Eddie Hinton: mean guitar player who shouda been a contender
6th February 2017
Title: Very Extremely Dangerous
What do these soul legends have in common? Aretha Franklin, Wilson Pickett, Solomon Burke, Percy Sledge, the Staple Singers and Otis Redding? No? OK, how about if I add the reggae star Toots Hibbert of Toots & the Maytals? Elvis Presley? Still nothing? It’s Eddie Hinton. Or, rather, the guitar of Eddie Hinton. Hinton was one of the all time great soul musicians. He played lead guitar for the famous Muscle Shoals Sound rhythm section (the first rhythm section to own its own studios, appearing on many legendary records). Hinton’s talent didn’t just stretch to guitar playing, however, this guy was also an excellent singer, a superb songwriter, arranger and producer too.
Jimmy Hall, musician and label mate, knew Hinton well, “His is a tragic story to me because when I first met him I thought that this guy was going to be the biggest thing ever. He was so talented. I thought that this guy was going to be it – you can’t be any better than Eddie Hinton! He wasn’t one of the owners at Muscle Shoals, he was a staff guitar player in the rhythm section and he played on all of the early things that they did but he got tired of it after a while. He was making great money, more money than he had ever made in his life, but he had written some songs that were hits and he wanted to do that more and he wanted to have a group.”
Hinton was a hard worker, more so when he had visions of a solo career. Hence, Hinton would work all day on the contracted Muscle Shoals business but then would continue all evening on his own project, Very Extremely Dangerous.
“He just got so into it,” said Hall. “He was smoking pot and doing some drugs and just kind of got ‘out there’. He finally said, ‘I don’t want to be a studio player any more.’ The album he had been working on, he played that in his car out in our parking lot for Atlantic boss, Jerry Wexler and some people and they didn’t like it. Eddie had worked on it so long and thought that it was going to be the next Sgt Pepper. He just went nuts. He went off the deep end and actually changed personalities and became kind of a different person. It was very sad. It got like I could hardly be around him because he acted like a crazy guy. He eventually died in his mother’s house, in the bath tub. I went to his funeral and didn’t even recognise him in his casket.”
Known as the best white soul singer that there has ever been, Hinton recorded this, his first solo album, in 1978. Listening to it, the album has that distinct sound of the classic Muscle Shoals group. You can almost hear the 60s vibes and imagine the great soul singers sitting, watching and grooving as Hinton does his thing. In fact, on this album, the Muscle Shoals Rhythm section backs Hinton. As Hinton was the lead guitar in the group, the sound is far different from what you might expect from a visiting musician. Hinton knew these guys well, well enough to anticipate what each was about to do and more to the point, they all knew Hinton. The level of integration and musical flow that derives from this set is sublime. How else could the entire ensemble find a rock vibe without losing that essential soul groove that Hinton was attempting to retain?
Hinton’s voice was a magnificent beast of a thing. There was a certain boundless exuberance in Hinton’s delivery that reminds you of Wilson Pickett. Where Hinton shouts the blues, he never leaves the essential rhythmic, musical nature of the lyric.
“Very Extremely Dangerous was cut after he had started to get a little crazy. I played on that one. It could have been a big hit. He had a huge, cult following. All of the bands played it in their buses, for example. The label, Capricorn, when out of business so the album never went anywhere. That’s one of the tragedies in his life. A lot of things almost happened for Eddie but didn’t.”
That this blue-eyed album arrived just as disco and funk were arriving on the scene meant that this masterwork of soul never received its due. You, however, can revisit it in all its glory. A true classic.