Eddie Hinton was a bad-ass. It’s truly tragic how many people have never heard of this guy. And then there are countless others, like myself, who knew “of” him, but never took the time – at the time – to listen and appreciate. While I was pretty late to the party, I’m glad I eventually made it. (And thanks to TB for making it happen.) On reflection, party is probably a pretty bad metaphor to use in regards to Hinton. While it may have initially seemed like one endless hoot, much of his later life was anything but a good time.
Hinton initial calling card was as a guitarist. And what a guitarist he was, finding himself at the young age of 22 fronting what would go down as one of the best bands ever – The Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section (AK, The Swampers, so named by Leon Russell). Reportedly Hinton turned down the opportunity to join The Allman Brothers to play with MSRS. And during the late 60′ and early 70’s, a bunch of white southern good old boys were the backing band for some absolutely killer soul music – Percy Sledge, Wilson Pickett, Aretha, Arthur Alexander, Solomon Burke, Otis Redding. That’s for starters. It was a pivotal moment not just for soul music, but for music. Thank you, Jerry Wexler.
In 1969, the core of the Rhythm Section started Muscle Shoals Sound, and never looked back. The 70’s saw them working with a score of Stax artists, most famously the Staple Singers and Johnny Taylor. But the band would work with any artist in any genre, from The Rolling Stones to The Oak Ridge Boys, Clarence Carter to Lynyrd Skynrd, JJ Cale to Joe Tex. All comers welcome.
Hinton had also developed a reputation for being one hell of a soul singer himself. In his book Sweet Soul Music, Peter Guralnick described Eddie Hinton as “the last of the great white soul singers.” And that was definitely on display on his 1978 recording debut on Capricorn Records, “Very Highly Dangerous.” And backed by, of course, The Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section. Yeah, dude could sing. And play. It’s a damn beautiful record; the embodiment of the melodic bliss in my head when I hear the words “southern soul”.
Sadly, between the fact that the prevailing music cycles did not play in soul’s favor in the late 70’s (a horrible time for rhythm & blues in general as every soul singer still standing was forced to record a disco record, or at least something disco leaning) and the pressing reality that Capricorn wasn’t long for this world (they collapsed the following year), the record never really received it’s promotional due. And, even more sadly, neither did Hinton. A second record was never finished and personal issues weighed heavily on Hinton in the ensuing years.
However, with a little help from his friends, the late 80’s and early 90’s provided a little redemption for Hinton, returning to the recording studio and finding himself in demand for live appearances. While finishing up a new record in 1995, Hinton died unexpectedly of a heart attack at the super young age of 51. (Hey, I’m almost there, so yes, I consider it “super young.”). The recordings would be released a few years later as “Hard Luck Guy,” ironically on a resuscitated Capricorn Records, and provides a truly worthy bookend to “Very Extremely Dangerous.” Man, that guy had it.