Somewhere between good, heartfelt rock ‘n’ roll and absurd parody is Unknown Hinson. It seems likely that at a Hinson show, you’ll both boogie your ass off and laugh your ass off, too.
To some, he is a persona of Stuart Baker, former music teacher and Charlotte-area public-access television host. But to others, Unknown Hinson stands at the crossroads of country and rock, parody and the sublime, of high art and lowbrow humor, of tributes to the South and its backwoods glory and an indictment of the South’s(at times) xenophobia.
For Unknown Hinson, who claims no relation to Baker, it’s more simple than that.
“What I do is that I write chart-topping songs from my heart from real-life experiences,” Hinson tells Xpress without a shade of irony. “If they aren’t things that I’ve lived through with my own experiences or witnessed with my chart-topping eyes, then I don’t write about them. That’s first and foremost the duties of a troubadour.”
But Unknown Hinson’s version of a troubadour has little to do with the image of a kind, gentle balladeer with a guitar in hand and a story to tell, despite his self-appointed title of “The King of Country Western Troubadours.” His three-hour concert performances have much to do with rock ‘n’ roll and the unchained fury of rockabilly.
“I like to think of my shows as energy. If they want to call it rock or rockabilly, that’s fine. I just plug in my guitar and play my chart-toppers,” Hinson says.
Hinson got his start in 1993 with the premier of a Charlotte cable-access show called “The Wild Wild South”, but Hinson spins a far more colorful tale.
“I didn’t have much media or home entertainment when I was a boy,” Hinson proclaims. “I didn’t have [a] daddy. My momma didn’t even know him. My momma met this guy and they got drunk and made whoopee. Nine months later I was born, so I’m what you’d call a bastard.”
Hinson claims he’s named after his dad. “When (my momma) was giving birth to me, the doctor asked her ‘What do you want to name the child?’ She said she wanted to name me after my daddy but she didn’t know his name,” he says. “So the doctor put on the birth certificate ‘unknown’ under my father’s name. So that’s how I got my name.”
But from those supposedly humble beginnings came a sensation.
“My momma picked the guitar and sang. She handed me the guitar and said, ‘If you want to do this mess, you’ll figure it out,’” Hinson declares. “I didn’t take no lessons or anything. She showed me the G chord and I went from there.”
Hinson has turned his high-energy, high-comedy shows into a cult phenomenon of sorts. In place of public-access television are nationwide tours and a role on the Cartoon Network series Squidbillies.
Appearing at The Grey Eagle for his third annual Halloween blowout, Hinson is fast becoming a local holiday tradition. And although Hinson’s appearance may resemble a vampire, it’s a coincidence that needs to be cleared up, says the dentally challenged rocker.
“I’ve got two teeth on the bottom of my mouth, and vampires have two teeth on the top of their mouth like fangs,” Hinson says. “To me, the physics of that makes it impossible. I’d have to stand on my head to bite somebody, because to suck somebody’s neck you have to bite down. If people want to believe that Unknown Hinson is a vampire, and that makes them happy. I’ve been called everything in my life, so sticks and stones, as they say—or in a vampire’s case—stakes and stones.”
[Jason Bugg is a writer based in Sylva.]
who: Unknown Hinson with Syrens of the South burlesque company
what: Twisted rockabilly, loud rock and crazy country
where: The Grey Eagle
when: Friday, Oct. 31 ($13 advance, $15 day of show. www.thegreyeagle.com)