"What do I do before I go on stage? Make sure my gun's loaded," Unknown Hinson says regarding his preshow ritual. And when he hits the stage, the self-proclaimed king of country-western troubadours comes out with his pistol blazing. "It gets people's attention, and also, it's a great stress reliever for me," the guitarist recently said in a rare backstage interview in Greensboro, N.C.
Hinson's been attracting attention with his onstage antics and unique brand of country since he first appeared on local cable-access TV in Charlotte in the early '90s. The creation of guitarist Danny Baker, Unknown Hinson is a blend of vampire and redneck – an undead white-trash crooner with a mind-set toward Southern womanhood that is both Neanderthal and hilarious.
"I Ain't Afraid of Your Husband" ranks among what he calls his chart toppers. And there's "It Don't Bother Me," in which he sings: "It don't bother me, that restraining order/I can break that/But the thing that bothers me so/Is knowin' that you're in his arms tonight."
Baker never comes out of character, not even for interviews, doing the Hinson persona in an exaggerated cracker accent with tongue planted firmly in cheek. He compares his attitude toward women to honky-tonk singer Faron Young's. "He was doing stuff in the '50s that the PC police wouldn't let out of the cage for nothing," Hinson says. "But he done it in a way that was poetic, which is what I try to do. I don't really come out and say, 'I'm gonna slap the hell out of you if you do this.' I'm gonna say, 'You really don't want me to slap the hell out of you, do you?'"
Despite his misogynistic leanings, Hinson says he has no problems with those of the female persuasion. "The womerns love the king," he says in his backwoods drawl. "No womerns can resist my charm; they's a blessing in each one of my songs for womerns."
Baker, who is married in real life, even claims his work has been used as therapy. He says he recently got a phone call from a husband and wife who run a battered women's shelter for victims of domestic violence. "Feller called and asked me if he could play copies of my chart toppers for these womerns because it helped them laugh at their problems. They seen some humor in it. That sounded kinda wacked out to me," he says, shaking his head.
Unknown Hinson's humor still goes over the heads of some female onlookers, however. The entertainer used to use a ventriloquist dummy carved in his image, called Little Bit Hinson, to sing a song in his act. "There were a hippie-type girl what seen me do that with that dummy in Atlanta," Hinson recalls. "This gal had got into some bad drugs and when I made the dummy look like he was coming alive by talking and moving his head, she flipped out." Hinson says she just didn't get it. "She started hallucinigizing that the dummy was real, so I retired him from my show."
Lately, Hinson has gotten exposure from the medium he started with. The Cartoon Network's Atlanta-based Adult Swim hired him as the voice of Early Cuyler on the animated feature "Squidbillies." Hinson says his role is playing the "shotgun-totin', party-likker drankin', colorful-speakin' daddy of the family." The "family" is an inbred bunch of backwoods-dwelling squids with manners and a lifestyle considered outrageous even by the lowest trailer-park standards. "It's very what they call not only politically incorrect but so damn over the top it's under itself," Hinson says. "It bars no holds."
Ironically, the troubadour believes neither his art nor his Adult Swim character panders to Southern stereotypes. "It don't, because people are like that down here. Hell, I am. If someone comes on my land that shouldn't be, I'm gonna let 'em know to get the hell off. If I have to show 'em my gun, I'll do it. And that's just part of being a normal Southerner, I think."
While Hinson's idea of a normal Southerner may not add up to anybody else's standards, he's still a hell of a lot of fun to watch and listen to. In his live shows, the novelty act stops when he picks up the guitar. Although he looks like a parody of a '50s country star in a sequined tux jacket with "Unknown" spelled out on the back in big white letters, Hinson plays like an unholy gene splicing of Albert King and Jimi Hendrix.
As good as the presentation is by itself, the whole package gets even better when Baker allows the Hinson persona to justify it. "They try to categorize me as comedy. I don't understand," Hinson says, dressed and ready to go on stage as a redneck, snaggle-toothed vampire. "I'm very serious as to what I do, songs I write, the actions I take in life."
But, he says, if folks get a laugh out of it, that's great. "If somebody laughs, what the hell. If they get skeered, good. It's all art," Hinson says of his unorthodox approach. "Art is supposed to provoke a reaction, right? If it's laughter, if it's fear, if it's excitement, if it's repulsion, at least it affects them so they react."
To hear "Black n Blue Christmas" by Unknown Hinson, click here.