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In Memoriam: Legendary Athens Musician Daniel Hutchens has Died

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Robert Earl Keen In Concert With Special Guest Bloodkin - March 31, 2011 Photo by Chris McKay/WireImage

Early this morning the news started to filter out through the community. I saw the rumors on social media and received text messages from old friends in the scene, but hoped it wasn’t true. Unfortunately, it now appears that Daniel Hutchens of the legendary Athens band Bloodkin has passed away.

Hutchens and Bloodkin co-founder Eric Carter came to Athens in 1986. Both natives of Huntington, West Virginia, they had known one another since the age of eight. In 1986 they hit the road with the goal of going to some known music towns and making something happen. They got to Athens and never left.

Bloodkin quickly fell in with the luminaries of the Athens music scene, and by the early-90’s Hutchens and Carter had a catalog of over 300 original songs. If you’re reading this and you’re not sure who Bloodkin is, there’s still a good chance you know their music.

Famous jam act Widespread Panic was also coming up in Athens in the late-80’s, and some of their most beloved songs are actually Bloodkin covers. Can’t Get High, Quarter Tank of Gasoline, End of the Show and Who Do You Belong To? are just a few of the Bloodkin tunes that the band has covered on albums and during live performances over the last 30 years.

The ties between the two bands was so strong that Widespread Panic founder John Bell once called Danny and Eric the band’s “greatest influence.” While the Widespread Panic covers of Bloodkin were as far into the band’s catalog as some went, many of us found Bloodkin through those covers and discovered there was real brilliance and magic in there albums.

It would be disingenuous for me to write a story about Bloodkin and pretend I came to know their work through an avenue other than Widespread Panic. However, to write a story about the impact Hutchens made on the Athens music scene and only tell it through the frame of Widespread Panic would be a massive miscalculation.

“birth and death and love and hatred

collard greens and buttered cornbread

everytime I swallow

it’s a new religion...

yeah but all I could tell them was

it’s like falling in love

all I could tell them was it’s like falling in love

yes and words won’t show ya”

- It’s Like Falling in Love - Bloodkin, 2001

Daniel had the ability to take some small scene you might see on an Athens street corner, replay it in a vivid way through song, and tell the story of the entire World within it. The reason any great writer’s work lives on is usually due to their ability to find universal truths and connect them into the stories they tell. Daniel did that in a unique way that just tasted like Athens and the South. Occasionally local establishments would find their way into his lyrics.

Roadhouse half-blown forty-watt blues

That’s my favorite place to lose

I’ve been spillin’ all that good sugar down my shoes

Goin’ nowhere, got nothing to do

I live in a rotgut, midnight town, my home

What a rotgut, midnight town, I call it home

- Rotgut - Bloodkin, 1996

I listened to some of my favorites from Daniel and Bloodkin in my house this morning, 1,400 miles away from the Classic City. Despite the time and distance between present and past, I could feel my feet on Lumpkin Street, a wide-eyed 18 year-old with a buzz trying to slither into the Georgia Theatre undetected.

Hutchens had an incredible amount of musical range, and he was responsible for 10 albums over the years both as a solo act and a member of Bloodkin. There’s too much beauty in those albums to even begin to digest here in the first hours after his death, but 1996’s CreeperWeed is a wonderful place to start. The record is fantastic from start to finish, but the instrumental album closer Mercy Train to Bogart will always be a personal favorite. Here’s a 2017 rendition live from the 40 Watt with former Drive-By Trucker and frequent Bloodkin collaborator John Neff on his pedal steel guitar.

The song is my personal ideal of what it sounds like to be driving down a two-lane country road towards Athens as the heat of Summer starts to fade into the early days of Fall. There is a styrofoam container of boiled peanuts in my cup-holder. I have just bought them from a nice man at a roadside stand on Highway 78. The promise of football season is in the air as I drive towards town for the fall semester. New friends and old are waiting. Maybe I’ll meet a pretty girl at tailgate, or perhaps we’ll happen upon each other on a downtown barstool. The renewable resource that is the excitement of youth is already buzzing through town, and it is pulling me towards the place I’ve slowly started to call home.

Daniel’s music could encapsulate all of that idealistic excitement about life, but it also was never short on realism. The characters in his songs were often self-destructive, depressed and cynical. At a young age when I experienced some dark times, those characters helped me square my desire for what life is with what you hope it’s going to be.

Patterson Hood gave us “the duality of The Southern Thing.” It describes the pride we Southerners often have in our people, our quirks, our cuisines, and our culture, and how we reconcile that when it mixes in with the sins of past generations. For more than thirty years, Daniel gave us the duality of everyday.

It feels overly poetic to end this tribute to Daniel with The End of The Show, but it also feels wrong not to because it encapsulates so much of why he was great. The song is basically about that time of night when it is all winding down. The concert has let out, and some people on the streets are trying to find the right place to have last call. The people in their homes are trying to find how to reconcile what they show the world with what they know to be their own internal truths.

The song celebrates the wonder of romance and the pain that love can bring all within a few minutes of each other. For me, it has always reminded me of the relief that came with wandering into an Athens bar at 1:40 AM and seeing a friend you lost track with earlier in the night. A wave of anxiety dissipates with the knowledge that you won’t have to go home and deal with your thoughts alone.

We are alone, but we are alone together.

“Everybody’s waiting to find the last drink

The last word to say

The last place to go

The end of the show”

- Daniel Hutchens/Eric Carter

Daniel Hutchens was a true storyteller. He was a songwriter with the ability to see the entire world in a small snapshot of life. He is responsible for some of the greatest songs and moments in the history of the Athens music scene, and somehow Bloodkin and Daniel never really got the due they deserved.

Playing to small rooms full of people that would swear they were the best band on Earth was what they did for the last 30 years. In a way I think that was the beauty and the charm of it all. They were your favorite band, and also “your favorite band’s favorite band.”

Bloodkin forever remained the little secret that a lot of your friends in the scene never fully discovered, and because of that they were yours to commune with in secret peace on a long road trip. Daniel Hutchens will forever be one of Athens and America’s greatest songwriters in my eyes.

To see him was to see someone on another plane both musically and spiritually, and I will miss going through life knowing that he is out there being brilliant many nights a year. That brilliance will live on in hundreds and hundreds of songs.

I suspect those of us who saw him live on stage will find one another in random venues years down the road. We will share hugs and knowing grins over what we once witnessed.

Goodbye to a wonderful secret that was far too kept.

Rest In Peace Daniel.