Anyone who's ever watched rockabilly stalwarts the Royal Hounds play a real gone show at a local club couldn't help but take special notice of singer/stand-up bassist Scott Hinds.
Tall, pompadoured, and handsome, ferociously accomplished on his axe and frenetically over-the-top in his presentation, he takes over a stage with ravenous aplomb. He sends notes flying off the neck of his bass in sheets and volleys, then leaps atop the body of the instrument, howling at the audience with his pomaded coif bobbing in the rafters.
And now, after a lark audition in New York, Hinds' singular talents are gaining him wider recognition. He was tapped this autumn as understudy to the Carl Perkins role in the Las Vegas production of "Million Dollar Quartet." The show is a musical dramatization of a renowned recording session with Elvis Presley, Carl Perkins, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Johnny Cash. It ran on Broadway for nearly 500 shows in 2010-'11.
"I bypassed a lot of dues-paying in landing this role," Hinds says in a recent phone interview. He's on a break from rehearsal with "MDQ"; even though he's the understudy, the production schedule allows him to "spell" the lead actor at intervals. And since Hinds is also the understudy for the Jay Perkins character -- Carl Perkins' bass-playing brother -- he gets to pull double duty. His first performance was Nov. 18.
"This is the perfect show for me to be part of because I still get to stand on my bass," Hinds laughs. "I'm incredibly grateful for this opportunity. Somebody told me that I just jumped from level one to level five."
But Hinds, 31, wasn't born a rockabilly madman. His hallelujah moment came one night in high school, alone in his parents' living room watching VH1. "There was this guy on TV with a big blonde pompadour fronting an orchestra," he remembers. "It was Brian Setzer. I was so excited, I ran upstairs and beat on my parents' door to wake them up."
He also picked up a guitar somewhere around that time, though it was "nothing serious a lot of bedroom picking, campfire songs." And he tried his hand at acting, in dinner theater, a sideline that lasted into his undergraduate years in college.
But the pieces didn't come together until later, when Hinds, working toward his degree in education at the University of Tennessee, "got messed up on some of my credits I was going to have to delay an internship, and I needed credits to keep my scholarship."
Hinds needed a general elective, and he elected, very generally, to take a class in bass performance "because I'd always wanted to play upright bass." The class began Hinds' personal four-string odyssey. And a huge part of his musical education thereafter was watching The Dempseys, a white-hot rockabilly trio out of Memphis that swung through town every few months, with a greaser named "Slick" Joe Fick on stand-up bass.
"When they came through town, I'd put a tape recorder up on stage, and then later I'd try to learn every note he played for the next six months until they came back again," Hinds remembers. "And Joe was nice enough that he would stay a while after every show and show me some stuff for free."
Eventually, Hinds and a few buddies played together at some charity events and bluegrass jams, until, "It was like, crap, we're an actual band." That was Pistol Creek Catch of the Day, a sort of party-and-private-function band he has held down in his spare time ever since.
And two-and-a-half years ago, "when I'd learned about the music business, decided I really wanted to build a product, so to speak," Hinds formed the Royal Hounds with guitarist Brian Lee and drummer Scott "Bramblebusch" Billingsley. With his education degree in tow, a job teaching eighth-grade English at Fort Loudoun Middle School and his summers free, Hinds was ready to give vent to his performance jones. "I wanted to pursue a regional presence, maybe get on the road and tour some," he says.
It was after a Royal Hounds show one evening that the lead singer of a band called The Dusty 45s -- with whom the Hounds frequently shared double bills -- suggested that Hinds try his hand at musical theater. The 45s frontman, Billy Joe Huels, had himself played Buddy Holly in a touring production of "The Buddy Holly Story"; he went so far as to suggest "Million Dollar Quartet."
Hinds was reticent, at first. But: "The next day I got on the Internet and found out where there were auditions in June. And on a whim, I flew up to New York City. 'Ah, I'll fly to New York for a day or two, audition and see the city.'"
The audition was everything and nothing he expected. He showed up at the studio at 5 a.m., expecting a line around the block. Instead, he was met by a queue of only five other actors, most of whom looked like "just regular actors, showing up for roles, any roles." As opposed to Hinds, a rockabilly method man. "I had no desire to be in any other play."
Hinds auditioned for the part of young Carl Perkins. He played guitar and sang on a version of Perkins' "Blue Suede Shoes." Coincidentally enough, Hinds, who keeps his guitar chops sharp, often trades instruments with Lee and plays the song on six-string during Royal Hounds shows. "So I just did my high-energy Hounds thing," he says. "They liked me and gave me a call-back on the spot and gave me part of the script, which I'm told is a rare thing."
Still, it took some time before Hinds knew he landed the role. The announcement in October "so caught me off guard. "I resigned from my job 20 minutes later. Two days later I was driving cross country."
One thing he didn't resign from is the Royal Hounds, which he says is on hiatus on until his "MDQ" schedule is clear. In the meantime, Scott Hinds will have to get his performance fix under the lights at a Vegas casino, rather than from the stage of a smoky pub.
"I love performing so much, that sometimes I can barely contain myself," he says. "When I first got to Vegas, it had been two weeks since I had played. Then I got on stage at this local jam, and there was so much that I had to let out. I thought I was just going to die."
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