"I was originally billed as 'The Wild Child from Hell,'" says Charlotte's Unknown Hinson. The self-proclaimed King of Country and Western Troubadours is a gun totin', party likker-lovin,' guitar-shredding wild-man who opens his shows by firing off a couple of rounds. Looking like a resurrected version of Hank Williams drained and turned undead by Dracula, Hinson plays a version of country music you'll not hear anywhere else.
"Don't care if you love me, that don't matter/ I want you now on a silver platter/ Baby serve it up, now we alone/ Now get the hell out and walk back home," he croons on "Silver Platter."
"I want your love on demand/ it's communism if you don't agree," he demands on "I Want Your Love on Demand."
Hinson started life as the creation of Danny Baker, one-time bassist for Greensboro's Bryce Street band. As Unknown Hinson, the singer/guitarist was first featured weekly in the early '90s for a three-year run on Charlotte's Cable Access show The Wild, Wild South, and then on The Unknown Hinson Show.
Hinson has a back-story that tops anything you've ever heard from the most out-there outlaws in country or any other genre. He claims that at the age of 10, his ghoulish appearance, along with being as dentally challenged then as he appears today (with a few snaggle teeth jutting precariously from his blackened gums) impressed a carnival owner enough to give him the job as a carnival geek. "He had a human oddity for real," Hinson says. "He didn't have to make no trick out of it."
But after working 10 shows a day in a snake pit, biting the heads off live chickens and snakes, Hinson was soon ready for a change. "When I started singing my chart toppers I had wrote, the crowd receipts went way up."
Hinson claims for a finale he'd be strapped into an electric chair and his pet rooster, Pete, would throw the switch with his beak. "Sparks would fly everywhar," Hinson says in his backwoods drawl. "Very dramatic." But the entertainer says his rooster came to a tragic end: "He was sat on by the fat woman in the sideshow."
Things didn't end well for Hinson either. He spent the next 30 years in prison on what he calls trumped-up charges of grave robbing and 54 traffic offenses, framed because the carnival owner didn't want him to accept a big record contract he was offered.
When he got out, Hinson found the country market changed considerably, now composed of a "bunch of steroid-eatin' pretty boys with cowboy hats and shaved chests."
But Hinson doesn't have to worry about competition. Nobody has a more extreme take on country, or music in general. Hinson hits the hard issues head-on (with tongue in cheek) with songs like "I Don't Take Dope."
"Drugs is illegal and they'll make young 'erns see things that ain't necessarily thar," he says matter-of-factly.
But he makes no secret that he likes to drink. "Party likker is legal," he declares. He says his drinking started when his mama gave him likker for his dental problems. "I developed a real taste for it at a very early age, so it's a staple in my diet." Hinson says he uses his head when he drinks. "You got to drank responsibly. I don't buy that expensive mess, cause the effect is just as good with the cheap stuff," he says.
Hinson admits he likes to loosen up with four or five drinks before a show. "What's wrong with that?" he bristles. "If I said I smoked a dam mariwanner cigarette before I go on, that's inviting the law to come after my ass. They're gonna say, well, we better watch that sumbitch, cause he does them drugs."
Hinson's persona is played for laughs, but when he gets his hands on a guitar, there's no fooling around. Live, you can watch jaws drop when he throws down a version of Hendrix's "Manic Depression." He'll toss in some Albert King licks on his own "Fish Camp Woman," mix in some George Harrison for The Beatles' "Tax Man," then cut a swath through the crowd with a slashing version of Hendrix's "Voodoo Chile."
Recently, Hinson has gone back to the medium that got him started, appearing on TV as the lead character Early Cuyler on the Cartoon Network's Squidbillies.
Hinson describes the head squidbilly as a "shotgun- totin', party likker drankin', colorful-speakin' daddy of the family. His life sort of parallels mine, but he don't sing. But he shoots a gun, drinks and has been in and out of the joint."
Some have called it the "Beverly Hillbillies from Hell." "Yeah, 'cept there ain't a good lookin' Ellie Mae in it," Hinson says. "Its all a bunch of little backwoods squids what was left behind when the oceans receded from the North Georgia mountains millions of years ago."
Hinson says the show creators heard him on '02s Rock and Roll is Straight From Hell and invited him to read for the part. "They're young, they're real young, but they don't piss me off," Hinson says. "Young 'erns piss me off a lot. That's why I ain't got none."
With that attitude, there won't be any little Unknowns to carry on the legacy. But for Hinson, the future is anything but unknown. "I just see a lot of music makin' and finding pretty, sexy womerns and drankin' an raisin hell an enjoying life."
Unknown Hinson will play at the Visulite Theatre on Nov. 17. Show starts at 10 p.m. Tickets are $13 in advance, $15 on the show date. A couple of episodes of the Squidbillies will open for Unknown. See unknownhinson.com for more details on the 'billies and Unknown.