No Surf Music


No Surf Vinyl Essentials


The Lowdown:

Unknown Hinson

Based In:
Charlotte, NC


Americana, country, western, rock, comedy, lunacy


Ruby Tuesday, Columbus, OH

Concert Date:


Related Articles:

Unknown Hinson performs at Ruby Tuesday in Columbus, OH

Rating: 8 out of 10



December 13, 2011


Unknown Hinson: Ruby Tuesday, 11/30/2011

by Alan "Pender" Pendergrass


Unknown Hinson is a certifiable lunatic, partly truth and partly fiction (since Pender compared him to Kristofferson). Sometimes it’s hard to tell where the man ends and the act begins, but one things for sure: those eyebrows ain’t real. Photo by Alan “Pender” Pendergrass, No Surf Music.

Well… I done it, baby. Oh, I done it. My first solo flight.

I’ve attended many shows as the “plus one” on Diesel’s No Surf press pass—sometimes writing a review, sometimes taking pictures, but mostly just soaking it all in and letting someone else do the work. But now, for the first time without Fearless Leader, I’m covering a show. In Columbus, no less!

And as Unknown Hinson might say, I ‘shore’ ’nuff picked a good’n.

Unknown is somewhat… well, unknown, to most people unfamiliar with Charlotte-area public access, although lately he’s become marginally famous through the voice work of his alter ego on Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim.

You see, Unknown Hinson is the stage name of real-life crazy person Stuart Daniel Baker, who lends his voice to Early Cuyler, the lead character on the psychotically brilliant cartoon Squidbillies, which is the story of a degenerate North Georgia family of anthropomorphic, land-dwelling squids. Hillbilly squids.

While Danny Baker spends his time recording insane cartoons, Unknown records insane music. You can think of him as an Andy Kaufman character. He’s a walking stereotype, complete with blacked out “missing” teeth and an accent that walks the line between “authentic hillbilly gibberish” and “Guy who’s never been south of Jersey making fun of inbred Southerners.” (For the record, the accent is legit, if exaggerated. Baker hails from Albemarle, North Carolina.)

He writes country/Western songs vaguely in the style of old-school hillbilly icons Hank Williams, Ernest Tubb, etc., but with a lot more lunacy. His lyrics defy description, but example refrains like, “Put down the phone, you ain’t callin’ the law on me,” and, “I cleaned out a room in my trailer for you,” probably give you a good idea of what to expect. He got his start doing public access TV (essentially the real-life, redneck Wayne’s World) in North Carolina. Since then, he’s recorded five studio records and a live album, and attracted the attention of such high profile fans as Matt Groening (of The Simpsons fame), Billy Bob Thornton, and Hank III, who actually has Unknown’s face tattooed on his bicep. And, as a matter of fact, such is the quality of his guitar playing that he actually played lead for Billy Bob’s Boxmasters touring band (as Danny Baker, sans ridiculous Unknown get-up).

Now that you’re hip to the artist, let me explain the venue. It’s a shithole. Dubbed Ruby Tuesday, it’s unclear whether this place was named for the restaurant chain, the Stones song, or something else entirely. What is, however, clear is that whatever musical taste the owners have takes a back seat to slinging whiskey sours for Ohio State kids. Spoiled as I am by the Beachland Ballroom up in Cleveland, I’m used to a routine for shows: doors at 8:00, show at 9:00, everyone home by midnight. But at Ruby Tuesday, it’s clear their instructions to booked acts read: “You’re playing ‘til 2:00AM… We’ve got drinks to sell.”

As a result, nothing started on time. Doors at 8:00, and Unknown (no opener) didn’t even take the stage until 10:30. Now, they filled a lot of that time with Squidbillies episodes blasting through the stage amps and shown on a projector, so it wasn’t all bad. But their treatment of Unknown like he was an undergrad DMB cover band just there for ambience rubbed me the wrong way.

At last, however, he hit the stage. I knew what I was in store for, lyrically. I’m not saying the man is Kristofferson, but Hinson is a damn clever writer. So the tunes I wasn’t familiar with (so much of his stuff is out of print) were predictably witty, misogynist (tongue fully in cheek), and generally insane. What’s buried underneath that insanity, on the records anyway, is crazy guitar talent. I mean, really awesome stuff. You don’t always notice the guitar licks on a song about the singer’s now-transgendered ex-wife, but they’re there. And ripping into extended-version jam sessions live on stage, the guitar work is where Unknown really shines. That, and sheer endurance.

The man played for every bit of three hours. By my unofficial and half-drunk count, he reeled off 32 songs over the course of the evening, pausing once for an intermission (surely mandated by Ruby Tuesday). Highlights, which are almost as fun to write the titles of as they actually are to listen to, included: “Peace, Love and Hard Liquor,” “I Ain’t Afraid of Your Husband,” “Your Man is Gay,” “I Make Faces (When I Make Love),” “Hippie Girl,” and the holiday- and spousal abuse-themed “Black and Blue Christmas.” All of these are great cuts off of his records (or CDs or cassettes or whatever the hell he was hocking out of the trunk of his car when they came out), but like so many of No Surf’s favorite artists, they’re taken to another level when performed live. His show-closing “The King of Country Western Troubadours” is a ten-minute, guitar-fueled rock fest, hilariously ironic given its title and the fact that he spends much of his act in a nonsensical tirade against rock as “the devil’s music.” 

What can you say about this man that hasn’t already been said? How about “Gee, Mr. Hinson, you sure do smell nice today.” Photo by Alan “Pender” Pendergrass, No Surf Music.

At the end, I was exhausted. For one, I haven’t seen two in the morning (aside from standing over a crying baby’s crib) in months. But mostly, Unknown is just an ass-kicker. Ever the gracious entertainer, he mentioned at the end of the show that he’d be glad to “meet y’all, take a couple ‘pitchers,’ sign yer wife’s breasts, whatever,” after the show. Late as it was, I missed the picture-taking opportunity, but I’m glad I didn’t miss the show.

Unknown Hinson is not for everybody—he sings almost exclusively novelty songs, which aren’t everyone’s bag. And most of them are psychotic, demented, and borderline offensive in some way. But that’s the gag. Imagine Mojo Nixon if he could legitimately write songs, in addition to being bat shit crazy. Or Robbie Fulks an order of magnitude screwier. Now, layer that on top of shockingly competent musicianship and a wildly entertaining stage presence and pretty much… yeah, it rules.

Not having a huge following (even by obscure artist standards), Hinson doesn’t play a huge number of dates these days. But if he’s in your area, and you can stand a little cultural satire with your electric guitar, you’ve gotta see this dude.


For a taste of Unknown Hinson, buy The Future is Unknown on Amazon!


No Pop. No Crap. No Surf.