The Lost Soul of Eddie Hinton

I’ve been listening to Eddie Hinton for years, and half the time I wasn’t even aware it was him.

If you listen carefully, you can hear his chunky rhythm guitar and tasty fills on a whole slew of rock ‘n soul classics recorded at the Muscle Shoals Sound Studio in Alabama, where Hinton collaborated with the legendary house band “the Swampers.” Here’s one of many hits from the late ‘60s and ‘70s that featured Hinton along with Jimmy Johnson on guitar, Barry Beckett on keyboards, David Hood on bass and Roger Hawkins on drums (as well as a rotating cast of other ‘Bama-based musicians): Take a Letter, Maria/RB Greaves

Hinton also made his mark as songwriter, arranger and producer, co-writing songs for a number of artists including Percy Sledge (Cover Me and It’s All Wrong But It’s Alright) and Dusty Springfield. Here’s one of my favorites from “Dusty in Memphis,” written by Hinton and Donnie Fritts: Breakfast in Bed/Dusty Springfield

Like most kids who came of age in the early ‘70s, I couldn’t avoid the countless songs on the radio that the Swampers made possible, even though I had no idea who those guys were. But I loved the hard grooves they laid down with the Staple Singers, Wilson Pickett, Joe Tex, Aretha Franklin, Solomon Burke, Bobby Womack and Percy Sledge… and that’s just a short list of the many artists who came through Muscle Shoals searching for some of that deep Alabama soul.

Hinton had enough to fill a black gospel church, as I soon realized when I came across the stunning demos and long-lost albums he recorded as a solo artist. Then I was startled to see a photo of Hinton… Turns out all of this gritty, soulful emotion was pouring out of a funky cracker with a bad attitude. According to one of his long-time friends, John D. Wyker – former member of the Alabama band Sailcat that gave us the one-hit wonder Motorcycle Mama – Hinton took some pride in blurring racial lines. During a typical post-gig bullshit session, Wyker and others pressed Hinton to tell them what he wanted to do with his life. He replied “I want to make a record that a black man would buy and he would be unaware that a white man had made it!” Mission accomplished: Cover Me

The first Hinton album I discovered was his 1978 release for Capricorn Records, the Macon-based label that launched the Allman Brothers and other southern rockers. At the time, I was enamored with bluesrockin’ bands like The Nighthawks, whose fiery guitarist and singer Jimmy Thackery practically channeled Hinton during the band’s great live shows. So I’ll always appreciate Thackery for turning me on to songs like this, from Hinton’s Capricorn debut “Very Extremely Dangerous”: Yeah Man

Unfortunately, the label collapsed shortly after it released the aptly titled “Dangerous” – one of many setbacks that plagued Hinton throughout his life and career.

Things started simply enough in Jacksonville, where Eddie was born to Laura and Horton Hinton in 1944. But Laura divorced her husband five years later and took young Eddie to Tuscaloosa, Alabama, where he probably gained some of that gospel spirit from his grandfather – a preacher with the Church of Christ.

Before long Hinton was gigging with several bands in the Tuscaloosa area, including The Spooks and The 5 Men-Its. Here’s a recording from 1966 by the latter band, with Hinton on lead vocals: Blue-Blue Feelin’

Hinton soon caught the attention of Duane and Gregg Allman, who came to the area looking for some raw talent. The Allmans reformed The 5 Men-Its into a new band called Hour Glass, signed a deal with Liberty Records and headed off for L.A. Meanwhile, Hinton was gaining some experience as a studio session man and, at the invitation of songwriter/producer Martin Green, moved to Muscle Shoals in 1967. Duane joined him there a year later, blazing his way through landmark sessions with Clarence Carter, Aretha Franklin, King Curtis and Boz Scaggs, among others. And when he tried to lure Hinton away with an offer to join The Allman Brothers Band, Hinton politely declined. Apparently, he had no intention of living a life on the road.

Initially, things went well for Hinton in Muscle Shoals. He bought a couple of nice cars and a nice house on Shoals Creek, where he settled down with his wife, Sandra. And he was earning six figures from the many hours of session work he was doing with the Swampers. But all that changed when an over-eager cop raided Hinton’s house and busted him with a handful of weed. He then faced a rough deal that would haunt him for the rest of his life – the local prosecutor would drop all charges, but only if Hinton and wife would move out of state.

Hinton took the deal, which sent him down the same dark path traveled by other troubled musical geniuses (Arthur Alexander and Peter Green, to name a couple) – heavy drinking, drug use, angry outbursts, mental illness… By the mid-‘80s, Hinton was broke, alone, and living on the streets of Decatur, Alabama. Wyker claims he found Hinton “sitting on the bench at the bus stop in front of the Salvation Army… He had his clothes in an old garbage bag and a small handleless suitcase.”

Wyker deserves credit for staging Hinton’s eventual rebound. He took him into the studio to record some songs that, combined with six cuts Hinton recorded with Jimmy Johnson in ’82, were released on the critically acclaimed album “Letters from Mississippi.” Here’s a standout Hinton original from that album: Wet Weather Man

Wyker also guided him to the Rounder Records’ blues subsidiary, Bullseye, where Hinton made his final recordings. During this time, he mainly lived with his mom in Birmingham, where he continued to write new songs and deal with his personal issues. By 1995 he had completed a successful tour of Italy and was working on his fourth “comeback” album – later released as the even more appropriately named “Hard Luck Guy.” And the gut-wrenching title song might be Hinton’s crowning achievement: Hard Luck Guy

But years of hard living finally caught up with him: Hinton died of a heart attack on July 28, 1995. He was only 51 years old.

Although I can appreciate virtually everything Hinton touched as an artist, my favorite songs are those amazing demos, mostly recorded in Muscle Shoals by some of Alabama’s finest. In recent years, the demos were lovingly compiled by the UK’s Zane label (god bless the Brits, because we sure as hell aren’t doing enough to honor our blues and soul greats) on three CDs: “Dear Y’all: The Songwriting Sessions,” “Playin’ Around: The Songwriting Sessions, Vol. 2,” and “Beautiful Dream, Sessions Vol. 3.”

This is deep southern soul at its best – as good as anything you can find by Otis Redding or Wilson Pickett. As pioneering record man Jerry Wexler pointed out, Hinton was “a white boy who truly sang and played in the spirit of the great black soul artists he venerated.” Pure, emotionally honest and down to the bone… Eddie Hinton just wasn’t made for these times. Dreamer

 

I should give credit to one American label that’s doing it right: Shake It Records in Cincinnati, Ohio. In a few weeks, they’ll be releasing the next two volumes in “Dangerous Highway: A Tribute to the Songs of Eddie Hinton” – an ongoing series of Hinton covers on 7” singles (the first ones featured Greg Dulli and Drive-By Truckers). The new installments will include two Dan Auerbach-produced songs by The Buffalo Killers and a split single with Heartless Bastards and Wussy. Check back here for more details.

Here’s a great cover of Eddie Hinton’s Everybody Needs Love, by the Drive-By Truckers. In this clip, the band’s singer/guitarist Patterson Hood is joined by his dad David, who played bass with Hinton on a number of hits recorded at Muscle Shoals Sound Studio.

30 thoughts on “The Lost Soul of Eddie Hinton

  • Elam McKnight, 26 August 10:20 pm

    Thank you so much for taking the time to highlight such a great musician and artist like Eddie Hinton. As you point out it is usually the British (or some other far flung place) that “gets” an artist for what they truly are as opposed to their own countrymen who only embrace their genius long after the fact. Very succinctly and well written. It was so good I bookmarked it for additional study. Five Stars!
    EM

  • admin, 27 August 8:08 am

    Thanks Elam… I think those Zane releases are already out of print. Time for someone here in the States to come to the rescue.

  • Peter Thompson, 20 December 4:52 am

    Great review on Eddie, all the demo Zane CD issues are still in print and available direct from us here: orders@zaneproductions.demon.co.uk

    Sorry they are hard to find in the USA but it’s difficult to persuade our USA distributor (Cityhallrecords.com) to keep back catalogue in stock..

    Peter
    Zane Records

  • admin, 20 December 9:26 am

    So once again, the Brits are on top of it while the Yanks ignore their own cultural treasures!

  • John D.Wyker, 06 March 4:55 pm

    MIGHTY FIELD of VISION an on going concern who’s MISSION STATEMENT since 1984 has & always will be to open avenues of exposure to KEEP EDDIE HINTON’S MUSIC & LEGEND ALIVE IN THE DIGITAL AGE. LOVE & RESPECT ! Contact : JOHN D. WYKER @ MIGHTY FIELD of VISION @ 805 PROSPECT DRIVE, DECATUR,ALABAMA, 35601 ANDROID #256-345-1711 & ROLL TIDE

  • charlie feldman, 06 March 5:34 pm

    Eddie was a troubled man with unbelievable talent as you know. I knew him before he went to Muscle Shoals as well as during and after his time in MS. In the early 60’s he was dripping with charisma and charm to go along with his monstrous talent. Thanks for this article along with the intermittent music by Eddie. It is wonderful that you are keeping his music alive!!!!!

  • Whitney Thouvenelle, 06 March 5:52 pm

    I discovered Hinton through DBT and set out to collect his records. I found the first one fairly easily – a friend ran across two in the Kansas City area not long after I started looking. Finally found my Swedish first pressing of LFM online in the UK – what a treasure. Great article with new info to me – thanks a lot!

  • admin, 06 March 8:10 pm

    Thanks, John Wyker… I’m glad people like you are looking after Eddie’s legacy.

  • admin, 06 March 8:11 pm

    Thanks Charlie and Whitney. Much appreciated.

  • clay coleman, 11 March 3:01 pm

    I appreciate the article on Eddie Hinton, but there was no mention of my brother, the late Jim Coleman,M.D. He turned down the offer with the Allman Brothers in order to record “Lost and Found” with Jim in Muscle Shoals. It’s really a great CD and Eddie turned down an offer with Warner Brothers to record the album because they did not offer him enough money. My brother Jim, never heard the master tape until Eddie died in 1995 when Eddie’s mother found the tape under his bed. Jim had CD’s made and it is a great compilation of their work together.

  • Mark Dalton, 13 October 8:10 pm

    Hinton’s “Concept World” is one of the greatest soul songs ever recorded, in my estimation. The wisdom of a Zen master coming right at you!

  • Jim Conner, 08 January 9:24 pm

    You are absolutely right Clay. Jim Coleman’s album with Eddie Hinton is a special recording and deserves way more recognition. Too bad the public can not have access to it.

  • Rick Tuter, 18 March 11:13 pm

    I found “Very Extremely Dangerous” about 1978 and loved it but it sort of faded away. I had no idea Eddie was white. There was no pic on the album cover. I moved from California to Alabama about nine years ago and somehow rediscovered Eddie. I found three albums on CD in various places and was amazed he was white. There was very little information on him, all I knew was he was a session guitarist at Muscle Shoals and died at his mom’s in Bham. There is a lot more information available on his life now and some albums that are new to me. I’m thankful his memory is honored.

  • admin, 19 March 7:51 am

    Thanks Rick. I think the demos give you a better sense of Eddie’s genius. Songs like Dreamer, Cover Me, Heavy Makes You Happy, Build Your Own Fire… They all sound more fully realized (and more soulful) than a lot of the stuff that was released on major labels.

  • Hilary Luks Chiz, 01 July 2:36 am

    Anyone here know where I can buy a copy of the 2007 documentary about Eddie Hinton, Dangerous Highway, by Deryle Perryman and Moises Gonzales? Many thanks for any help.

  • rl reeves jr, 12 August 11:13 pm

    Worked at a record store in Birmingham in the 80s where Eddie was a regular. He kept real quiet and would dig through the stacks for an hour or so then make his way to the counter with a stack of old vinyl.
    We played Eddie all day when he passed.

  • Bill Starks, 30 August 9:50 am

    Thanks for this informative and revealing piece on an overlooked hero of American music. I remember the first time I heard “Very Extremely Dangerous” – I bought it on vinyl when it was first released, just based on an intriguing review I’d read, and it certainly didn’t disappoint. Eddie’s voice, the songs, and the overall sound of the album had, and still offers, such appeal, so much emotion and excitement – its still a favorite. A little later, I was aware of the collaboration between Eddie and the Nighthawks, on their album for Mercury, and I would not have guessed that I’d get to meet him, and that he would accompany our band — Junior Cline & The Recliners, a great DC-area soul band that I played with for several years in the 80’s, who are still out there playing today — on a short tour in 1982. By then, he was probably not at the top of his game, but he’d struck up a friendship with Daryl Junior Cline, who had him tag along with us for a few dates in Philadelphia and New Jersey. It was not much more than a “wild weekend”, and was over in a flash, but it was an adventure we won’t forget. Getting him up to play on stage with us, and essentially ad-libbing tunes we hadn’t really worked out in advance, was a thrill, an honor, and just a glimpse at the incredible depth, talent and soul of this giant. I can’t say I really got to know him – he was clearly troubled, and eccentric, and his demeanor was fairly odd – but I wish I could have. Its very sad that his story didn’t have a better ending, and a shame that more people aren’t aware of his work. I’m not certain that the true measure of his accomplishments will ever be widely known, but his impressive discography speaks for itself, and articles like this one certainly help to spread the word of the legacy of this great artist. – Bill Starks

  • admin, 30 August 11:14 am

    Thanks much Bill. Must’ve been an amazing experience playing with him. A true unsung hero of American soul.

  • Illya Szwec, 01 September 6:36 am

    I bought a VHS from John Wyker a few years back – that is a ‘must have’ if you’d like to see a bit more of Eddie, playing some of his songs in the relaxed setting of John’s lounge! Try contacting John to see if it’s still available, and what other formats he may have (DVD or digital download???). It’s fantastic!

  • admin, 01 September 7:40 am

    Thanks Illya. John passed away in December 2013. By all accounts, he was a great guy and a big champion of Hinton and Alabama soul. I traded a couple emails with John, and you can see a comment from him on this post.

  • David Canine, 01 September 11:49 am

    Interesting association with the Nighthawks. Pete and Jan (drums and bass) used to stay with us when the Nighthawks played Greensboro. They turned us on to “Very Extremely Dangerous” Eddie. I even got to see Eddie play at a motel in Greensboro the next year. I miss him.

  • admin, 01 September 1:18 pm

    Thanks David. Eddie live at the Greensboro Holiday Inn… Beats the shit out of Nickelback at the Coliseum! We got to know Pete and hung with him a little bit too. Very cool, sweet dude, and one hell of a drummer — he could absolutely murder a shuffle. That was one scary band back in the ’70s-80s. Rumor had it that Greg Allman tried to join but he couldn’t keep up with them!

  • Mark Harrelson, 01 September 4:57 pm

    Not sure how recent these last posts are, but I just came across this thread. Proud to say I knew Eddie and was honored to work with him several times. Without a doubt, one of the most unique and REAL people and players I have ever known. I do have a couple of insights. First , the cut “You Made Me Sing” is not an “early” recording of the 5 Men-Its, but is actually from a demo session for writer/producer Fred Styles from 1976. It was an ad-hoc group of musicians called the Tuscaloosa All Stars (note Eddie’s t shirt in the photo at the top of this article). I co-engineered the session with Tom Nist at New London Studios in Birmingham, Ala. It was produced by Paul Hornsby(Hour Glass/Marshall Tucker/Charlie Daniels) and featured Eddie, Tippy Armstrong on guitar (also a Muscle Shoals session player), Mike Duke on keyboards (Wet Willie/Outlaws/Delbert McClinton), Bill Connell on drums (Allman Joys/Bobby Whitlock) and Joe Rudd on bass.
    Regarding “Lost & Found”. I received a call from Eddie’s mother – Deannie Perkins – not long after Eddie’s death. She had come upon a tape under Eddie’s bed that she realized was the “lost” project Eddie had done with Jim Coleman. She asked if I could restore the tape (it was in pretty bad shape) and so I did and remastered it, transferring it to digital. Jim Coleman had a few hundred copies pressed up, and some of the cuts made it on to a compilation “Eddie Hinton Anthology” on Australian label, Raven.
    I also had the privilege of working on several of the posthumous releases for Peter Thompson’s Zane label at Johnny Sandlin’s studio – Ducktape Music – in Decatur, Alabama. We edited, overdubbed and remixed several of Eddie’s song demos, including “I Can’t Be Me” which was originally recorded in my basement with just Eddie and a guitar. We overdubbed the Muscle Shoals Sound Rhythm section and horns and turned it into a recording that I am more proud of than any other I’ve ever worked on.
    Working with and getting to know Eddie Hinton for a while was one the greatest, most formative experiences in my life. He is truly an un-sung Southern hero.

  • James Offie, 01 September 7:45 pm

    I first heard The Nighthawks cover “Brand New Man”, and found “Very Extremely Dangerous” after that. The band I played in also covered it – what a fun song to play! Also love “Letters”. Pittsburgh soul singer Billy Price does a nice version of “Dangerous Highway” on his “Soul Collection” album (Green Dolphin, 1997).
    Eddie Hinton is timeless.

  • admin, 01 September 10:58 pm

    Thanks for the insights Mark. I swapped out the ’76 recording (You Made Me Sing) with a ’66 recording of the 5 Men-Its: Blue-Blue Feelin’. Both are from the album Bandcestors, which combines Sixties cuts by the Men-Its with the ’76 session featuring the Tuscaloosa All Stars. Appreciate the correction and the additional info on Hinton. Would love to hear the Lost & Found recordings. The version of I Can’t Be Me from Hard Luck Guy is amazing… Is that the same recording you overdubbed and remixed?

  • Terry Manning, 01 September 11:44 pm

    Someone left out of this report who should absolutely be mentioned, and who did as much if not more for Eddie when he was most down and out, is JOHNNY SANDLIN (formerly with Capricorn). Johnny took Eddie in when Eddie was homeless, gave him a nice place to stay in his garage, gave him money, etc. Johnny was a Saint!

  • admin, 02 September 7:52 am

    Thanks Terry. Also worth mentioning that Sandlin was a session guitarist at FAME studio, played drums in the 5 Men-Its and went on to produce The Allman Brothers Band, Delbert McClinton, Widespread Panic and Dan Penn (his wonderful ’94 release Do Right Man), among others. Yeah, I could easily go back and add a lot of stuff to this post!

  • Mark Harrelson, 03 September 11:48 pm

    Terry, you have confused one Johnny with another – both from Decatur, Alabama. Johnny Wyker took Eddie in after he left his mom’s place in Birmingham and rode the bus to Decatur. Wyker made it his “mission” to bring Eddie’s music to the world through his formation of “The Mighty Field of Vision”, and was initially responsible for the release of Eddie’s “Letters From Mississippi” ,independently at first, then on the Swedish record label, Amalthea, and subsequently re-issued on Zane, Mobile Fidelity and a couple of others.Wyker served as Eddie’s “manager” for a while, until Eddie moved back in with his mom and passed away in 1995.
    Johnny Sandlin had an even longer history with Eddie, playing with him in The 5 Men-its and other bands in the 60’s, as well as doing the posthumous work on Eddie’s Zane releases that Peter Thompson and I mentioned earlier in this thread.
    To Admin: yes, THAT “I Can’t Be Me”…..contact me via email to discuss that and “Lost and Found” further….

  • Dick Cooper, 25 November 4:58 pm

    Kalle Oldby of Swedish national radio needs to be recognized as well. Were it not for Kalle, we would have never known about Amalthea and we would have never gotten Letters from Mississippi released. Kalle was also gracious enough to write the liner note for the album. The Europeans were much more aware of Eddie and his talents than Americans.

  • admin, 25 November 7:12 pm

    You’re absolutely right Dick. Thanks for your comments, and for your many contributions to Muscle Shoals rock ‘n soul.

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