Eddie Hinton: A Mighty Field of Vision
A scene that sticks in my mind is Dylan on the back porch of the Muscle Shoals Studio. Trading licks on acoustic guitar with Eddie Hinton. They buddied up and for a while were inseparable. To me Eddie is one of the enigmas of Southern music. I saw him as the anointed one, the white Otis Redding….
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, both brilliant. -Jerry Wexler & David Ritz, “Rhythm and the Blues: A Life in American Music”
The musical landscape of the American South is almost cinematic in its breadth and its scope. It is a landscape that is populated by the tales of many noble, yet far too human, men and women. Where legacies are created and where dreams can be dashed.
Some musicians live in the spotlight, while others dwell in anonymous shadows. Sometimes brilliance and talent are greater than one lifetime can contain. Far too many times, our appreciation of an individual’s musical legacy is regrettably posthumous. They become part of our shared listening experience and our shared history.
Eddie Hinton was one of those dwellers in the shadows. His talents should have placed him in the status of a Duane Allman or an Eric Clapton. I became enamored of the voice of Eddie Hinton in the wake of my brother’s suicide in 1996. There was something about the raw, almost Pentecostal voice of Eddie Hinton that mirrored my own feelings at the time.
I had been exposed to Hinton’s music by a DJ friend in Norfolk. This friend thought Eddie’s music would be good music considering my circumstances in ‘96. He was right, it was deep medicine.
Eddie’s music, like all great Blues and Southern Soul, transported me past my troubles.
I found and brought a copy of a Eddie Hinton CD called “Cry and Moan.” Cry and Moan is on Bullseye Records, a subsidiary of Rounder Records. I was stunned by the power and passion of Eddie’s music. His voice was like a mixture of Southern Soul singer, Otis Redding, and R&B singer, Sam Cooke.
I realized, in retrospect, that I had heard Eddie Hinton as a session guitar player on many of my favorite albums recorded in Muscle Shoals, Memphis and Nashville in the 60’s and 70’s. But it was on the album, “Cry and Moan,” that I first heard Eddie as a vocalist.
On that first CD, it seemed like the songs of Eddie Hinton had a delivery that was, to paraphrase musician Ron Levy, the real deal, no bs. I ordered some more of his music and started to research his history. Here is a little of what I have found out about Eddie in the past couple of decades:
Eddie Hinton was born on June 15, 1944 in Jacksonville, Florida, to Laurie Deanie and Horton C. Hinton. By the time Eddie was five, his parents had divorced. Eddie and his Mother moved to Tuscaloosa Alabama, where she later got married to Paul Perkins. An early influence on Eddie’s music was his maternal Grandfather, a Pentecostal Preacher.
Eddie was also inspired by the music of Ricky Nelson. But he soon found some life long inspirations on Southern R&B radio with artists such as Ray Charles, Bobby Bland, Sam Cooke, Bobby Womack and the singer that became one of his main vocal influences, and a future friend, Otis Redding.
He played Basketball in high school and then attended the University of Alabama. He quit three years into his tenure at the university to pursue his muse as an Alabama Soul man. By his early teens, he had been playing harmonica, some piano, and occasionally drums. Primarily, he developed into a very bluesy guitar player and singer.
Eddie joined a local band, The Five Men-its, in 1964. Eddie’s vocals in this band were stunning in their maturity. They recorded a series of songs at Fame Studios in Muscle Shoals. Most of these recorded tracks are available on Spotify and YouTube. I urge you to seek them out
Those sessions were produced by Swamper Guitarist, Jimmy Johnson. The Swampers were an incredibly tight rhythm section composed of Johnson, Bassist David Hood, Drummer Roger Hawkins and Keyboardist, Barry Beckett. They became a notable team of studio musicians under the auspice of Muscle Shoals Fame Studio owner, Rick Hall. Additionally, they are immortalized in the lyrics of the song, “Sweet Home Alabama.”
David Hood, graciously answered some of my questions about Eddie via email. He first became aware of Eddie when Producer-Guitarist Jimmy Johnson praised Eddie’s work during his production work on the Five Men-its sessions. Johnny Sandlin, future Producer and former 5Menits/Hourglass member, also praised Eddie’s abilities as a singer and songwriter.
Many musicians and fans had that immediate response to Eddie’s talents. To many, he seemed like the next big thing. To concentrate more on his songwriting, Eddie moved to Muscle Shoals to establish a publishing company with fellow writers, Marlin Greene and Paul Ballanger. David Hood told me that when Marlin left to serve active duty in the armed services, Eddie was hired by local producer, Quinton Ivy, to play guitar on sessions for Soul Singer, Percy Sledge.
This experience with Sledge led to Eddie playing on sessions in Muscle Shoals for Rick Hall and with other producers in Nashville and Memphis. This was continuous for the next few years. His abilities as a producer and musician led to his welcomed involvement on sessions with artists as varied as Elvis Presley, Toots Hibbert, Ronnie Hawkins, Wilson Pickett, John Hammond, Boz Scaggs, Otis Redding and Arthur Conley, among many. His relationship with Otis Redding was profound, filled with mutual respect. When Otis died, his widow, Zelma, hired Eddie to teach her son and nephew how to sing.
Included in Eddie’s songwriting catalogue are such classic songs as “Breakfast in Bed, Every Natural Thing, Cover Me, and Everybody Needs Love,among several. The depth and passion of Eddie Hinton’s songs has led to cover versions of his songs by artists like Dusty Springfield, Willie Deville, Percy Sledge and in recent memory, the Drive-By Truckers.
When Duane Allman came to Muscle Shoals to start playing sessions for Rick Hall, he roomed with Hinton for a bit. Duane and Eddie, greatly respected each other’s abilities. They developed a distinct three guitar partnership, at times, with fellow guitarist Jimmy Johnson. Later, Duane offered Eddie the original lead vocalist spot in what became the Allman Brothers. Eddie, at that time, preferred playing sessions and declined.
After a couple of years of doing sessions, Eddie became enamored of the work of Pop Balladeer, Jim Coleman. Hinton was obsessed with completing an album project for Coleman to present to Jerry Wexler and Atlantic records. Despite the attention to detail by Eddie for the orchestrations of Coleman’s songs; Eddie failed to sell Atlantic on the commerciality of Coleman. Eddie had spent a great deal of time and money on these sessions.
This was a vast disappointment. This also led to the observation, by his friends & colleagues, that Eddie may have had a depressive disorder. Combined with some substance abuse issues, Eddie would alternate between mania and depression. Similar to my brother, facing disappointments. Perhaps one more reason, why I love Eddie’s music so much. An identification with another divided soul.
By the time of the Coleman sessions, in 1969, The Swampers had established their own studio at the site of a former funeral parlor. They parted ways with Rick Hall and Fame studios. Much to Hall’s chagrin, Jerry Wexler funded their efforts. The Swampers established Muscle Shoals Sound Studios at 3614 N. Jackson Highway. Eddie started backing away from doing sessions after the failed Jim Coleman sessions. Importantly, he started developing a solo career.
Inspired by his friend, Duane Allman, Eddie moved to Macon, Georgia for a period of time, playing for Capricorn records. Eventually, he got a record contract with Capricorn records and recorded the classic 1978 album “Very Extremely Dangerous.” Participating musician, David Hood, said that there was a lot of “trial and error” in the process. But “Eddie knew what he wanted.” Within a year of the albums release, Capricorn records closed in 1979. Eddie regrouped and formed a touring band, Eddie Hinton and the Rocking Horses.
He returned to session work in 1982 in Muscle Shoals. But the period from 1982 until Eddie’s 1987 album “Letters From Mississippi” was fraught with troubles for Eddie. He had experienced a minor drug bust that caused some problems. That was followed by a bad divorce, an estrangement from his family and a period of homelessness in the mid-80’s. Eventually, he reconciled with his Mother and moved back home. “Letters From Mississippi,” was composed of new material and six classic tracks that Eddie recorded with Jimmy Johnson in 1982.
In 1990, Eddie signed with the Soul Subsidiary of Rounder Records, Bullseye Records. He was produced by Ron Levy in partnership with Eddie’s friend, Johnny Sandlin and Eddie himself. I wrote about some of Ron’s other musical adventures in the Politichicks article, Ron Levy: Tales of a Road Dog.
Ron also graciously answered some of my questions about Eddie. Bullseye was recording Southern Soul artists like Ann Pebbles and Otis Clay. Duncan Brown, Manager of Rounder Records had sent a copy of Eddie’s Capricorn album to Ron.
“Cry and Moan,” was recorded, released in 1991, at Johnny Sandlin’s Duck Studios in Decatur, Alabama. The production was a partnership with Ron, Eddie and Johnny. I think the support of Johnny and Ron, along with Ron’s stunning arrangements and sterling keyboard work, helped Eddie find his own voice. Before this point, many folks looked at Eddie’s music as of that of an Otis Redding imitator. By my perspective, Eddie was far more original than that facile comparison.
When Ron Levy first met Eddie, he looked a bit weathered and overweight. Ron initially thought he might be meeting Eddie’s Father. In the studio, Hinton would record several guitar parts that didn’t always make sense separately. However, mixed together they were stunning in their brilliance.
Eddie’s health was not good, yet he always gave his all. In 1993, Bullseye records released what I consider to be Eddie’s masterpiece, “Very Blue Highway.” It features some of the same personnel as Cry and Moan. However, this album featured some sterling additions. Namely, Engineer Terry Manning, organist Marvel Thomas and the classic horn section, of countless recordings, the Memphis Horns.
Eddie sounded very comfortable on this album. The Memphis Horns were always an inspiration. The work on this album was the full realization of Eddie’s individual talent as an artist.
This led to a resurgence of Eddie’s career with European tours. In particular, he was very popular in Italy. Regrettably, his resurgence was short lived. On July 28, 1995, Eddie Hinton suffered a fatal heart attack in the bathtub of his mother’s house.
Posthumously, three albums by Eddie titled the “Songwriting Sessions, have been released as was a complete in-the-can studio album, “Hard Luck Guy.” Like all his work, these albums are well worth seeking out. A great documentary about Eddie by filmmakers Deryl Perryman and Moises Gonzalez called “Dangerous Highway,” with narration by Bluesman, Robert Cray, has been released. It made its debut in various film festivals in 2008.
The Drive By Truckers and other artists have participated in a series of tributes to Eddie’s music. Ultimately, as Eddie sung in his song “Uncloudy Days”he sang and composed with a “mighty field of vision.” His head, heart and hands were to the service of his art. Check out Eddie Hinton, folks. Truly a Southern Soul artist equal to Wilson Pickett and Otis Redding. Ultimately, an American artist with a mighty field of vision.
(Great thanks to David Hood, Ron Levy and Deryle Perryman for their assistance with this article)