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Unknown Hinson

Unknown Hinson

Guitarist, singer-songwriter, voice actor

Best known as the voice of the hard-drinking, quick-tempered squid on Squidbillies, seen regularly on the Cartoon Network's late-night Adult Swim segments, Unknown Hinson is a unique performer. Part hillbilly vampire, part novelty act with a just-out-of-jail attitude, the singer-songwriter is a top-flight guitarist who is equally at home playing traditional acoustic country and hard rock. His politically incorrect songs are not for everyone, but his fans—most notably Billy Bob Thornton, Matt Groening, Tim Robbins, and Tom Petty—find him supremely entertaining.

The brainchild of Stuart Daniel Baker, the Hinson character employs a working vocabulary larded with backwoods pronunciations, such as "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 with his music as "chart-toppin'." The singer best employs this mongrel articulation in comedic boasts filled with false bravado, such as: "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 MacDonald's microphone in front of them. That ain't me, Hoss. I play the guitar and sing country & 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!"

Stuart Daniel Baker

Unknown Hinson's true identity is an open secret. Clippings in his electronic press kit and article links from his official website mention that he is the alter ego of a Charlotte-area music teacher and studio musician named Stuart Daniel Baker or Danny Baker. Moreover, his Capitol CD songwriter credit reads: "All songs written by Unknown Hinson (sdb Music, SESAC/Pacific Winds Music, SESAC)." The SESAC website 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.

When asked in an interview about his more civilized alter ego, Hinson remarked, "I met him. 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."

The Unknown Hinson Story

It's all an act, of course. However, the mythology of Unknown Hinson goes as follows: He was born out of wedlock in the foothills of North Carolina. The mother's last name was allegedly put on the birth certificate, but in the space for the father's name the hospital wrote "Unknown," and that became the infant's name. The performer claims that his mother sang him traditional western folk songs until he was old enough to start learning the guitar. "I left home when I was 14 years old and I hooked up with a six-truck carny that run around the deep south working country fairs, yeh-yeh," Hinson recalled. He went on to claim, "The evolution of the chart-topping hits started right there on the midway. The owner of the carnival, he let me sing a few of my chart-topping songs that I had wrote, to the audiences. In a matter of weeks, the gate receipts for the fair was up because they was coming to see me. At the time I was billed as: Troubadour Boy."

According to Hinson, his act proved so popular that major record labels began to show an interest. However, just as his career was about to take off, some men "known in the history books as the pioneers of country music" ruined his chances by framing him for several criminal offenses. "Among the many unjust crimes that placed me in prison for 30 years were vampirism and grave-robbin'," he told Gelf Magazine in 2006. "I guess I was just in the wrong place at the wrong time."

There is no evidence of a jail record for either Unknown Hinson or Danny Baker. Suffice it to say that the character of Unknown Hinson was created in 1993, the year the singer-songwriter reported that he got out of prison, providing a wonderful explanation for why most of the performer's attitudes and references are stuck in the 1960s. "I do it as a disclaimer," explained Hinson. "The reason I play occasional rawk in my show dates and concerts is just to show the youngerns that it don't take no talent to play that mess." Despite the disclaimer, the highlight of any Hinson show is his ability to shred guitar licks speed metal style, gear down for a Chet Atkins-style country number, and then wail out a Jimi Hendrix style psychedelic rocker.

Started in Local TV

Hinson burst into prominence via a cable access show aired in Charlotte, North Carolina, called the The Wild, Wild South Show. He soon followed with his own regular cable access program, The Unknown Hinson Show, which featured comedic vignettes, turns with a scary lookalike ventriloquist's dummy, and occasional music videos. Donning an embroidered Western gambler's outfit, exaggerated eyebrows, sideburns, and upside-down fangs, Hinson worked the local club scene and quickly became known as a hillbilly vampire, an idea that the performer encourages while on stage, but rejects when offstage. "I get that all the time," Hinson told Brutarian Quarterly. "That was something that was started by—pardon the expression—the evil, wicked press."

Recordings for the independent Uniphone label eventually led to a 2002 EP for Capitol titled Rock‘n’Roll Is Straight From Hell. With characteristic mock braggadocio, the artist proclaimed at the time that he was going to save Capitol Records. "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.’" Tours with the likes of Rev. Horton Heat and Hank Williams III spread his cult appeal, but mainstream stardom eluded him.

The release of his first full major label album, The Future Is Unknown, while a triumph of character-based satire, proved difficult for Capitol to promote. Not that Hinson lacked talent. In both conception and execution he proved to be a supremely gifted novelty song craftsman. "Everything I write about … is about real life experiences that I have experienced in my life," Hinson explained. Yet outside of radio's shock-jock-oriented Morning Zoo crews, who frequently called in Hinson to liven up their programs, few mainstream country stations picked up on Hinson. Country music, with its massive influx of Northern middle class female listeners, didn't warm up to his politically incorrect humor. As a result, the performer's days as a mainstream label act were few in number.

Plays Early Cuyler on Squidbillies

Although the mainstream media has shied away, Unknown Hinson caught a break in 2005 when he was asked to provide the voice of Early Cuyler on Squidbillies, a series in the Cartoon Network's late-night Adult Swim line-up. Basically a cartoon for adults with a skewed sense of humor, the 15-minute show portrayed a mythical Southern area where mutant animals and human beings wallow in trash culture together. Part demented fantasy, part satire, the undeniable star of the show is Unknown Hinson—billed as Stuart Daniel Baker—who mangles his syntax and espouses the most dangerous personal philosophy in limited animation history. "It has a unique slant on the darker origins of Southern culture that is both shocking and hilarious," he told Gelf Magazine. "I mean, the writing is very, very deep. I don't think it pokes too much at the South. I'm a Southerner and it don't offend me."

For the Record …

Born Stuart Daniel Baker, c. 1954; married Margo Baker (his manager and booking agent).

Singer-songwriter, guitarist, producer, and voice actor; created his character for the Wild, Wild South public access show, c. 1993; hosted his own program The Unknown Hinson Show, 1994; recorded for Uniphone, Capitol, and Coffin Case Records, 2000-07; toured with Rev. Horton Heat, Hank Williams III, and others; supplied the voice of "Early Cuyler" on the animated Cartoon Network series Squidbillies, 2005-08.

Addresses: Record company—Coffin Case Records, c/o Case Core, LLC, 11044 Weddington St., N. Hollywood, CA 91601, website: http://www.coffincase.com. Booking—Anonymous Entertainment, Margo Baker, phone: 704-545-0380, ext. 2, e-mail: [email protected] Publisher—SDB Music, c/o Pacific Wind Music, 9320 Wilshire Blvd., Ste. 200, Beverly Hills, CA 90212-3217, phone: 310-550-1500, fax: 310-247-0195. Website—Unknown Hinson Official Website: http://www.unknownhinson.com.

Hinson returned to recording in 2006 with Hard Target for Coffin Case Records, an independent label funded by the company that makes coffin-shaped guitar cases for the goth-rock crowd. Poorly distributed, his works are largely sold at the singer-songwriter's many club gigs throughout the South, where he is a reigning cult hero. His advice to up-and-coming musicians? "Practice your guitar, piana or whatever, at least a half hour a day," he told Brutarian Quarterly with tongue firmly in cheek. "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."

Selected discography

21 Charttoppers, Uniphone, 1998.

The Future is Unknown, Uniphone, 2000.

Rock‘n’Roll is Straight from Hell, Capitol, 2002.

The Future is Unknown, Capitol, 2004.

Target Practice, Coffin Case Records, 2006.

Hinson: Live and Undead, Coffin Case Records, 2007.

Video

Squidbillies, Vol. 1, Turner Home Entertainment, 2007.

Sources

Periodicals

Brutarian Quarterly, Issue 49, Winter/Spring 2007.

Online

"Cephalopods of the South," Gelf Magazine,http://www.gelfmagazine.com/archives/cephalopods_of_the_south.php (September 18, 2007).

Official Electronic Presskit Unknown Hinson Official Website,http://www.unknownhinson.com (August 20, 2007).

"SDB Music," SESAC,http://www.sesac.com/repertory/asp/rpublishersacctSQL.asp?PubAcct=89808 (September 16, 2007).

"Unknown Hinson," All Music Guide,http://www.allmusic.com (September 18, 2007).

"Unknown Hinson," Internet Movie Database,http://www.imdb.com (September 16, 2007).

Additional information for this profile was obtained from a 2004 phone interview with the artist.

—Ken Burke

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