The marquee for the New Year’s Eve show at The Grey Eagle may read Unknown Hinson, but the self-proclaimed “king of country-western troubadours” is anything but anonymous.
The electrifying singer and guitarist, who has penned infamous musical comedy gems including “Your Man Is Gay,” “Peace, Love and Hard Liquor” and “I Ain’t Afraid of Your Husband” counts “The Simpsons” creator Matt Groening and internationally acclaimed actor Billy Bob Thornton among his devotees. He’s also the voice of the cantankerous cephalopod Early Cuyler on Cartoon Network’s subversive late-night animated epic, “Squidbillies,” and has released eight studio albums in addition to the 2012 concert retrospective, Live and Undead.
But don’t think these honors have gone to Unknown Hinson’s widow’s peaked head. He was already full of a unique mix of humility and braggadocio long before he made his first appearances on Charlotte’s cable access TV in the 1990s, and has not changed much since. “I just strap on my guitar, then sing and play,” Hinson says. “I make a sound. Some people like it. Some people hate it, but I’m gonna do it no matter what. As far as my show goes, I just play and do what I do.”
Hinson’s act is an acquired taste. Early in his touring career he arrived at shows in a classic automobile chauffeured by a zombie-esque character named Gustave. He then proceeded to discharge a starter’s pistol into the crowd after instructing the female attendants to “say goodbye to your boyfriend and hello to your manfriend.”
For the easily offended, it’s important to know this about Unknown Hinson: He’s actually the brainchild of articulate former guitar teacher Stuart Daniel Baker, who created this ego-addled character more than 20 years ago to play with Southern stereotypes. Hinson is an over-the-top exaggeration of the average blue-collar good ol’ boy who may have fixed your car’s transmission or took forever buying lottery tickets when you were patiently waiting to pay for gas. He’s also one who can wail on the guitar and make you groove while you laugh at and with him.
Neither identity wants to acknowledge the relationship between this hillbilly-gothic stage persona and the man behind the music, and that only adds to the mystique. “I don’t have nothin’ to do with that Baker fella,” Hinson says. “He’s been stalkin’ me for good on 30 years now. I think he needs to seek professional help.”
While there’s no further discussion of the man behind the curtain, Hinson is more than happy to discuss how his animated adventures have created a decidedly odd and awesome awareness of his music and adventures.
“Fans of mine, they get to know ‘Squidbillies’ because of me, then people who have never heard of me see my name at the end and get to wondering what all that’s about,” he says. “It’s definitely a big help to me, and the Adult Swim people in Atlanta are really great, creative people to work with.”
“Squidbillies” is currently in production for a 10th season of 15-minute episodes, an achievement of which Baker, Early Cuyler and Hinson are all deservedly proud.
“Ten is a decade, and that’s a long time for a cartoon,” the musician says. “It’s longer than ‘Leave It to Beaver,’ was on and we’re stronger than ever.”
So what should fans expect when Unknown Hinson plays a special New Year’s Eve show with opening acts Drunken Prayer and Little Lesley & The Bloodshots? “I’ve played hundreds of New Year’s shows, but there might be some seasonal surprises in the repertoire,” he says. “Ring out the old, ring in the new; pretty much the same mess everywhere in the world. Unknown Hinson is still alive, baby, doing what I do, and I ain’t about to damn stop at all. If you will be there, I will be there singin’ my guts out for you.”
WHO: Unknown Hinson with Drunken Prayer and Little Lesley & The Bloodshots
WHERE: The Grey Eagle, thegreyeagle.com
WHEN: Thursday, Dec. 31, 9 p.m. $20 in advance/$25 day of show