Loney Hutchins
Photo: Courtesy of IVPR

Loney Hutchins Digs Up ‘Buried Loot’

“Pinball King” was the biggest hit in country music 35 years ago. Or at least it could have been. Loney Hutchins cut a remarkable number of tracks that could have made him a star.

Buried Loot: Demos from the House of Cash and Outlaw Era, ‘73-‘78
Loney Hutchins
9 December 2021

At that point, Hutchins could have been down on himself and he could have retreated. He continued writing songs (he also writes poetry and paints). He’d moved forward, but hadn’t forgotten about the past either.

“Nashville got concerned about all the analog recordings deteriorating,” he said, and he had piles of them.

While Hutchins was at House of Cash, he never stopped writing, but he set his material aside to avoid a conflict of interest. The company “hired the best in Nashville” to record, and Hutchins piled up demos. Cash “gave the writers anything that he had not copyrighted for himself,” a generous offer that would pay off. Hutchins kept his tapes “in a climate-controlled house” and just sat on them for years.

After Hutchins had been retired from health care for about six or seven years, Loney John suggested he should dig out the old tapes, assuming they were rough demos or something similar to what he’d heard his dad doing in their home studio. It turns out that not only was the collection large – “two big boxes, close to 100 tapes,” according to Loney John – but it was remarkably polished.

Loney John runs Cleft Music, a Nashville record label that releases “alt-everything,” and has a recording studio, so he was able to work on the tapes himself without needing to go to a transfer house. As he started digitizing the old tapes in 2017, the first reel he got was one from the House of Cash and he said, “It was like a lightning bolt to my brain. I literally stood up and grabbed the computer screen and my jaw hit the floor.”

“I think I had had my expectations so lowered that even when I had my jaw on the floor, I still thought, ‘What’s the catch? When’s the bubble pop?'”

The bubble never did. Loney John credits the power of analog for the quality of the sound. Digitizing over 80 hours of music, he thinks he had around three brief dropouts. He also realizes that his dad never gets rid of anything, from recordings to building supplies, so he had maintained a large archive in good condition. And, of course, it matters that the original recordings were professionally done, largely finished tracks.

The question for Loney John, then, became exactly what to do with the material. It didn’t fit on Cleft, and it didn’t make sense to go another label, given that he felt protective of the project and wanted to make sure it was done right. The way to go forward, it turns out, was to go back. It was time to relaunch his dad’s old label, Appalachia Record Co.

Loney John remembers being seven years old and stuffing mailers with his mom and sister, part of the family-run label.

“That stuff is in my blood and DNA,” he said.

The pandemic gave him time to think, to consider how to do it right. He’d been contemplating starting a roots-oriented label, and now he had the push. During this stretch, his daughter was born, and as his wife and mother joined in on the business side, it was both a relaunch and the creation of something new, with plenty more on the way.

“It’s back to truly a family business again,” he said. “I’ve got my father and folks involved.”

At that point, we arrive at the release of Buried Loot. The two dozen tracks of the compilation show the breadth of Hutchins’ co, from his own writing to his collaborative skill. He can rollick on cuts like “Pinball King,” about his brother’s addiction to the game, or settle down for a number of searching, more meditative tracks. “Hillbilly Ghetto”, in Hutchins’ words, “encapsulates the pain and the worry that I endured,” including floods washing away the farm and his “mother losing a baby because we couldn’t take it to the doctor.” With a few quick lines, he sums up the coal mines and welfare lines along with the effects of the Vietnam War that were devastating the region. Across what Hutchins would call “mountain music” and his son would call a mixture of bluegrass, folk, and rock, the artist delivers one moving, memorable track after another.

With Buried Loot released and an archival album due in March, Loney Hutchins might finally be reaching the audience he deserves. At the very least, his art is once again accessible and a visible part of country music history.

Getting the music out there marks a particular kind of triumph. Loney John thinks about where his dad was in the health care industry, appearing on national TV and going to conferences before having to retire under bad terms, noting that his parents would “wag their fingers” at nursing homes that made the news for bad reasons, and now faced dishonorable accusations themselves.

“What’s it like to just come back with all this goodness you’ve been sitting on, even your own children have never heard?” Loney John said. “It’s a testament. Music is really powerful. As soon as I heard that first track on the reel, none of that bad stuff mattered.”

Loney John sees the revival not just of his dad but of a “really great friend and mentor,” who took him to concerts in high school (like the Band, twice) and always made sure he could buy new CDs, put guitars in his room and recorded his son’s music on a four-track, “just for fun and to help us out.”

Hutchins himself maintains a remarkable equilibrium about everything. He acknowledges that some of his Nashville career was “frustrating and disappointing,” but that comes from part of who he is.

“I wasn’t jumping on stages because I didn’t need to because I was so independent and secure within myself,” he said. “You’re driven by what you are and a lot of people don’t know who they are, but I knew who I was. I never had any reservations about being me, so I didn’t need what those other guys had. I certainly wasn’t going to jump into something that wasn’t the way it needed to be done. I didn’t want to take the risk of being aggravated by it all, but I enjoyed being part of that era, and everybody knew me and they accepted me as part of who they were.”

The disappointment came from his belief that he was creating really good material. He was “shooting yourself in the foot” by not seeking out industry help, but he added, “I was content with knowing I had treasure. I had buried loot.”

Hutchins has always written first for himself, and feels like if someone else like them, then he’s “really blessed.” He got to know and work with great musicians, which has always been inspiring.

Now, he says, “Part of my goal in life is to live to be old. In 1956, my great-granddaddy died and they said he was 112 years old. I thought, ‘Bingo! I’m going to be the next guy in my family that exceeds 100 years.’ I said that all my life and I really expect to live over 100 years with a brain still working.”

When he was just eight years old, he was standing among sweet William flowers that his mother had revived in an old garden bed.

“They were blooming their hearts out,” he said. “Across that ridge came the sunlight, like a flash of light into my brain. I had this vision that someday, way out in the future, something big was going to happen on some kind of big old stage. Over the years, I thought, ‘When’s that going to happen?’ That’s part of the reason I’m going to live long is I’ve got to fulfill that vision.”

Between that vision and everything he has in progress – poetry, memoirs, art, live performances, and, yes, more music – Hutchins might need all those years. Regardless of what happens, the singer reveals his contentment and satisfaction with nearly every word.

“I left that holler with two goals in mind and I still look towards them: seeking wisdom and happiness,” he said, and if he jokes about not being entirely successful in them (especially the former), he also acknowledges, “I’m really happy and I always have been.”

The truth of that statement rings true as Hutchins enters another exciting phase of his eventful life, still bolstered my his strong sense of self.

“I’m totally satisfied with who I am,” Hutchins said. “It’s very empowering to know who you are. It’s very empowering to believe that what you are is real and what you are is good. It’s very powerful.”