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Handcuffing The Hinsons

September 22, 2011

“The music business is a cruel and shallow money trench, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free, and good men die like dogs. There’s also a negative side.” – Hunter S Thompson

I don’t know if this has specifically been posted or commented on, yet I know its topic comes up  on the reg.  Even if I estimate that only 1/4 of southern gospel artists are truly saved, I wouldn’t dare say the whole industry is crooked.  There are good business models.  And there are bad business models.  But all in all, things are different now than the generations preceding us.  With communication traveling faster and covering far more areas, the inside jobs may hide themselves from the majority of the public, but they do get out.  Oh, they do.  Moralists (and we all are, though the degree may differ variously) say as the years progress our integrity decreases.  Ahh..but in regards to the southern gospel music industry, it may be slowly but surely, getting straight and righting the troubled waters.

The Hinsons were (and still are) in a class all by themselves.  Only a handful of groups in southern gospel history have matched the influence The Hinsons had on America.  The old adage “From out of the west they came…and they kept coming” not only rang true then, but lives on today.

Right before their move from Cali to Nashville, Nelson Parkerson, a promoter and owner of a small based record company called “Calvary Records” signed them up to his record label.   Smart thing.  But as their popularity arose, a move east was evident.  That’s where things get muddy.  Parkerson swindled them into selling over their songs to him and promised a bus to get things on the move in return.  Well he did what he said…

But to this day, any songs written by Ronny, Kenny, or Larry forever remained in Calvary’s possession.  They never saw a dime from it.  Handcuffed and coaxed, possibly manipulated into a bad deal.  Seems a bit of foreshadowing that one of the most recorded songs of all time like “The Lighthouse” which was written on a piece of toilet paper would find its way back into the hands of a man who took the dough, and flushed the remains down the nearest symbolic toilet.  “Jesus Pilots My Ship”, written on a boat, would find its own way back into the sea of financial forgetfulness (ok, I admit that I can’t prove it was actually written on a boat…but inspired by a boat, obviously…you get my allegorical point). Never a dime from Calvary Records.

Granted, it would be hard for something that magnanimous to force its way into the current southern gospel hemisphere.  The only type of change within the relationship of Record companies and southern gospel artists to be seen visibly might be a pattern of groups going “indie”.  Yet, there are writers who still get duped.

Makes one wonder if promises kept laying the groundwork for greed, with the message of the gospel as its binding and grinding, wrapped in a shallow Christianity, anchored in ankle deep water.  What a waste that kind of Gospel would be.  But through God’s sovereign plan, a record company cannot communicate a thing to an audience of The Hinsons, for they kept on singing.

Recently a group cut an album with a Ronny Hinson song.  They sent the check directly to Ronny.  His personal royalty for a royally swell gospel song.  Truly the Lord must have piloted Ronny’s ship through the muddy and shallow waters of mostly mediocre, whitewashed walls called “old school” record deals.

By my own admittance, not only am I biased to The Hinsons (they can never get enough pub ’round here), but this may only be part of the story, or one side of the story.  While my sources pretty much lay it out that Parkerson jobbed them, I’d love to hear from a former Calvary Records employee, associate, or perhaps from Parkerson himself.  I think we need a little light shed on this so-called “negotiation”.  I’m just reporting to see a soul saved.  Ain’t that what it’s all about?

(and yes, I will always end a Hinsons article with a line from a song…and since this is a publicly viewed blog, in which it equals having myself become cyber tattooed, if I have to pay royalties for using their lyrics on this blog, I’m in the process of  setting up a paypal account for all of us to donate).

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13 Comments
  1. DisneyGator permalink

    Excellent article! You know, Ronnie dropped out of music and even songwriting for years because of how dirty it got toward the end of the Hinsons traveling full time. It wasn’t until about 2005 when he said God got a hold of him and asked him why he’d buried his talent. It was only then, after he’d found room in his heart to forgive Parkie (though, I wonder if I ever could) that he begin writing again. Within weeks, BF&A and the Hoppers had agreed to record his songs.

    Let’s face it: the Hinsons songs were the best songs of their era and beyond. And they proved it at NQC last week. As far as I’m concerned, they were THE highlight of the week. They brought it! As a performer, I look to them as the gold standard of “lighting it up”.

    • Indeed, there has been a resurgence. Ne songs are starting to pop back up on various projects around the industry. As far as gold standard, they are. Unquestioned.

  2. quartet-man permalink

    Great article. I don’t know the details behind this, and in fact had not heard about it, so take what I say with a grain of salt. They may well have swindled and if so, that is really sad. However, speaking in my limited knowledge, it is easy for us in hindsight to Monday morning quarterback. At the time, although great songs, would he have known just how much money they were going to make? I am not sure most of us would spring for a bus (I am not sure the cost or condition it was) for the rights to songs? It just may have been an investment that he had no idea if they were going to pay off. I do agree though that it is sad it turned out that way, but is it being taken advantage of or buyer’s (or in this case seller’s) remorse? If you have more details, I would love to hear it. Perhaps there are things you know that would make me understand just what happened and more fully agree with you.

    • Granted, I don’t know exact conditions. I don’t know if there was written paperwork or if it was done on a handshake. But as far as Monday morning Quarterbacks, I’m one of the best. Should’ve beat that 3-4, cover 3 with spreading it out to the flats and hitting my Tight End on more of those vertical routes.

      • quartet-man permalink

        I certainly don’t know either, but I am sure there have been some who sign away rights for something at the time and then get upset when the person who took the chance on the property’s value makes a killing. However, I am also quite certain there are many ways that we don’t want to see how the sausage is made in SG business. I also am sure there are crooked, dishonest people who prey on the ignorance, hunger, or desperation of acts.

  3. Norm permalink

    In the middle of August there was a thread in Averyfineline referring to a news article saying changes to the copyright law in the US allow artists to reclaim their works after 35 years. I don’t know how this will apply to the Hinsons but it would be good news if they could reclaim their hit songs.

    • Yes Norm. I hope it applies to The Hinsons (I assume it will). Unfortunately, there is also a lot of great music from the Benson label that will have to wait more than a decade to be released.

  4. This story has been documented several times throughout the years. There was an interview with Kenny in his later years (with paul Heil perhaps?) in which he lamented signing a long term contract early on.

  5. DisneyGator permalink

    Whether in secular or Christian music, it’s funny how you run across people who wish they’d not sold their collective artist soul to someone else in the industry.

  6. Comment permalink

    Ironically, 1970 was the year “The Lighthouse” was written. 35 years later would be 2005, the year this blogger states Ronnie decided to write again. Coincidence?

    Maybe they really did get their hit songs back, and realized the alleged “long-term” deal would fade out eventually.

    That said, Parkerson (just from the facts you gave) is not a crook. He traded a bus for a new group’s songs. It was a risk, and with the costs of buses, a pretty big one. If the Hinsons had collapsed, or retired early, wouldn’t his friends and family be saying the Hinsons jipped HIM??
    …just sayin. (and no, I have no idea who he is or what the contract allegedly did or did not say).

    • Good point. I wonder what the exact year was this all went down. As in distinguishing the year a song was written, or the year the bus/song transition took place.

  7. mike permalink

    All 3 of the Hinson brothers continued to write songs after the initial success of “The Lighthouse” in 1970. Every album up until their retirement in the mid to late 80’s was all original material. So I have to think only the early songs were signed over. Would Ronnie, Kenny and Larry kept writing for Calvary Records (which they did) if they knew all the songwriting royalties were going to Parkerson? The popularity of the songs was well known to all by the last decade of their peforming. So I hope that it was only the early stuff that paid for a bus.

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