September 6, 2013

Hinton-lying-down

Jordan Pedersen might call himself “ethnically southern.”

Don’t get me wrong, Berry Gordy scared the Funk Brothers into being the best backing band in Motor City. James Brown fined his ensemble into perfection. But there’s nothing quite like the deep-fried crackle of the Muscle Shoals Rhythm section. Sometimes recording under the name the Swampers, keyboardist Barry Beckett, drummer Roger Hawkins, organist Spooner Oldham, bassist David Hood (father of Drive-By Truckers bandleader Patterson Hood), and guitarist Eddie Hinton lent their inimitable laid-back charm to scads of hits for Atlantic and Stax in the ’70s and ’80s.

As a guitarist, Hinton is easily identifiable by the tastefully muscular leads on tracks by a laundry list of southern soul icons, including Aretha Franklin, Wilson Pickett, Johnnie Taylor, and the Staple Singers. When Mavis calls to “daddy” on “I’ll Take You There,” she’s actually calling out to Eddie Hinton. He wrote songs for Percy Sledge, Dusty Springfield, and Bobby Womack. And he was a dynamite singer and bandleader in his own right, with a soulful scream you could mistake for Otis Redding if not for Hinton’s unique phrasing and delivery.

But while one-time collaborators Duane and Gregg Allman went on to fame and later stoner band ignominy with the Allman Brothers – whom they actually asked Hinton to join – Hinton stayed behind in Muscle Shoals, continuing his work as a session player and songwriter. Not that this path was anything to sniff at; after it became a craze, it seems like every white rock star from Bob Seger to Paul Simon couldn’t get down to Muscle Shoals fast enough to record with the Swampers.

It’s probably this head-down mentality – coupled with his issues with mental illness and various substance addictions – that explains why his fabulous run of solo albums, Very Extremely Dangerous, Letters from Mississippi, Cry & Moan, Very Blue Highway, and the posthumous Hard Luck Guy, haven’t managed to escape their distinction as items of cult worship among southern soul acolytes. Check out some deeply felt reminiscences on Hinton from Dick Cooper and the above-mentioned Patterson Hood (it was Hood’s band’s covers of a couple of Hinton tracks on their 2011 album Go-Go Boots that turned me on to the guy).

This month is the 35th anniversary of the release of Very Extremely Dangerous – at least as far as I can tell. Capricorn Records went bankrupt twice, so records are scanty. Either way, it’s a great opportunity to acquaint yourself with one of the great overlooked gems of the genre. The honky tonk shuffle of “You Got Me Singing” and the finger-snapping boogie-woogie of “Yeah Man” are both deserving of canonization, and in an another world “I Got the Feeling” would be right up there with “Let’s Get it On” and “Try a Little Tenderness” on the list of all-time great bedroom anthems.

As pointed out by Mr. Bell in his write-up of Marion Black, this is a great time to be an old soul singer: Daptone and Truth and Soul have practically created a cottage industry out of revitalizing the careers of overlooked singers. Sadly, Hinton wouldn’t be around to see his own revival. He died of a heart attack in 1995.

It’s too bad, because as much as I love Sharon Jones, Lee Fields, and Charles Bradley, the “new old soul” movement has yet to find a champion mighty enough to revitalize southern soul. Hinton would’ve been a prime candidate.

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