I can still remember the picture of the boyish Eddie Hinton inside the gatefold of the album “Boz Scaggs”. Little did I know that it was Hinton who tangled guitars with Duane Allman on Scaggs’ stunning take on Fenton Robinson’s “Loan Me A Dime”. Or, for that matter, that he was a great songwriter, or that he could sing naturally like a seasoned “been there” bluesman. And, it’s truly a crime that virtually no one else knew either.
Eddie Hinton’s life can be defined as one of being continually tripped up by fate. Despite being one of Southern Soul’s true musical treasures, Hinton wasn’t able to garner the attention commensurate with his talent due to forces not always in his control. If talent alone was sufficient to trump life’s bumps and grinds, justice would have reigned, and Eddie Hinton would have been hailed as a star in the course of his lifetime.
Eddie Hinton had talent to burn. As a guitar player, he was a charter member of Muscle Shoals Alabama’s famed Swampers who backed a varied range of Soul artists including: Aretha Franklin, Otis Redding, Wilson Pickett, Joe Tex, Solomon Burke, The Staple Singers, Boz Scaggs, and Toots Hibbert. (By the way, Hinton came up with the arrangement for The Staples’ “I’ll Take You There”, and it’s Hinton, not Pops, playing the wonderful solo on the enduring hit). As a writer, his songs have been covered by the likes of Lulu, Dusty Springfield, Percy Sledge, Willy DeVille, Bobby Womack, and Tony Joe White. And – what might rate as the most compelling of the goods that he brought to the table – as a singer, Hinton’s voice is an unadorned cry of pain and heartache that once moved Bonnie Bramlett to describe it simply as “scary” in its honesty.
Eddie Hinton was born in Jacksonville Florida on June 14, 1944 and moved to Tuscaloosa Alabama when he was 5 years old. By all accounts, Eddie was a typical child and teenager; but what set Hinton apart was the love of the guitar that started in his early teens. Self-taught; he quickly developed his own unique sound and style. And by 17 Eddie was in frat house Rock / R&B bands not only playing guitar but also assuming vocal chores as well. Most noteworthy of the bands were The Men-Its, (and later The Five Minutes and finally The Minutes). A song that stands out on their long playing release, “Bandcestors”, is “Nice Girl”. The vocal already hints at the genesis of his swampy, gritty evocations of the heart filtered through a tortured soul.
When Hinton was 22, at the urging of songwriter / guitarist / producer Marlin Greene, (the producer of Percy Sledge’s hit “When A Man Loves A Woman”), he moved to Muscle Shoals. Among other successful ventures both on his own and with partners, it was at Muscle Shoals Sound Studios that Hinton hit his stride as a lead guitar player with The Swampers.
Hinton’s obvious talents were appreciated by the artists and heroes he worked with; (as a matter of fact, Zelma Redding, Otis’ widow, asked Eddie to teach her sons and nephew to play guitar). And, Hinton’s prowess as a musician, songwriter, and singer wasn’t lost on his peers. More and more opportunities came his way including a Duane Allman offer to join the soon-to-be Allman Brothers as lead singer. (Citing that he was making more money than he’d made in his whole life as a session player, Hinton turned the offer down).
Hinton would stay at MSSS till 1971 when he started to exploit his growing fame as a songwriter, session player, producer, and arranger and accepted offers to work in various locales including Nashville, Memphis and New York City. And, it wasn’t long before Hinton was itching to do his own projects.
Hinton started to record prolifically – although not all efforts were publicly available during his lifetime – with the high point being the release of the critically acclaimed “Very Extremely Dangerous” in 1978. Backed by The Swampers, and recorded at Muscle Shoals Sound Studios, the album exemplifies everything that Southern Soul has to offer neatly packaged in 12 songs – 11 originals plus a cover of Otis Redding’s “Shout Bamalama”. “Dangerous” sold 20,000 copies right out of the gate but unfortunately, factors came into play that would not allow Hinton to capitalize on the initial success. First and foremost, his label, Capricorn, went out of business soon after, thereby curtailing any distribution or further sales opportunities. Seeing a huge opportunity to finally make some headway evaporate, Hinton was despondent. Regrettably, other forces then conspired against Hinton. His band, The Rocking Horses, formed to tour in support of the album – with no product to promote and no substantial gigs – disbanded. That was followed soon after by his marriage falling apart. All factors led to a downward spiral of ailing health and self-medication of drugs and alcohol. Eddie Hinton was now in complete freefall.
In search of stability, Hinton had planned to move back home with his mother in Birmingham Alabama. But, after they had a falling out, Eddie was left homeless, and living in a mission in Decatur Alabama. Fortunately, John Wyker, an old college friend, came to his rescue. He got him a place to live and through his efforts eventually brought Eddie to the attention of Rounder Records. Hinton seemed to be recovering health wise and, with his considerable skills intact, recorded two excellent records for Rounder: “Cry & Moan” (1991) and “Very Blue Highway” (1993).
It appeared that a reversal of fortune was finally on the horizon. There was a newfound interest in Hinton stateside, and Eddie received offers to tour Europe, (including an appearance at Italy’s famed Porretta Soul Festival). But, Lady Luck had other ideas. Hinton’s health was deteriorating, and his drug and alcohol use continued unabated. (It’s pure speculation, but friends and associates long thought, based on Hinton’s volatile episodes and extreme changes in personality, that Eddie had a medical condition that had gone undiagnosed for years). The end, that seemed inevitable to those who knew him well, came when Hinton died at his mother’s house on July 28, 1995 of an apparent heart attack. Eddie Hinton was only 51 years old.
Hinton would leave a total of 10 albums, (6 posthumously including an excellent 2005 compilation on Australia’s Raven label: “The Anthology 1969-1993: A Mighty Field Of Vison”). More than one of the releases are deemed collector’s items.
As years passed, more and more people have come to recognize the genius of “The Definitive Swamp Musician” (as termed by legendary musician and producer Jim Dickinson). His songs continue to be recorded, his name is mentioned in reverent tones, and in 2006 a documentary of his life, “Dangerous Highway”, was released; (but blocked by his mother who didn’t approve of how Eddie was portrayed).
Suffice to say that anything and everything that the man Jerry Wexler called “The White Otis Redding” committed to tape deserves to be heard. In keeping with that thought, following are an Eddie Hinton discography and a suggested playlist
1978 Very Extremely Dangerous
1987 Letters From Mississippi (import)
1991 Cry & Moan
1993 Very Blue Highway
1999 Hard Luck Guy
2000 Dear Y’all: The Songwriting Sessions
2004 Playin’ Around: The Songwriting Sessions Vol. 2
2005 Beautiful Dream: The Songwriting Sessions Vol. 3 (out of print)
2005 The Anthology 1969-1993: A Mighty Field Of Vision
2017 Eddie Hinton and The Nighthawks: Rose’s Cantina 1979
An Eddie Hinton Suggested Playlist
- Rock Of My Soul
- Cry And Moan
- Nice Girl (Bandcestors)
- You Got Me Singing
- Sad And Lonesome
- Everybody Needs Love
- Hard Luck Guy
- Very Blue Highway
- Shoot The Moon
- Three Hundred Pounds Of Hongry
- Sad Song
- Ubangi Stomp
- Rico Ferrara, December 2020