do with the royal harmonies of the string section. It had to do with proving that you had the 'yahoo' to hire the same string section that was currently being employed by the Beatles, ride to the studio in the style of a rented Bentley, and play the role of a budding musical genius," Greene added.
Once completed, Eddie wasn't able to come to terms with a record label, and the album was never released. The master tape was discovered under his bed after his death.
In the early 70's, Eddie followed Duane's lead, and moved to Macon, Ga. to play at Capricorn Records he eventually secured a artist deal with the label, and returned to Muscle Shoals to work with Barry Beckett of the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section.
The effort led to the Capricorn album "Very Extremely Dangerous." The album is an excellent example of Eddie's finest work, but again outside forces stifled Hinton's efforts. Within a week of its release, Capricorn Records closed.
Eddie regrouped in Macon and formed Eddie Hinton and The Rocking Horses, which toured the East Coast. The group, which had both Black and White members, faced the backlash of segregation in the late 70's, including an incident during which the band's van was blasted with a shotgun.
"We were playing in Greenville, S.C. which I understand was a Ku Klux Klan stronghold," said Owen Allen, road manager of the band. "When we came out of the club that night, someone had shot the rear of the van with a shotgun. We didn't say anything about it to anyone. We didn't even talk about it among ourselves. We just got in the van and came home."
In 1982, Eddie returned to Muscle Shoals to work with Jimmy Johnson. Jimmy took Eddie into the studio and recorded six songs that were pitched to a variety of record labels, but no labels were interested, and the project was never completed.
The set back sent Eddie into a downward spiral leading to the lowest point in his life. He divorced his wife Sandra, and eventually became estranged from his mother, following a family argument. In an effort to travel from his mother's home in Birmingham to Nashville, Eddie ran out of money and became stranded in Decatur, AL
Hinton was sitting on a bus stop bench, when John D. Wyker drove past. Wyker wasn't sure he had seen what he thought he had seen, so he drove around the block, and realized it was in fact Eddie.
Wyker was in the middle of redefining his own musical career, but he soon had redirected his energies to resurrect Eddie's Wyker called on me to help, and together we established a music publishing company for his new material.
Wyker then put together demo-recording sessions at Owen Brown and Jeff Simpson's Birdland Studio. It became evident there was still interest in Hinton as an artist when people kept trying to buy copies of the demo tape.
The demos were eventually combined with the songs produced by Jimmy Johnson, and released in Europe as "Letters From Mississippi." Mobile Fidelity Audio later made the album available in the U.S.
The success of "Letters From Mississippi" led to Eddie signing a contract with Bullseye Blues Records. Working at Birdland Studios, Hinton recorded and released Cry And Moan, and Very Blue Highway on the label.
Co-writer Bill Blackburn recalled how emotional Eddie could be at times. He said, "When me, Eddie and Spooner (Oldham) were writing 'Old Mr. Wind,' Eddie hit a chord on the guitar and tears just started running out of his eyes." Blackburn worked with Eddie several years, and together they had 14 or 15 cuts.
It was during this period that Hinton reconciled with his mother, and moved back to her home in Birmingham where he died of a heart attack July 28, 1995.
Remembering Eddie Hinton Fourteen Years Later
(This page has more links about Eddie Hinton)
Six Degrees of Swampland: Drive-By Truckers
(This Muscle Shoals band has paid tribute to Eddie Hinton numerous times. This page has links to numerous features, interviews, and reviews about the band)
The Stax Sound
(Eddie Hinton played guitar on many of Stax's greatest songs, especially those by the Staples Singers. This page contains links to all Swampland content about Stax Records)