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December 8, 2007 2:29 PM   Subscribe

Unknown Hinson is the stage name of Stuart Daniel Baker. The persona is "dark parody of the country western stars from the early/mid 20th century." according to a Wikipedia entry. Playing this archetype his songs expose the often misogynistic, and violent life between the lines of "Old school country artists".

While Hinson often states "Rock is straight from hell" his live shows are 100% rock & roll. His act is involved to say the least, but many have enjoyed it, Matt Groening (creator of the Simpsons and Futurama) has called his show “maniacal genius and funny as hell”.

"Rev. Horton Heat hails him as one of the best and wildest guitar pickers he’s ever seen. "

"Hank3 has artwork featuring the King’s face from “The Future is Unknown” CD tattooed on his bicep."

A legend in his own mind.

The voice of Early Cuyler on the AdultSwim show Squidbillies.

Official website

"He's a sociopathic, gun-totin', ex-con redneck (charges include three counts of murder one, 19 paternity suits and random grave-robbing offenses) who's purported to be a 400-year-old vampire. He's a former carnival geek whose midway specialties were biting the heads off "certain barnyard fowls" and lifting 50-pound weights with his tongue. He boasts many grand titles, not the least of which are "Chart-Toppin' King of Country & Western Troubadours Ordained" and, most importantly (to him), "God's Gift to the Womens." Oh, and one more thing: Unknown Hinson has previously gone on record as swearing that Hank Williams, Jimi Hendrix and the Beatles downright stole most of their hits from him. "Them boys owe me hundreds!" Unknown told a startled judge, when he himself was charged with copyright infringement."
posted by nola (24 comments total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
I have seen him live, and have an autographed bar napkin to prove it. He is possibly the best undead country act since Zombie George Jones.

No, wait, that really was George Jones. Never mind.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 2:44 PM on December 8, 2007

Squidbillies is one of the greatest documentaries on the South that has ever been made.
posted by First Post at 2:44 PM on December 8, 2007

It's totally a rip-off of Let Us Now Praise Famous Squids, tho.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 3:13 PM on December 8, 2007

I also have a memento from a Unknown show. And this Yeah, I'm a fan so sue me.
posted by nola at 3:22 PM on December 8, 2007

He's a good guitarist.

Maybe he should consider making real music, rather than just shooting fish in the "haha stupid rednecks" barrel.
posted by drjimmy11 at 3:45 PM on December 8, 2007

And here I was thinkin' he was makin' fun of vampires.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 3:49 PM on December 8, 2007

Lotsa fun. Love his guitar playing. His voice, too. And the jokey lyrics? No problem! Like I said, lotsa fun. Oughtta be big fun to see his live show, I'd imagine. Hadn't heard of this guy, thanks, nola.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 4:05 PM on December 8, 2007

You know, I've never really been able to get on board with the Unknown Hinson. I think it's because his act is precisely that -- an act, more performance than music. Or maybe I'm just a little too close to the people he's parodying.

Anyway, here's your links to shots of Hank III's Hinson tat.
posted by lost_cause at 4:21 PM on December 8, 2007

Well, let's look at a few country stars from the early, mid-20th century.

There was Jimmy Rodgers, of course. Father of country music. Learned how to sing the blues on the railway, taught by hobos and African-Americans. Introduced the yodel and Hawaiian guitar into country -- the latter would eventually turn into slack steel guitar, one of the defining sounds of country. His most famous song, Blues Yodel, is about killing a woman. So, yes, there's some misogyny and some violence there.

How about Gene Autry, the Singing Cowboy. He was so inspired by Rogers that his earliest albums sound just like Rogers' recordings. His Cowboy code is actually an argument against misogyny and violence. So there's one against.

How about Hank Williams? One of the most influential country songwriters of all time. There's a fair amount of lovesickness in Williams' writing, but it's rare that the woman is really made the brunt of it. "Cold, Cold Heart," for example, is about unrequited love, but the woman who rejects Williams in the song is haunted by an experience from her past. Really, the closest he comes to outright misogyny is in "My Love for You (Has Turned to Hate)," but only in that it is a song about a heartbroken man rejecting his ex's desire to restart the relationship. There is no expression of violence, or a generalized hatred of women, in the song. So that's two against.

Roy Rogers? Nope.

Carter Family? Nope.

Bob Wills? Not really, no.

Delmore Brothers? Nope.

Lefty Frizell? Some songs of heartbreak. None of violence.

There was a lot of broken hearts in early country, and a lot of gospel, but very little outright misogyny and violence. You have to dig pretty deep to find it, and generally, when its there, its from recordings that come from a folk tradition, such as Frankie and Johnny or Stagger Lee, both which claim to recount true stories.

I would say, yes, Unknown Hinson is playing off stereotypes of southern men as being violent, women-hating cusses. If that's the role he wants to play, fine, but to intimate that somehow this is uncovering the hidden history of violence and women-hating in country music minimizes one of America's most significant musical forms to an easy cliche. It deserves better.
posted by Astro Zombie at 4:23 PM on December 8, 2007 [1 favorite]

I caught him not too too long ago, and, although he's got tunes like "I can't believe you're pregnant again", and he puts on this schlocky demon-country/western persona... he's pretty much 100% a rocker, and it shows. His cover of Voodoo Chile is among the best (hell, the VERY best I've ever heard), and his whole band are some hypertalented sumbitches.

My favorite thing about him, is that people seem to think he's from Austin, Houston, Nashville, and Atlanta. People seem desperate to adopt him as one of their own.

He's from Charlotte, NC, if anybody cares!
posted by The Giant Squid at 4:30 PM on December 8, 2007

Thanks for the thoughtful comment Astro Zombie you make very good points. I don't think Country music is inherently misogynistic, and violent so maybe I should
have phrased it differently.
I really love classic country music. What I meant by 'between the lines' is that a lot of real world misogyny and or violence could employ country and western music as a kind of ironic backdrop to what goes on in bars and around town here in the south and maybe elsewhere. It's guilt by association as a kind of subtext to the down and dirty dealings of an earlier era. What I like about Hinson is that he is supplying that link, not by dragging country music down but by digging deaper into the mythos of the music as it is incorporated in the daily lives of people. The way the music becomes (for better or worse) the backdrop to peoples lives. His show really resonates with the people that come out to see his show, they "get it" because they grew up around it. Kind of like what lost_cause mentions above but instead of it hitting to close to home for some it's cathartic. Well that's just my 2 cents worth. I'll GMOB now.
posted by nola at 4:54 PM on December 8, 2007

Astro Zombie writes "I would say, yes, Unknown Hinson is playing off stereotypes of southern men as being violent, women-hating cusses. If that's the role he wants to play, fine, but to intimate that somehow this is uncovering the hidden history of violence and women-hating in country music minimizes one of America's most significant musical forms to an easy cliche. It deserves better."

I think Hinson is juxtaposing the seedy underbelly of the culture country is targeted towards, with its image in the lyrics of country music as a representation of a wholesome, "jes' plain folks" culture. Yes, country songs are generally not promoting violence or women hating. But there is a large segment of the culture around country music which does. I don't think Hinson is trying to ridicule the music at all, but rather skewer the culture, and in a way he revels in it. But I'm not sure that means he is trying to demean anybody in particular, or that he is being cruel. It's pure psychobilly, when you combine punk sensibilities with traditional country music, and punk isn't really given to reverence or sentiment.
posted by krinklyfig at 5:10 PM on December 8, 2007

Metafilter: Overthinking Unknown Hinson.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 5:45 PM on December 8, 2007 [3 favorites]

I too have an Unknown hat. I don't wear it much. But I've rarely laughed as long or as hard as I did at one of his shows, even though my date told me, "Most girls really don't like him! I can't believe you're laughing!" One of my best friends used to run a bar where he played all the time and here's the skinny: his real name is Donny Baker; he used to be a middle school civics teacher and once he got into costume you could no longer address him as Donny or Mr. Baker. Meanwhile, I find my fondness for Unknown has faded with familiarity. I loved him when I used to see him once in a while and laugh. When I hear a whole lot of Unknown all at once, it begins to get to me. There's casual misogyny and then there's obsession - and after a while, the duct taped girl in the trunk sort of stops being as funny as she was at first.
posted by mygothlaundry at 5:49 PM on December 8, 2007

Presumably Otis Lee Crenshaw doesn't play much in the USA any more.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 7:12 PM on December 8, 2007

Metafilter: Overthinking Unknown Hinson.

posted by nola at 7:37 PM on December 8, 2007 [1 favorite]

Rev. Billy C. Wirtz also anticipated this schtick.
posted by fourcheesemac at 8:18 PM on December 8, 2007

A little Unknown Hinson goes a long way. No Unknown Hinson is just right.
posted by Slack-a-gogo at 10:32 PM on December 8, 2007

A complete unknoooooooowwwwwnnn
Like Unknown Hinsoooooooooon!!!
posted by flapjax at midnite at 10:42 PM on December 8, 2007

Overthinking Unknown Hinson

Ugh. I hate that a thoughtful response to a kinda thoughtless generalization is now considered "overthinking." Can you people who react to every decently-thought-out comment at MeFi with "OVERTHINKING!" please just stop it?

Or at least think about stopping it?
posted by mediareport at 5:23 PM on December 9, 2007 [1 favorite]

Yes! Mediareport for president!
posted by flapjax at midnite at 5:24 PM on December 9, 2007

I've seen this guy live. He's a hoot.
posted by lordrunningclam at 7:17 PM on December 9, 2007

OK, mediareport, you're right. Mine was a glib response to a thoughtful comment which I phrased in the form of a MeFi in-joke. Forgive me.

I'll try harder.

All I meant to say is that Hinson's act, which appropriates the tropes and idioms of horror movies, places him squarely in a line of performers that includes Screamin' Jay Hawkins, The Cramps, and The Misfits. IMO, his work has less to do with exploring the issues of violence and gender in rockabilly and more to do with the simple joy of gluing fake sideburns to your face, blacking out your front teeth, and wailing away on an electric guitar while pretending to be a redneck vampire.

I just don't see that much "there" there. It's fun, lively, beer-drinking music that isn't particularly illuminative or insightful, no matter how much verbiage we heap upon it. That's not to say that his work isn't worth analysis as some sort of cultural signifier, but the work itself would hardly withstand a close reading.

There's plenty of room for great conversations about the significance of country music in all its myriad forms and how that music relates to cultural constructs of gender, bias, and violence, but I think Unknown Hinson isn't the best entry point into that conversation.

There, is that better?
posted by BitterOldPunk at 3:25 AM on December 10, 2007 [1 favorite]

To reinforce Astro Zombie's excellent point: if you think early 20th century country music is violent, misogynistic, etc., my God, you should check out some of the source material that it evolved from.

Googling "Appalachian murder ballads" would give you a good running start.
posted by enrevanche at 3:50 AM on December 10, 2007

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