Nowadays when it comes to local music legend T.K. Hulin, it seems all anybody wants to ask about or write about is his age – a footnote as rude as it is irrelevant.
“People wonder when I’m gonna stop but, oh my god, I don’t know how I’d get along without it? I’ve been doing this since I was 13 years old and I’ve loved every minute of it,” Hulin says in a homegrown accent impossible not to place. “I can’t wait to get on stage and sing for the people.
“It’s in the blood. It’s been in the blood for years and it’s gonna stay in the blood until I die.”
If vocal enthusiasm is any sort of medical indicator of anticipated longevity, Hulin’s “final verse” isn’t coming anytime soon. Months away from his 76th birthday and 63 years into a decorated singing career that began inside the famous J.D. Miller Studios in Crowley where he recorded his first hit single, “Many Nites,” Hulin still speaks of music with the same genuine passion and boyish glee he did back when he was banging two sticks on an empty can of salad oil inside his daddy’s barn.
Hulin’s 2019 performance calendar is already filled with dates, including gigs at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Music Festival on May 5, and a spirited concert with Ryan Foret, Gregg Martinez and The Delta Kings at the Strand Theater in Jennings on June 23.
“I never burned out because the reactions of the people when I’m on stage still keep me going,” Hulin says. “I mean, where else are you gonna get that? So, I’m gonna keep on doing it.”
Perhaps Hulin’s persistence to perform is derived from the fact that spotlight was almost stolen from him in 2012. During a routine doctor’s visit, nodules on Hulin’s thyroid were spotted and required immediate removal via surgery. The procedure put Hulin’s signature sultry voice on the shelf for an extended period of time, but much like a baseball pitcher who throws harder after undergoing Tommy John surgery, Hulin claims his post-op voice is way better than his pre-op voice.
“Was it a terrible six weeks?” Hulin re-asks a question asked to him. “My God, I love to talk, so after three weeks I said, ‘Man, I can’t take this anymore! I gotta call somebody and I’m gonna whisper.’ Well wouldn’t you know, the person on the other end kept saying he couldn’t hear me. I told him, ‘I know, I just had surgery.’ I’m not sure if he heard that or not because he hung up on me. Man, was it miserable.”
Blessed with an ability to tell a story – oh, and sing a song, obviously – Hulin’s performance on stage isn’t an act. That’s just who he is and has always been, an affable old friend who just so happened to provide the soundtrack to many of your life’s chapters, like with his 1978 hit “As You Pass Me By (Graduation Night)” that’s still played every May when Acadiana-area high school students flip the tassel on their mortar board from front-right to front-left. While on the mic, Hulin brushes away the imaginary border dividing stage and crowd by interacting with the audience, charming them with a trademark self-deprecating sense of humor that inspired him to change the name of his back-up band from “The Lonely Knights” to “Smoke” after his old nightclub on Highway 31 burned down in 1971.
Ever true to himself, Hulin’s singing style and performance playlist remains unchanged, even now as a musician who is in what some might consider the winter of his career. Without regret, his career didn’t (and won’t) have stages, phases or evolutions.
The influence of musical inspirations Sam Cooke and Otis Redding is still just as recognizable today as it was way back when.
“To me, that was my kind of music – and it still is today,” Hulin says. “The swamp pop is still popular, and that’s what I do: swamp pop and rhythm and blues. I love that soul. You got to feel it. Nobody can tell you how to sing [that music]. Either you have it, or you don’t.
“The few people who are still living, they love it,” Hulin continues with a laugh. “There’s nothing like playing local. These are the locals – they were raised on my music and they come out to see me, and it takes them back and it takes us both back, really. Like in Jennings, you got 400, 500 people in that tiny theatre, and they clap after every song.
“Wow, that adrenaline turns me into a monster. Yeah, a good monster.”
T.K. Hulin has no intention of slowing down. Music is his passion and after having a near miss on losing his voice, he doesn’t take it for granted.
T.K. Hulin Through the Years1943
On Aug. 16, Alton James Hulin is born in St. Martinville, the son of Irene and Eli Hulin. The nickname T.K. came from an uncle, although Hulin still has no clue of the meaning behind it. 1957
At age 13, Hulin records his first hit, “Many Nites” in Crowley. 1963
Hulin records the song, “I’m Not a Fool Anymore” with his Lonely Knights band. That hit caught the attention of Mercury Records which signed him and sent him on tour. 1967
Hulin opens “T.K.’s Nightclub” on Highway 31 in St. Martinville. The popular club was the top weekend spot in St. Martin Parish for years until it burned down in 1971. 1976
Hulin released the hit song “Alligator Bayou” on Booray Records of Lafayette.