Ernie Hines has worn many hats in his 72 years: guitarist, singer-songwriter, self-described philosopher, gemologist, cosmetics salesman, and record-label owner and publisher, to name a few.ÊBut his heart has always belonged to music.
“[Music] was always a part of me,” said Hines, sitting in the office of his Forest Park apartment. Photographs of a six-decades-long music career adorn the walls. Two guitars and a microphone rest near his desk. Recording equipment and a slew of magazines containing features on him are located in various spots around the office.
“It was exciting,” said Hines, reflecting on his career as a gospel, pop, soul and R&B musician. “Imagine doing something you love and getting paid for it.”
Hines recorded songs at the Stax Records studio in Memphis, the Mecca of Southern soul, and Chess Records, which spawned the careers of blues greats Muddy Waters, Little Walter, Howlin’ Wolf and Etta James. He played guitar for L.C. Cook, Sam Cooke’s brother, appeared before a crowd of 90,000 at Wattstax, a mega-concert in 1972, that featured some of the most accomplished names in black music at the time, and has worked as a singer, songwriter and studio musician for most of his life.
Earnest Lee-Pickford Hines was born in Jackson, Miss., in 1938, where his mother, a woman “who put the fear of God” in him, also fostered his lifelong love affair with music.
“As early as I can remember, it was always part of me when I was growing up,” said Hines, noting that though his mother was a pious woman with a deep-seated love of gospel music, her musical tastes were also “en vogue.” Subsequently, Hines was exposed to an amalgam of musical styles at a very young age. As a young boy he sang gospel in the church choir, and his smooth voice was reportedly well known to those around him even then.
Hines began playing guitar after a move to Baton Rogue, La. in 1958, which was initially prompted by a chance to sell cosmetics. He later got a job at a bakery and played music on the weekends.
“I was married at the time [his first wife]. … I didn’t want to leave chance to music,” Hines said.
During this time he was featured in, and also led, a number of gospel, pop, R&B, blues and soul groups. ÊÊ
“My big break came with L.C. Cook when I was offered a job to go on the road with him [in 1964],” Hines recalled.Ê
In 1967, he played guitar for the score of Hurry Sundown,Êa racially charged film that featured early performances by Michael Caine, Jane Fonda and Faye Dunaway. Around that time, he was also asked to come to Chicago to join R&B singer Roscoe Robinson’s group. In Chicago, he married his second wife, the late Jill Hines, who worked for Johnson publishing, which produces Ebony and Jet magazines. Longtime publisher John H. Johnson reportedly helped Hines land a number of recording sessions – one of them at Stax Records in Memphis.
According to Hines, then-owner Al Bell signed him to record nine songs for Electrified, an album that was only recently released in its entirety. Four of the songs – “Electrified Love,” “Come on Ya’ll,” “What Would I Do” and “Our Generation” – appeared as the A and B sides of singles on 45 rpm records in 1972.
“Electrified was never properly pressed and only white label promos came out and never got proper distribution to stores,” Peter Gianakopoulos, the owner of Forest Park’s Old School Records, told the indie music magazine waxpoetics last year.
The album was also recorded a few years prior to Stax’s financial collapse in 1976.
That music is now available on CD and is being digitally distributed by the sites TuneCore and CDBaby.
When Roscoe Robinson first beckoned him to Chicago, Hines and his wife lived in downtown Chicago and on the near South Side. In 1975 they were looking for homes in Oak Park and happened to drive through Forest Park.
“We saw this building and we walked into this unit … and this is the one Jill wanted,” Hines said. He has lived at the Elgin Avenue apartment ever since. Ê
Jill lost a three-year battle with cancer in 1985, around the time Hines had “a change of heart” as his Internet biography states. He has since devoted his life to “singing praises to God and spreading the Good News of the Gospel.” But Hines said he was always a devout man.
“It is very clear that God is Ernie’s ultimate priority at this stage in his life,” said Sean Blaylock, who attends Forest Park Baptist Church with Hines. “His music ministry is wonderful and brings joy to the church members.”
ÊDuring his life, Hines has worked as a self-described “diamondologist” for Rogers and Holland Jewelers, was employed at a bakery in Louisiana, owns a publishing company and a record label (Colorful Music and Baby Blue Records) and has always been a musician.
“Expect new musical insights from Ernie soon,” his website promises.
Tom Holmes contributed to this article