The King is Dead

Unknown Hinson fights for country music, bay-beh.

THE MAN BILLY BOB Thornton called a “hillbilly vampire” is holed up in a Holiday Inn in Colorado, doing God knows what. It sounds quiet where Unknown Hinson is, but things have been known to jump off quickly where the Kingas Hinson casually refers to himselfis concerned.

“I don’t normally like bein’ interviewed by mens,” he says toward the end of our confab; “I prefer bein’ interviewed by womerns.” (Yes, there’s an “r” between the “e” and the “n”; the King likes pretty womerns quite a bit, as it turns out.) “But you been a real nice feller, and you ain’t pissed me off.”

One look at North Carolina’s Unknown Hinson, and you know he’s not the man with whom to mess. Merely the sight of Hinson’s getup, Bela Lugosi by way of West Memphis, is enough to slap the smirk off of the toughest ersatz punk. The very occasional concert heckler is quickly treated to Hinson’s flash-point temper, as documented on his ferocious Capitol EP, Rock and Roll Is Straight From Hell (“Hey, kiss my ass, hoss! I play what the hell I wanna play, when the hell I wanna play it, you got that? I’m talking to you, big’un!”).

Unknown Hinson’s a man on a righteous questbringing the message of country-western music to the young’uns. “The kids like that rawk an’ roll mess,” he acknowledges, “but it don’t take no talent to make that racket. I’ll play one or two in my show date concerts, just to prove any idiot can do it. . . . I might play more, if they’s any pretty womerns that wants to hear it.”

To rip off Roger Ebert, Rock and Roll Is Straight From Hell, like all great records, isn’t for everyone; only bad records are for everyone. A blend of Dadaist but note-perfect country-western tunes and the occasional “rawk” workout, its only drawback is its maddeningly short running time. But, as they used to crow, every song’s a hit: “Love on Command” picks apart honky-tonk’s jingo masculinity (“It’s un-American for you to act this way”); “I Don’t Mind” takes the lovelorn lament of a Faron Young (the King’s only admitted idol) to its absurdist, horrifying extreme.

As funny as the Dead Kennedys, as straight-faced as Merle Haggard, Unknown Hinson might have to change his moniker if his record hits like it deserves to. If you’re starved for gooder-‘n’-hell music, give the King a spin.