Back in 2010 I had the pleasure of interviewing Unknown Hinson for the inaugural issue of Munster Style magazine. Unfortunately Munster Style never saw the light of day. So I shelved the interview and went on with life.
Then, a couple weeks back while binging on Squidbillies, my wife asked, “What ever happened to that interview with Unknown Hinson? You should publish it on your site.”
I thought, “Might as well.” So I dug it out, blew off the dust, and present it here for your pleasure.
If you’ve never seen, or more importantly heard, Unknown Hinson it is hard to accurately describe him. He looks like a country and western draculer (a Hinsonism for vampires). When is speaks, his voice is right similar to them backwoods relatives whom eat possum as a delicacy. One sentence and you know why he is the voice for Early Cuyler on [adult swim]’s Squidbillies. But put a guitar in his hand, get him to singing, and he’s a sumbitchin’ angel—straight from hell. He truly is the King of the Country & Western Troubadours.
Bottom line, Unknown Hinson is an immensely entertaining singer/songwriter/voice actor. I was honored to have the opportunity to speak with him.
AP: You lived/grew up with the carnival and performed odd jobs there. What jobs/performances do you do there? How has that influenced your performances now?
UH: I hooked up with the carnival when I was ten year old. I was a ten year old boy. I ran away from home because my momma disappeared. So, I flipped out and run away from home. I hooked up with a carnival. It was a little, small carnival. The owner of the carnival took me in, he kinda took a liken to me. He seen that I was diffrnt. He sorta put me to work while he raised me. You know. He let me perform in the 10-in-1 show there in the tent in the midway. He billed me as The Wild Child from Hell. As a wild man in the carnival they’s lotta job you gotta do. You gotta handle snakes, rats, chickens and birds and all kinds of thangs, you know, to put on a show. Yell and scream and make faces at people. That come natural to me.
So, anyhow, as I grew older in the carnival, I developed my music a little bit more. He seen that I had some songs that I had wrote. I asked him if I could perform them from down inside my snake pit there in the midway in the tent show. He let me start singin’ and playin’. And then the crowd started coming more and more, so I gave up the wild man thang and just started performin’ for the carnival. I put together a little old band. We played every night. I got approached by a record company that wanted to give me a contract.
Some fellers seen that I had some stuff going on, you know. They got jealous of me. They had me set up. The owner of the carnival was killed mysteriously, was murdered. And these fellers that was jealous of me set me up for it. You know. I was sentenced to thirty years for something I did not do. I went in in ’63 and I got out in ’93. I tried to rekindle my career as a songwriter, singer, and guitar player.
That’s about it. I’ve been doing that ever since.
AP: You were falsely accused and convicted of murder and spent 30 long, hard years in prison. I’ve heard that a woman whose grandfather ran a sausage cart in the carnival came forward and testified that you were not responsible for the murder. Has this cleared your name?
UH: Yeah, yeah. It stands. Her testimony stands. She was just a little girl when it happened. She was visitin’ her grandpa who worked as a sausage vender there in the carnival. She was visitin’ him in the summer. She was just a little old kid and she seen who murdered the owner of the carnival. She seen it. Years later she seen a newspaper article about my trial and everythang. She seen it on—what’cha call it, microfilm?—in the library. Old news headlines. She put the connection together. She remembered my face. She remembered me. She remembered seeing the owner of the carnival being killed. So she come forward and stood up for me and got me out.
AP: I’ve read if you weren’t a chart-toppin’ musician/actor you would take up ventriloquism. Not only that, but you also carve dummies in your spare time. That being the case I am curious who, exactly, is that Little Bitty guy I’ve seen you pictured with? When/where did he come about?
UH: Oh yeah. His name is Itty Bitty Hinson. I carved him out of wood, myself. I made him in the likeness of myself. There is a strong resemblance, you know. He’s a bit more on the dark side. He’s fairly young. I think I carved him in 2005. He was completed. He ain’t been around much. He tends to over speak when he talks. He talks a little bit out of line. Says thangs that I couldn’t say. Hell, I’d get arrested if I said some of the thangs he does.
They’s some clips of him on that YouTube. What’d’ya call it, YouTube? On the interstate on the computer. You got to YouTube dot com and type Unknown Hinson and you’ll see a bunch of diffrnt clips of me in diffrnt situations. We go on interviews and stuff like that. He’s in a couple of them.
AP: Many men, myself included, would love to have the success Unknown Hinson enjoys. But I’m no fool. I know that everything isn’t milk and honey, especially all the women. How does Unknown Hinson deal with the constant barrage of women?
UH: Well, I mean, they ain’t much dealin’ to it, you know. I only got so much of me to go around. If some gal, you know, sorta happens along and we take up with one another it’s good. If it don’t happen it don’t bother me ‘cos I’ll go on with somebody else. They’s always womerns around everywhere. But they’s only so much of me, you know, to go around. Sometimes they fight. I prefer they didn’t do that. I don’t care for that kind of mess. I don’t think that’s attractive for womerns to fight. But they do it. They ain’t nothing I can do about it. That’s just something I have to live with.
AP: I believe the pistol seen pictured on the cover of your album Target Practice is a .38. Is this something you’ve always had, or is it a result of the fame, or infamy, brought on by your entertaining career, and used to keep you safe from all the stalkers?
UH: Nah, nah. No. I don’t carry around a gun to shoot at nobody or no thing. I don’t never shoot it at anything. Be it a human being or an animal or, hell, a chair, or anything. The only thing I keep a gun for is I like to shoot a gun. It relaxes me. It’s, you know, a stress reliever. Some people they exercise, or they jog, or they squeeze a tennis ball or a vice grip. I like a fire a round from my pistol. It relaxes me. I like the way it sounds.
AP: Your momma taught you the first chord you learned on guitar. What other training did Unknown Hinson go through to become the King of the Country & Western Troubadours?
UH: Like I said, I’ve been writing songs in my head. When I write I don’t necessarily put it down on paper. I just keep it in my head, like old Mozart done. He keep everything in his head. People try to scribble it down on paper. He’d be going to fast for them to write it down. My hand writin’ ain’t real good no how so I keep this mess in my head. When I make a record, you know, I like to cut to the chase. When I start recording a song I don’t quit ‘til it’s finished, you know. I can’t do it one day and come back another and do this. Come back next week and add this. Hell, I got to do it in one fail swoop or I loose interest in it.
Music’s always been a big part of my life. My momma used to sing and pick the guitar when I baby. So, it’s probably inevitable that I be musical. She didn’t give me lessons. She just showed me that one chord and says, “Here. If you want to do this you’ll figure it out.” I took it from there.
AP: To help keep prices down when producing your albums you play many instruments. How many instruments can you play, whether or not they appear on your album?
UH: Several. I’d say eight or nine. I don’t do that to keep down the cost on the record making. I mean, money ain’t no problem. The reason I play all the mess myself is ‘cos I hear it all in my head, see. Why should I try to explain somebody else, tell a bass player, a drummist, or a piano player, or whatever, why should I take the time and to explain to them what I’m already hearing when I could do it myself, a lot faster? Does that make any sense?
AP: Unknown Hinson’s live show is a clean, simple 3 piece set. The two guys that play with you, Tiny and Bubba, who are they and how did you meet them?
UH: Tiny has been with me since the carnival days. I met him, he was a drifter/musician. He come around and play with me right before I was incarcerated. A few years later we met Bubba and he started playing drums with us.
AP: When can we expect a new, chart-toppin’ Unknown Hinson studio album?
UH: I’m working on that right now. I’m hopin’ to get something out this summer, I think.
AP: Reverend Guitars has an officially licensed Unknown Hinson guitar. How much input into the guitar (design, wood, pickups, etc.)?
UH: Number one. I don’t design guitars, even though I do wood carving. I ain’t never built no guitar. I told ‘em I don’t like real heavy guitars. So the guitar they made, the Unknown Hinson signature, heavily resembles a Reverend Club King guitar. It’s more light weight. It’s got a slimmer neck on it. Its all black except for the neck. It’s got the little bat inlays for the fret markers. It’s got my signature on it.
I like the Reverend Club King. I just asked that they trim it down a little for me ‘cos I like a light weight guitar. I’ve been playing [the Unknown Hinson Signature] regular here lately. I like it a lot. Not just ‘cos it’s got my name on it, but it’s a real fine guitar.
I’d recommend it, you know.
AP: In setting up this interview your manager mentioned you were in post-production on the DVD’s of The Unknown Hinson Show. For those who don’t know, what is The Unknown Hinson Show? When will it be available for mass consumption?
UH: When I got out of the joint in ’93 I realized I had to think fast to start my career again. I figured television is a lot quicker. It reaches a lot of people, instantly. So I found out about—what’choo call it—public access television. You know, where you can make your own TV show and they’ll put it on the air for nothing. So that’s what I done. I’d write these little video vignettes. The days in the life of Unknown Hinson. We’d shoot that and edit it and make a little half hour situation show about it. I’d pepper the show with my music videos and whatnot and interviews and stuff like that. It run for about two and a half years. And then I started playing so much in night clubs I had to give it up. It weren’t time to shoot a TV show each week.
I hopin’ that it will be available this comin’ Fall. In time for the Christmas, the holidays and all that. There’s a whole lot of footage and content that needs to be edited. A lot of sound design and things like that ain’t finished. It could take a while. I’m hoping the Fall, anyway.
AP: How much influence did you have in creating the character Early Cuyler in [adult swim]’s Squidbillies? How much of your performance is reading the lines as written versus ad lib, or adding your own flavor?
UH: Well, yeah it’s my voice, you know. They chose me for my voice, actually. They got a hold of one of my CD’s a couple years ago. It was an EP I put out called RocknRoll is Straight from Hell. In between songs there a little sound clips of me talking. They heard it and kinda liked my voice. So they contacted me and asked if I would be interested. I’m a big cartoon fan so, yeah.
I enjoy it. It’s a lot of fun. They give me a lot of room to improvise on the script. They let me put my Hinsonisms in there all the time. In fact, they want me to do that. When you look at a script, whether it’s a teleplay or a screenplay, all it is is words on paper. When you read something you can read it, or you can really really read it. Inject yourself into what’s written on the page. If you read a loud in a class of people, you can go, “See. Jane. See. Tom. They — ran — up — the — hill.” You know. But you put yourself into it and it becomes a lot more interesting than just them words. They let me improvise. Instead of liquor it’s party liquor. You know what I mean.
AP: Are the dialogue recordings solo, or are you acting with other actors?
UH: Most of the time it’s alone. They direct me from Cartoon Network over in Atlanta, GA over an ISDN line in a sound studio. I’m in an isolation booth with a script. I can hear them in my headphone directing me. They can hear me in real time audio.
We did a couple things where I interacted with the other actors, but mostly we do it one at a time and they edit them together.
AP: You mentioned before that you had to give up shooting The Unknown Hinson Show because you were playing more gigs and there wasn’t enough time for both. How does recording Squidbillies affect your touring/recording your music?
UH: It complements it really. I think they work together. People come up to me and say, “Wow, hoss. I never seen or heard of you until I Squidbillies.” And so they come to my show, right? And then the producers of Squidbillies tell me that they met a lot of people that were fans of mine that turned them on to Squidbillies. They both help each other, I think.
AP: The guys who produce Squidbillies look like a young lot. Do you find yourself having to step up and mentor/take lead?
UH: No, sir. Not at all. They’re young, but they’re very bright. They’re very sharp people. Anytime you’re dealing with comedy you have to keep in mind if you’re writing timely material that maybe relevant die not next week, you need to put a more general spin on it, instead of harping on the daily headlines. They’re really good at that.
If you want to know more about Squidbillies, you can check out their page on [adult swim]
For more information you can check out Unknown Hinson’s site.