Eddie Hinton, the Muscle Shoals singer/songwriter, did not live to complete the 1999 Capricorn release Hard Luck Guy. In July 1995, Hinton died of a heart attack during the sessions. Hard Luck Guy should be a contender for soul album of the year.
Hinton’s songs have been recorded by Aretha Franklin, Dionne Warwick, Bobby Womack, and Gregg Allman to name a few. Hinton operated as the guitarist for the Muscle Shoals rhythm section and recorded with Wilson Pickett, Solomon Burke, Percy Sledge, The Staple Singers, Elvis Presley, and Otis Redding, but songwriting was his grace. His vocals are often compared to Otis Redding, whose wife Zelma asked Hinton to teach Redding’s children to play guitar years after their father died in a tragic plane crash.
Hard Luck Guy may be the best Eddie Hinton record, ever. Hinton’s previous albums such as Cry & Moan, Very Blue Highway, Letters From Mississippi, and Very Extremely Dangerous remain proof of Hinton’s soulful songs for the underdog.
Jerry Wexler once said of Hinton: “Eddie wasn’t a master technician, but God, that boy could play some funk.”
Johnny Sandlin co-produced Hard Luck Guy. Several of the songs were recorded in 1978 at Capricorn Studios in Macon, Georgia. Sandlin, who plays guitar, bass, and drums on the album, serves as glue holding the album and its circumstances together.
Legendary Muscle Shoals musicians such as Spooner Oldham, Roger Hawkins, David Hood, and saxophonist Harvey Thompson provide the deep fried musical landscape throughout the album. There are fewer songs sad as the title track, “Hard Luck Guy”. Hinton’s songs are laced with a weary sorrow, and yet, he covers Otis Redding’s “Sad Song” in a rendition ending in triumphant glory.
A soul soaked sound washes over the CD. A sinister backwater tone drives a swampy song called “Watch Dog”. Three of the songs (“I Got My Thang Together”, “Three Hundred Pounds of Hongry”, and “What Would I Do Without You”) were recorded with Hinton’s longtime songwriting partner Donnie Fritts. Fritts and Hinton composed “Breakfast in Bed”, a tune covered by Dusty Springfield and Carmen McRae (among others), who both recorded unforgettable versions of the song.
By the time Dan Penn adds his sad hearted vocal to the last track on the album, “What Would I Do Without You”, the listener can never doubt Eddie Hinton once lived in the streets of Decatur, Alabama.
Eddie Hinton’s music existed on a mysterious veil of obscurity to the general masses, but the real songwriters recognized his talent. Within the liner notes, Jerry Wexler, recalls fond memories of seeing Bob Dylan and Hinton playing acoustic guitars on the Muscle Shoals back porch, even Dylan taken by this southern songwriter’s down-home charm.
Hinton’s songwriting is a celebration for the common man. His songs stand as testimony that time appreciates the artists work, not his so-called sad life. For the price of Hard Luck Guy, you can embrace the soul of a great American songwriter amid troubles that may never go away.
- James Calemine