Jim Hinton: This Music Veteran Is as
Vibrant as Ever
Written by John Philip Wyllie
from December 2008 The San DiegoTroubadour
Don't you just love it when a friend turns you on to a talented
performer? Such was the case last month when Troubadour
publisher Liz Abbott offered me the opportunity to do a feature
on veteran singer/songwriter Jim Hinton. While Hinton has
been performing in pubs and coffeehouses since the '60s, his
November sixth gig at Milano Coffee Co. provided me my initial
introduction to his music. That splendid Thursday night guest
artist performance as part of Joe Rathburn's ongoing Folkey
Monkey series marked my first Hinton show. It won't be my last.
In Hinton and Rathburn the audience of about 25 benefited
from a combined 80 years of songwriting experience. Selecting
the theme of storytelling songs, the pair traded songs and
stories back and forth, which showcased their individual
songwriting talents. Hinton played several songs from his
excellent recent CD, Things I've Always Known. Among the
most notable were the reflective "Hippies," "Highway to Taos,"
and "Suburban Blues," Rathburn countered with a combination
of originals and covers. He created one of the evening's high
points with his poignant Katrina Trilogy, three recent songs that
are among his very finest.
I was eager to accept this assignment when I learned that
Hinton had a reputation for performing Irish music. I was not
disappointed when he trotted out Celtic songs such as "Donegal
Danny Was Here" and "The Frog Song" as well as another one
with bawdy lyrics whose title I didn't quite catch. His treatment
of the traditional Irish songs "Spancil Hill" and "Carrick Fergus"
from his aforementioned album further cemented his status as
a gifted interpreter of Celtic music. It turns out that performing
Celtic music is just one of the many things Jim Hinton does well.
Such versatility is a real asset.
"What got me started back in the '60s was an overwhelming
connectedness that I felt with music," Hinton said in a recent
phone interview. "Through all sorts of different career changes
and phases, that has never changed. It has always been the
most vital thing in my life. Staying interested leads you to persist
and it is important to stay true to your feelings."
Like many songwriters of the time, he was influenced by '60s
icons Bob Dylan and Simon and Garfunkel. He often covered
their songs when he wasn't trying out his own early
compositions. Another favorite was the Edinburgh-based
Incredible String Band.
"They were not nearly as well known, but they were a really
eclectic group. I liked their songwriting and their poetic style.
One of their members, Robin Williamson, ended up moving to
California in the '70s. I saw him numerous times and I even
ended up opening for him a few times after I got to know him,"
Around the same time he found himself opening for such well-
known acts as Linda Ronstadt, Dave Bromberg, and Leo Kottke.
By the mid-'70s Hinton was supporting himself in pubs playing
primarily Irish music.
"I have always had a sense for Celtic music since I do have
some Irish ancestry in my family. I read a book in high school
called The Crock of Gold by the Irish writer James Stevens and
that really stimulated my interest in all things Irish."
Hinton hasn't gotten it out of his system to this day. His next CD,
expected to be released within the next few months, will be
filled entirely with Celtic music. His shows generally include a
few Irish songs in the mix when he performs, but he does so
much so well that he hates to fixate completely on any one thing
unless the situation calls for it.
"I made a living at playing folk music for over 30 years and it
was kind of exhausting playing in Irish pubs. It was great in that
I was able to feed myself and play great music, but at the same
time the work involved was [often late night and] exhausting.
Ultimately, when I had a chance to relax a little bit from it and
get quiet inside, the basic inspiration returned. Folk music has a
quality to it that is both conversational and connecting. It is not
all about flash and technique. It is about people talking in a
musical way about the important things in their lives."
The inspiration that Hinton refers to is evident on Things I've
Always Known. Ten of the 12 songs on it are originals and all of
them display very solid songwriting skills. His deep soothing
voice is somewhat reminiscent of another favorite of mine, Cat
Stevens. And something about his songs take me back to the
'60s and the acoustic guitar songs of Donovan.
"I don't really think that I sound like the people that I admire,"
Hinton said. "But there were times when I wanted to. I've been
steeped in all the American folk influences from the blues to folk
ballads and the pop folk music from the Kingston Trio on
through Bob Dylan and others. But I have also added to it that
Celtic perspective and the kind of storytelling that comes from
the Irish ballads."
What he has is a style that draws from many sources and one
that is uniquely his own. His gentle warmth shines through in
the current of optimism running through his songs.
"There is always a story unfolding and while it will often take
you to some difficult places, it is a journey that we need to make
and one that will [eventually] take us to a good place."
Hinton has been involved in Rathburn's Folkey Monkey
presentations on several occasions, both as a guest artist and
as a guest host. He loves the concept.
"Presenting music in that sort of way makes every night
something special. Not only is there a different guest artist each
night, but there is a different theme. You've got something to
talk about. The conversation that goes on is sometimes as
informative as the music. It is a chance for people to share what
is really special to them. I am really happy that Joe has been
successful in promoting it and making it work. The array of
people that he gets there is just phenomenal."
In addition to Milano's, Hinton regularly appears at Spanish
Village in Balboa Park. In the past he has frequented Cosmos
Coffee Cafe in La Mesa, Camelot Inn in San Marcos, and Twiggs
in University Heights. He has gotten away from performing in
pubs and focuses now primarily on coffee houses. You will also
find him frequently doing benefits. For seven years he served as
a choir director at a Presbyterian church. Through it he became
involved in performing for the benefit of the AIDS Chaplaincy
Fund. One who has always sought out new ways to help, Hinton
has also performed at various senior homes over the years and
at benefits for kids.
Hinton's trip to Ireland last summer inspired him to produce the
aforementioned soon to be released CD of Irish music.
"We had a wonderful trip to Ireland last summer and I am
trying to channel that experience into this CD. I have been
working on it in every spare moment and I am looking forward
to having it released. I hope to have it out in the next couple of
weeks or at least by the start of the new year."
While the songs will be largely familiar to fans of Celtic music,
Hinton's take on them will be unique. A second CD is in the
works as well.
"I am always writing, so this one will be more of the same type
of songs included on Things I've Always Known. When I write I
try to draw upon my own experience. These are songs that talk
about the things that I have been through. I take a humorous
look at things with some of them."
Hinton previewed some of these new songs at Milano's and one
of them, "The Rare Old Beatles Times," made a huge
impression on this baby boomer.
"I think I was in seventh grade when the Beatles first came out
and I was in college when they split up. That was such a
profound part of my life."
Reflecting back over his long and successful career he has a lot
of great memories and very few complaints.
"So many people look back at our generation and see only the
things that were going wrong, but there was a lot going right."
(Hinton brings this out in his eloquent song "Hippies.") "I think
we have to value our experience in this life and not deny it. We
need to embrace these times that we have been through and
connect with the people and the experience. Life comes at you
fast and age gives you the perspective to look back and see
what was of value with the people you met and the experiences
that you had. I think my greatest satisfaction is the connections
I have made with people. Whenever you feel like you have been
able to bring some of the magic that music can do into
someone's life and bring them something valuable, it is a huge
satisfaction. As for frustrations, there was a lot that I wanted to
accomplish that I didn't. I should have made some different
decisions at certain points in time, but the frustrations don't
amount to much compared to the satisfaction. [Performing and
writing music] is a wonderful thing to do with your life."
For additional information about upcoming performances and
CD release dates please visit: http://www.jimhinton.com/
Photo: Jim Hinton alongside the River Liffey in Dublin
In Retrospect 2007
Tonight's guest was Jim Hinton. You know, like I've said before,
Jim and I go way back, and we lost touch for many years. only
occasionally bumping into each other. But last night I felt like we'd
been sharing the stage regularly all these years. It was just so
comfortable having Jim there. He is literally one of the sweetest
people on the planet, and his music is so unique, so engaging, so
well made and worn. It's like a favorite shirt you just feel great
whenever you put it on. He did a song of his called Shipwrecked
last night that I'd never heard, and it 'wrecked me.' I was blown
away by it. He introduced it by first saying that it was inspired by
some of Dylan's best story songs. We'll I'm here to tell you it was
right up there with them. He did a number of tunes from his new
CD, Things I've Always Known, including the title cut, as well as
Hippies, Suburban Blues, and Highway to Taos, all of which were
excellent. Delving into the theme for the night, 'The Other Great
American Songbook,' he gave us some great music by Fred Neil,
Bob Dylan, John Sebastian, and The Clancy Brothers. He proved
that a great artist will always have a following too. Many of his
long-time fans as well as his mom and dad, were there, filling the
house. I got to meet his folks and was charmed when his mom
started talking about her love of folk music and all the CDs she
had, including Bruce Springsteen's latest. Thanks very much to all
of you who were there to celebrate this reunion of old friends. Most
of all... Thanks Jim!
Also from Joe: I think your song Hippies is a masterwork, an epic
on the lines of some of Michael Peter Smith's best.
I remember some years ago after my wife Cheri watched me
perform, she told me that she saw me as a storyteller. This
took me by surprise as I had never thought of my performance
in that light. Being an anthropologist, she was cognizant of
the role that the storyteller played in different cultures. As I
reflected upon her observation, I found myself feeling
increasingly comfortable in my role as a performer. Although I
am a singer and a musician, the storyteller was a truer fit. It
gave me a fresh outlook on my performance. I have found if I
focused on telling the story in my songs,the resulting
performance was more to my liking. That perspective began to
influence my songwriting and led to me a new style of song
that has expanded the audience for my original songs.
Most songs do tell stories but some much more so than others.
After years of singing the folksongs of Ireland, I realized I
had become steeped in a deep cultural tradition that had given
the western world the concept of “The Bard”-- even before
the coming of Shakespeare. I drew on this tradition along with
some of my more narrative original songs in the performance
with Joe Rathburn. Thanks to all of you who joined us at my
favorite local venue--Milano’s. Thanks to Joe for inviting me
once more and for some interesting tales and the fine original
songs he shared with us all. All the best, Jim
|From Paul Espinoza, member of the Celtic trio, Golden
Bough and Jim's long-time friend
About Love Like an Ocean
I love it... I was extremely taken with 'Shipwrecked.' What a great song
the imagery is so classic. I love the way the melody turns and the flow
of the chords. I truly think that it is a one-of-a-kind song. The mark of
a memorable song to me is the desire to learn it and sing it. This one's
in that league! (Not that there aren't other terrific songs on the
album.) I also love the vocal ending to 'Ocean of Divine Love'-- love
that harmony stuff.
|Jim is on YouTube!
Thanks to videographer, Richard Pollard,
for posting to YouTube several songs he
recorded at the Spanish Village in Balboa
Park. For all the songs cut and paste this
link: Here is the playlist link
Here is a direct link to my new song, "City
of Angels" being performed in the series
of 15 recorded:
Jim Hinton City of Angels YouTube