With more gravel than an Alabama back road, Eddie Hinton’s “hard singing” approach was as much a part of his unique appeal as his poignant lyrics.
In the early years, he worked with bands like The Spooks and The Five Minutes playing fraternity dances and dingy Southeastern clubs, then became one of the first outside musicians to move to Muscle Shoals, where he played lead guitar for Muscle Shoals Sound Rhythm Section from 1967 to 1971.
As a session guitarist, Hinton played on hit records recorded by Wilson Pickett, Arthur Conley, Aretha Franklin, Joe Tex, Solomon Burke, Percy Sledge, The Staple Singers, The Dells, Paul Kelly, Johnny Taylor, Elvis Presley, The Box Tops, R.B. Greaves, Boz Scaggs, Evie Sands, The Looking Glass, Toots Hibbert and Otis Redding.
He has toured as guitarist for R&B greats, Wilson Pickett, Percy Sledge and Ted Taylor.
Redding was the performer that had the most obvious influence on his style…an influence that appears not only in the vocal phrasing, but also in the attitude of the songs themselves.
“Redding had the attitude of a man succeeding in the world,” Hinton said, “especially with men and women.”
It is this attitude that gives Hinton’s songs the gift of hope in seemingly hopeless situations. The quality of these songs has been recognized even from the early days. They have been recorded by artists such as Aretha Franklin, Percy Sledge, Bobby Womack, Cher, Tony Joe White, Gregg Allman, Bonnie Bramlett, Dusty Springfield, Lulu, The Box Tops, The Sweet Inspirations, UB40, and the Nighthawks.
It was also in Redding that Hinton saw “Somebody who would go out and go ahead and sing what their soul is telling them to do.”
It is with this in mind that Hinton created his startling soul searing style. The music also reflects the rhythm and power of miles walked in pride and determination.
Neither the years nor the music industry were kind to Hinton. His personal recording efforts were untimely. In 1977 Hinton worked with producer Barry Beckett and the Muscle Shoals Sound Rhythm Section which resulted in the release of his Capricorn Records album “Very Extremely Dangerous.” The album was critically acclaimed, but coincided with the fall of that record label, and left Hinton emotionally battered.
In 1982 Jimmy Johnson of the Muscle Shoals Sound Rhythm Section took Eddie into the studio and recorded six songs for a proposed album. The project was never leased, and it looked as if the material would become forgotten. The disappointment combined with a divorce sent Eddie into a tailspin.
As his personal life unraveled, changing musical trends saw the upsurge of Disco and the passing of many opportunities for live bands. Eventually, Hinton found himself living on the streets of Decatur, AL. It was there that he ran into an old friend, John D. Wyker. Wyker, a native of Decatur, had known Hinton since the early 60’s in the University of Alabama drum and bugle corps. He had also served his time in the rock and roll wars, and was sympathetic to Hinton’s refusal to take a handout.
Eddie was sitting on a bench at the bus stop in front of the Salvation Army when I first saw him,” Wyker said. “He had his clothes in an old garbage bag and a small handleless suitcase.” Wyker, who was engaged in forging his own comeback, realized Hinton actually had more to offer in his intense emotion packed songs. So with the help of friends Owen Brown and Jeff Simpson, he began guiding Hinton through his paces in Birdland Recording Studio. The project was merged with the songs recorded by Jimmy Johnson, resulting in the favorably reviewed “Letters From Mississippi.”
The album rekindled Hinton’s career. Released throughout Europe, Hinton found himself performing again. His performances throughout Alabama were widely reviewed, but his personal devils persisted and his shows were inconsistent.
As the decade came to a close, “Letters From Mississippi” had been released in the United States, first as a Swedish import by Rounder Records, and later as a collectable CD issued by Mobile Fidelity Audio. Having proven Hinton to be a marketable artist, Wyker moved Hinton to Bullseye Blues records, a subsidiary of Rounder. There Hinton recorded two albums “Cry And Moan,” and “Very Blue Highway.”
His health was improving, and having reconciled his relationship with his mother, Hinton moved back home to Birmingham. He continued to write startling songs, and attracted the attention of an Italian promoter who arranged a short tour of Northern Italy.
He had returned to Birdland Studio in early 1995 to record a new album, and had recorded tracks and vocals. As he prepared to return to the studio to finish the recordings, Hinton suffered a fatal heartache.
During his last years, Eddie had put many of his demons behind him. He had renewed the relationship with his mother, and it became easier to catch him with a smile on his face. The hard living, walks between Alabama cities to visit friends, and manic moments were no longer a part of his life.
The good life now began to take it’s toll, however, he gained weight and got little exercise. It eventually became his undoing.
Now that he is gone, his legend continues to grow. None of us who knew Eddie will ever forget his explosive moments. Nor can we forget the waves of kinetic emotion generated by his better performances.
He is missed.
– Dick Cooper
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