Thursday, August 1, 2013

'A friend of a friend of ...': Michael Hinton

This is how it's worked out for me on Facebook since New Year's Eve of 2011:  Go meet some musical people in the Bay Area, make some new friends (mostly online, since we live several hundred miles apart), and after a while start hooking up with friends of friends ...

It's a social networking thing, right?  And if we're talking about musical friends in the Bay Area, you'd better believe that those Facebook friends were celebrating what would have been the late Jerry Garcia's 71st birthday today.

Michael Hinton
Then came the word that Michael D. Hinton died today after battling cancer with heart complications, and a lot of the same people who celebrated Jerry Garcia's birthday on Facebook expressed sadness after hearing of Mike Hinton's death.

Bay Area musicians make up a fascinating community.  It seems so many musicians there know each other, one way or another.  There's a connection, a web that somehow brings so many people together from throughout the area.

Mike Hinton played guitar on the musical score for the 1980s version of "The Twilight Zone," along with Jerry Garcia.  Mike Hinton played in the band High Noon with Garcia's mates Mickey Hart and Merl Saunders.  He played with Country Joe and Friends.  He recorded with Rick Danko.  He shared a close bond with the late Norton Buffalo.

Friends of friends, many of them that I've never met face-to-face yet gotten to know them through a computer with an Internet connection ... that's been my Facebook world since the early part of 2012, and it's been fascinating.  It's been a place to get to know musicians and music fans alike.  Mike Hinton joined that list fairly early in that "gathering" venture of mine in the early part of 2012, and there was a point in time I would often stop and read closely what he had to share with his friends.

I'd stop and read what Mike had to say because he'd tell marvelous stories about the people he'd played with or gotten to know through his playing -- Mickey Hart, Norton Buffalo, Merl Saunders, Joan Baez ... on and on.  Stories like this, from a blog he contributed to:

Michael Hinton
"When we were getting ready to do a session and record the soundtrack for the 'The Girl I Married' episode of The Twilight Zone which would air July 17, 1987, legendary rock guitarist John Cipollina and I were in the hallway at the coffee machine.

"John waited until I’d gotten through making up my cup of coffee and said, 'You done?' I said, 'Yep' and he proceeded to pour an entire bowl of sugar cubes into his cup. He then poured coffee over the tall pile of cubes, staring into my eyes with an utterly deadpan look on his face. When the cubes had melted, more than 20 of them, he grabbed the cup, still staring at me, and gulped it down in one long swig.

"Choking in laughter, I spit my mouthful of coffee all over myself. John wiped his mouth and said, 'I think I’m ready' [still deadpan] and we walked into the studio to get to work.

"My shirt was soaked and uncomfortable but we really rocked the session. Every track we put down, we were playing and hearing for the first time. Every piece was a first take. Merl Saunders [the musical director] had us do a couple of pieces that resembled the memorable 'Who Do You Love?' [Quicksilver Messenger Service] guitar solo jams for John to cut loose on. During the love scenes, Norton Buffalo and I played with the world famous Kronos Quartet. Merl told me, 'I’m using you on this stuff because you can make your guitar cry.'"
I'd read through the stories Michael Hinton would post on Facebook, and as a music fan I'd eat 'em up.  I told him how much I enjoyed them a couple of times, and he appreciated that.

Michael Hinton came up playing music in an era that many young music fans today wish they could have come up in.  It wasn't an era filled with a lot of flash and onstage dancing and lip-syncing and computer-generated sounds and tuning.  It was all done with skill, raw talent, heart, touch, feeling, emotion, a good ear ... you know, the things that make us human.

Michael had many stories to tell going back to that era.  I'm grateful to have been able to read some of them, as many as I could.  There are other "friends of friends ..." that are out there, just on Facebook alone, who I'm sure could share some fascinating stories of their own, one way or another.

I'd like to help people remember a few of those names in the days to come, through a "friend of a friend" series.  I've been thinking about doing this for a while.  It took Michael Hinton's death today to get me started.

Stay tuned.

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