Shonn Hinton and Shotgun by Maegan Eli
Where they’re from: Milwaukee, WI
RIYL: R&B, Eddie Van Halen, John Legend
5 questions with Shonn Hinton
1. What are your current musical projects?
I’m a musician; this is something I enjoy doing, so anything that entails me being a musician I jump at the opportunity.
I am currently balancing being the guitarist for Mary J. Blige. I just finished a world tour last year. We go back out mid-February. I come back home and we get prepared for the Bucks Milwaukee Mondays half-time show on February 13 and then I fly back to California to finish rehearsing with Mary to start the first leg of the new tour, the Strength of a Woman Tour.
I dropped a single entitled “Im Gooche,” which locally was considered a summertime anthem because it’s a feel-good record. I shot the video for it, all of that stuff is in the pot boiling, just putting together some gumbo. And I’m from Milwaukee, who would’ve thought, right?
I saw the name Eddie van Halen and would hear him play and think, 'Oh my god. Guitar could sound like this?'
2. When did you start playing music?
I started at the age of three. I beat on the arms of my mother’s couch and the lampshades. I got on their ever-loving nerves until they got tired and just bought me a drum set on day. It was on since that moment in my life.
Even before knowing I could play professionally, I just enjoyed doing it. I remember watching the Grammys at a very young age and I got a chance to see this young urban group called The Boys. I’m like, “If these kids can do it, I can totally do it.” They had to be like 8 and up, the oldest was maybe 13. I thought, “I’m gonna do that one day.”
At the time, the weekend warrior act for me was having the opportunity to play at my grandfather’s church. I played drums and guitar. I got tired of sharing the drums with my cousin, so I learned how to play the guitar. Which was an instrument I knew no one else in my family as far as the cousins were concerned, had the patience and determination to learn to do. I stayed with it and it became another love in the interim of me being a musician. I was blessed to grow in the process as being a musician. I suffered for being a guitar player. Playing since I was twelve.
My mom had a strict curfew for us at night, we had to be in bed my 8PM to get up and go to school the next day. I would close the door to my bedroom and play my guitar with the TV on listening to the radio, trying to mimic everything I heard. I suffered for my instrument because my mom knew what I was doing and I got a whopping every time without fail. My mom says now, “It paid off.”
3. Did anyone inspire you musically, growing up?
Yes. Eddie Van Halen. My mom is a musician too, and an avid music lover. She’s a pianist. She still has the same albums. I was the nerdy kid that would pull the sleeve out of the albums and see who are the people playing. Who produced the album, and looking at the lyrics.
Saturday mornings were the time when every African-American mom would clean up in the house, the whole entire Saturday. My mom had fun with it; she had a hairbrush and the lyrics to each song and would sing it. My mom was young; I think she was sixteen or seventeen when she had me. When I was old enough to walk and talk and understand the concept of simple things around the house, she was still young and acted young. What nineteen or twenty year old do you know would sing in the mirror with a hairbrush?
I looked at a j-card and saw the name “Eddie van Halen” and would hear him play and think, “Oh my god. Guitar could sound like this?”
I used to go to this music store called Dick’s Music. I would buy a pedal every month. My allowance was five bucks; I’d save up and go to Dick’s. The first pedal I bought was a chorus pedal, the second pedal I bought was a distortion pedal and from there, my love for guitar playing just evolved.
I started listening to cats like Phil Collen from Def Leppard, Buddy Guy, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Robert Cray… the rabbit hole just widened as I fell through.
3. Do you have a day job?
I am able to do music full time. I take the highs and the lows, I take the good and I take the bad. Sometimes it’s not as glamorous as some people think. I enjoy it. I’m home right now, I won’t go back out until the end of the month but I just finished the tour with Mary [J. Blige]. I’m gearing up to do it all over again so this was some much needed downtime to spend with my family.
When you’re used to a certain income you’re making weekly and after it’s done, that’s the lows of doing it. But, me having my own career as an artist and embracing Shonn Hinton and the Shotgun, now I really create and make my own schedule.
I was telling our manager, “listen. There are 365 days in a year. I want to work all 365 of those days. I don’t want downtime.” If the old ass Rolling Stones still tour and destroy venue after venue after venue, I can do the exact same thing.
With me embracing being an artist, I share it with every other artist I work with. Like Jill Scott, I showed her. She actually helped me name the band Shotgun. It’s so crazy. In 2015, I dropped this instrumental rockin’ blues album called The Happy Hour LP. I let Jill hear it, when I was out touring with her. She was like, “Shonn. This is amazing. You gotta come up with a name for your band. It should have something with ‘S’ ‘H’ in it.” I was like, “Ooo… Shotgun.” I went with Shotgun because it made so much sense. These are guys I grew up with. I would hollar “Shotgun!” every time I got into a car with anybody if I wasn’t driving. I don’t want to sit in the back, I want to sit in the front. So that’s how I looked at it. So she definitely helped me name the group.
You don’t have to live a mediocre life. By mediocre, I don’t mean lifestyle like what kind of car you drive, but the way you think.
It’s great, you’re hard work has gotten you this far.
I’m so grateful. There are a lot of people that give up on their dream. I was talking to someone who was telling me their spouse doesn’t really believe in what they’re doing. I don’t know that feeling because my wife is one of my biggest supporters. Before she even knew that I played for Mary J. Blige, Jill Scott and John Legend, she just thought I was a church musician. And she thought I was a damn good church musician.
When she found out what I did, it was kind of bittersweet. She was like, “Wow, but I just want to be with my husband every chance I can get.” That’s why I try to fly her out everywhere, but it’s crazy because when you have a significant other who doesn’t support your passion, it just makes it that much more tough. You don’t give up, you go, you go harder, you push harder. It’s definitely moving with an anchor attached to your ankle. You’ll get there, your left leg might be stronger than the rest of your body, but you’ll get there. It’s tough and you come out battered and bruised or a crazy deformity.
It’s so heartbreaking at the same time because you can’t see past Milwaukee. Or you can’t see past your life. Like, “We’ve got to make ends meet.” Well, I’m working hard so I ain’t gotta make ends meet, so I can have an abundance of things. It’s a faith walk, honestly. I have unshakeable, unwavering faith.
I’ll be 38 this year, March 9th and I promise you, the older I get the more I learn. The more I learn, I try to apply it to my life and I try to be that beacon of light for the next person that dares to dream and has those people around them that naysay everything that comes out of their mouth. Let me be the example, you can. You can do it. You don’t have to live a mediocre life. By mediocre, I don’t mean lifestyle like what kind of car you drive, but the way you think. It’s a process of the mind. If you can overcome your mind and overcome people around you, you’re successful.