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Is there a future for Unknown Hinson?

By Ken Burke, May 2004

Calling from an unspecified location, Unknown Hinson offers some sagely intended, comedically delivered advice to up and coming musicians. "Practice your guitar, piana or whatever, at least a half hour a day. Don't give up because you never know. But most of all - try to avoid a prison sentence if humanly possible. Because your rakkerd sales will drop off if you go into the joint for 30 years like I done."

Sound advice and like many of Hinson's statements, he makes a claim that can't easily be proved or disproved. You see, the singer-songwriter, who looks like the living embodiment of the 1966 B-movie "Dracula Meets Billy The Kid," is more of a stage persona than an actual person. Part late-night horror-movie host, part novelty act with a death row attitude, he is the most unique performer in country music today.

This fact was not lost on Capitol Records, which recently released the bottom-fanged felon's first major label album "The Future Is Unknown."

According to the artist himself - who seems comically stuck in a timewarp - Capitol is getting the best of the deal. "I figured, they need some help. They lost their ass on them Beatles and Beach Boys, maybe I can help 'em out and sell some rakkerds."

That's right. He said "rakkerds." Hinson's working vocabulary is larded with pure backwoods pronunciations la "womerns" for "women," "rawk" for "rock" and "rakkerds" for "records."

Further, he punctuates his gab with little self-encouraging asides of "yeh-yeh," and refers to anything having to do with him or his music as "chart-toppin'." The singer best employs this mongrel articulation in boasts like "I'm in a class all my own. Yeh-yeh. I ain't like the steroid-eatin' pretty boys who wears them black cowboy hats and tight designer jeans and ain't playing nothin', just tushy-pushin' around the stage with a McDonald's microphone in front of them. That ain't me, Hoss. I play the guitar and sing country and western chart-toppers to the folks. The reason I don't wear a cowboy hat is I ain't bald! They all bald. I got a full head of chart-toppin' jet-black hair that drives the womerns wild!"

It's all an act, of course. The same type of inspired role-playing Andy Kaufman used to indulge in when he took on the character of Tony Clifton. However, whereas Clifton was a no-talent and a bore (which is why the bit was funny), Hinson is an edgy, funny songwriter and a top-flight guitarist equally at home playing traditional acoustic country and hard-assed rock.

Hinson's true identity isn't too hard to discover.

Two clippings in his press kit and one article link from his official website mention that he is the alter-ego of a Charlotte-area music teacher and studio musician named Danny Baker. Moreover, his Capitol CD's songwriter credit reads "All songs written by Unknown Hinson (sdb Music, SESAC/Pacific Winds Music, SESAC)." A trip to the SESAC website quickly reveals that all the songs listed were written by one Stuart Daniel Baker.

That said, Hinson won't admit that he and Danny Baker are the same person. Why should he? Besides, it's much more fun to hear his version of the chart-toppin' truth.

So who is Danny Baker?

"I met him," says Hinson. "When I got out of the joint, as part of my community service, I went around and entertained people at various rest homes and certain institutions. I met his'n, and he was a patient. I won't name the exact hospital, but it was somewhere in North Carolina - and he got a little bit too overzealous when he heard my music, ' and he kindly got obsessed with me. He's been stalking me ever since. I can't help the boy. He's got a problem. He needs to get his life together."

How does Hinson, known for his quick temper and carrying a .38 pistol deal with the alleged stalking of Danny Baker?

"Well, man, when he comes to the door, I'll greet him and say, 'Hey, Hoss, you need to think about it. You need to get yourself together and be somebody and quit trying to live vicariously through me - The King of Country Western Troubadours.' He ain't never become violent or nothin' like that. He knows what would happen if he does. Yeh-yeh, I ain't scared of him."

This comic turnabout leaves us with only the mythology of Unknown Hinson to pursue. Born in the foothills of North Carolina, his mother sang him traditional western-folk songs until he was old enough to start learning the guitar. The alleged start of his professional career, circa the early '60s, sounds like something drawn from a Harlan Ellison novel.

"I left home when I was 14-year-old, and I hooked up with a six-truck carny that run around the deep south working country fairs, yeh-yeh. I worked there in the midway at a 10-in-1 show. To the laymen, they would call that a sideshow, and I did work with various wildlife including snakes and chickens and a few others."

Interrupting his colorful narrative, this writer respectfully asked Hinson if he had been a geek (a sideshow freak who attracts crowds by biting the heads off of live animals). For the first time, the accent dropped a bit.

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