Bill Hinkley 1942 - 2010

Bill had an insatiable appetite for music and his great happiness was to sit among kindred spirits and play by the hour, jazz, Irish, jug band music, old rock 'n' roll, country music, almost anything that allowed for improvisation. He was a father of the acoustic music community in Minnesota and everybody knew him and Judy. He was an inspiration to so many people and a source of frustration to some of us who wanted him to have a bigger career. But Bill, like Thoreau or some old Ojibway medicine man, chose to live his life on his own terms, off the clock and outside the grid. He had little interest in the music business as such, marketing, networking, and so forth. He enjoyed playing the radio show, I think, but he would just as soon sit around in his backyard for six hours with friends and play their way through a river of tunes, one after another. He was generous always to anyone who wanted to learn from him: his eyes lit up if you asked him questions. He was most animated when talking about his young and promising fiddle students. I don't remember Bill ever reminiscing about his life, but when he heard a kid play fiddle tunes whom he, Bill, had taught, he was utterly joyful. That was more important to him than the radio show. When I visited Bill a week before he died, he was picking out on mandolin a tune he wanted to be played at his funeral, "Niel Gow's Lamentation for James Moray of Abercairney" and he recalled for me a song we sang on a canoe trip thirty-five years before, "Golden eggs, golden eggs,/Happy golden eggs./O improve them as they fry,/These happy golden eggs." He was restless at the end, hanging on as best he could, and was comforted by the presence of friends playing music.

Slideshow

  • The Original Powdermilk Biscuit Band (Bill is center with guitar)
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  • Bill Hinkley and Judy Larson
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  • From a Prairie Home Companion promotional poster
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  • Promo for Out in Our Meadow album
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  • Photo from back cover of the Out in Our Meadow album
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  • Judy Larson and Bill Hinkley at the Fitzgerald Theater, October 22, 2005
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  • Bill talks with Garrison at a show during the 2006 Alaskan Cruise
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  • Prairie Home Reunion show June 27, 2008
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Mr. Bill Hinkley died Tuesday morning at the VA Hospital in Minneapolis. He was 67. Along with his wife, Judy Larson, Bill was the house band for the first season of "A Prairie Home Companion" in 1974–75 and a teacher and performing musician in Minneapolis for most of his life.

Born in 1942 in St. Louis, the third of five children of a banker and his wife, who loved music and loved to sing, Bill grew up there and in Houston, Texas, and bought his first guitar when he was 16, a square-neck Hawaiian slide guitar and cut down the nut and bridge to make it fretable, learned a few chords from his friend Cal Hand, and set out to play Merle Travis and Chet Atkins tunes, Duane Eddy, Johnny Cash, everything he heard on the radio. John Hartford was a neighbor and, playing music with him, Bill first got the idea that he might become a real musician. He went off to Washington and Lee University in Lexington, Virginia, flunked all his courses freshman year, except for an A in Greek. He joined the Air Force, which sent Bill to Yale to study Mandarin Chinese, later to Japan to learn Japanese. In 1965, he played on the Tokyo Grand Ole Opry with a bluegrass band (that included Cal Hand) and introduced their songs in Japanese.

Bill moved to in Ann Arbor in 1968 to get a Master's in Japanese, until, as Bill said, "It was determined on the part of the Department of Far Eastern Studies that I was no longer appropriately slotted as a graduate student." In 1970, he joined a folk blues band, the Sorry Muthas, with Cal Hand, Bob Stelnicki, Papa John Kolstad, and Judy Larson whom he felt in love with at first sight. (They lived together and finally married in the fall of 1990.) The band toured coast to coast in a converted school bus.

In 1972, the Sorry Muthas disbanded, and Bill and Judy started working as a duo. The next summer, they took a canoe trip on the upper Mississippi with GK, which was broadcast on Minnesota Public Radio, and they appeared on the first broadcast of the Saturday APHC — July 6, 1974. In 1987, the show produced their double album, Out in Our Meadow (Red House Records). They were honored by the Minnesota Music Hall of Fame, the Minnesota Bluegrass and Old-Time Music Association, and the West Bank School of Music where Bill taught fiddle for more than thirty years.

Video

Bill Hinkley interviewed by Adam Granger

Courtesy the West Bank School of Music

Audio

Take Your Burden to the Lord
Bill Hinkley and Judy Larson

Bye Bye Blues
Bill Hinkley and Judy Larson

Waitin for a Train
Bill Hinkley
From the April 13, 1974 show

Keep it Clean
Bill Hinkley and Judy Larson
From the April 13, 1974 show

Sing Anything
Bill Hinkley
From the August 31, 1974 show

GK talks about Bill Hinkley, Precious Memories
From the May 22, 2010 show

Family Car
Bill Hinkley and Judy Larson
From the 2008 Reunion show

Fish for Supper
Bill Hinkley and Judy Larson
From the 2008 Reunion show

Blues For Home Sweet Home
From the October 22, 2005

Nu-Grape
Bill Hinkley and Judy Larson
From the October 22, 2005

The Barnyard Dance
Bill Hinkley and Judy Larson
From the February 25, 2006

Dale Connelly tribute to Bill Hinkley
Radio Heartland from Minnesota Public Radio

Links

Bill Hinkley's Induction to the Minnesota Music Hall of Fame

Homestead Pickin' Parlor

Jug Band Hall of Fame

Tribute on Corazon Latino (KFAI)

Folk musician and former 'Prairie Home' cast member Bill Hinkley dies at 67
(Pioneer Press/St. Paul)

Minneapolis folk giant Bill Hinkley: The man whom Garrison Keillor called the "Buddha of the West Bank" dies at 67.
(Star Tribune/Minneapolis)

Bill Hinkley, 1942-2010
(City Pages/Twin Cities)

R.I.P. Bill Hinkley
Radio Heartland/Dale Connelly: Trial Balloon

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