Texas Bluesman James Hinkle Takes Lessons from Marcia Ball, Doyle Bramhall, and Freddie Cisneros
Ted Drozdowski | 01.15.2008
Fort Worth’s stylin’ Goldtop slinger James Hinkle came up in a Texas flood of guitarists. While he was literally getting a grip on the instrument in the late ’70s and early ’80s, Jimmie Vaughan and the Fabulous Thunderbirds and Vaughan’s little brother Stevie were driving over from Austin to play the city’s blues haunts—a circuit where U.P. Wilson was already lord of the bent string and Robert Ealey was running a juke joint called the Bluebird.
But it was lesser-known local musician Freddie Cisneros who taught Hinkle to play blues guitar and took him to the African-American nightspots where the music was sharp and stinging.
Hinkle proves on his new release, Blues Now/Jazz Later, out on his own Blue Lights label, that he was an apt pupil with an interest in expanding on his early lessons. The disc straddles the realms of hardcore Texas blues, early rock and roll, and smoky jazz, and features the sweet growl of Hinkle’s ’56 Goldtop Les Paul Reissue.
"I got that guitar in 2002," Hinkle says. "When I heard it, I thought, ‘Oh yeah!’"
In the ’56 Goldtop, he’s found a P-90-powered partner that helps him draw a bead on every sonic target he sets. The instrument shimmies and struts in response to his honey-and-dust voice on the uptempo Bobby "Blue" Bland homage "Love from a Fool" and rings cool Kenny Burrell-like tones on both the jazzy funker "Ain’t Gonna Make That Call" and the smooth, cutting instrumental "Bopped in the Mouth." Hinkle employs a bit of tremolo to coax a world of heartache from the guitar’s strings on "Brother Love," especially in a slow, sensitive fingerpicked solo. And he comes on like a swamp rat raised on a diet of ’50s Excello Records hits in "Say It to Me One More Time," a primal rocker that’s also colored by accordion and sax. He also knows his way around a Stratocaster, and the disc’s opener "Track You Down" features the deep, snapping Fender-on-Fender sound that’s been etched into the Texas blues cannon by players like the Vaughans.
"I don’t use any effects," Hinkle says. "I just plug right into a Fender Vibroverb, and the Goldtop lets me dial in anything I want. For Blues Now/Jazz Later, which we recorded in a studio in a house, we put the amp in the bathroom and cranked it up to get a great tone."
Hinkle’s been getting great tones for years—a fact he first documented in 1985 when he made his debut record, a 45 produced by Austin legend Doyle Bramhall. Since then he’s released several CDs under his own name, fronted an Austin outfit called the Hoodoo Cats, and co-led a group with fellow Fort Worther Johnny Mack, who sings and plays the frottoir, a ribbed metal instrument akin to a washboard. Hinkle developed his jazz chops in an Austin-based band called Tempest, named after the Texas town where he attended art school. While in Tempest, he caught the ear of Marcia Ball. That led to his highest-profile gig, a three-year run with the barrelhouse piano queen that ended in 1991 after Hinkle returned to Fort Worth. These days he continues to tour under his own name. His dates can be found here.
Hinkle explains that Blues Now/Jazz Later is the middle disc of a trilogy he started with 2005’s Straight Ahead Blues, a collection of mostly obscure blue-to-the-bone covers that concentrated on the tradition that’s his musical backbone. Blues Now/Jazz Later features only Hinkle’s originals, except for the gritty acoustic "East Dallas Dagger," originally cut by Durwood Haddock. The third disc, which Hinkle recently completed for 2008 release with his new rhythm section from Baton Rouge, Louisiana, is tentatively titled Whatcha Lookin’ For.
"It’s all originals and is a blend of Texas blues with New Orleans and Baton Rouge rhythms,” Hinkle says. "It’s funky, but like everything I do, it’s also very blues oriented."