Jimbeau Hinson found success in Nashville in the 1990s, writing songs for artists such as Patty Loveless and the Oak Ridge Boys. But at the height of his career in the mid ’90s, Hinson’s HIV, which he was keeping secret, caught up with him and he fell into a coma. His status as an HIV-positive man—he came out as bisexual in the ’70s—was revealed to the country music industry. But instead of turning their backs on him, Hinson’s peers embraced him, and the songwriter’s health slowly improved. Hinson, who’s been with his wife, Brenda, for over 33 years, recently released his debut album, Strong Medicine, which chronicles his relationship not just with his wife but also with HIV.
Why was this a good time to release your first album?
I started writing a book about my life about around 18 years ago. I was living with the secret of my infection for about 12 years and figured if I could just write it down on paper, it could be good therapy. I was in L.A. visiting a friend who’s a guitar player for Lyle Lovett, and after dinner one night, I pulled out my computer and read her a portion of my book. We laughed and laughed. She used to be a literary agent and said this was the greatest thing she’s read since Catcher in the Rye or Confederacy of Dunces. She encouraged me to work on the book more, so I spent the next couple years getting it in some form. I had a rough draft and read it to a friend, Sandy Knox, and we sat down, passed a box of Kleenex around, and laughed and cried. She called six or seven months later and said, “I want to start a record label. I want to put your story out. I want to do an album centered around your story. I think the world needs to hear this.” It all came about from my little therapy project 18 years ago.
Does the title have a double meaning?
I’ve known Sandy for 20, almost 30 years. She’s one of the few that knew of my infection and she wanted to go back and dig up songs from the past. Much of those songs I wrote back in the 1980s when I was dealing privately with my infection. The song “Not You Again” is definitely about my infection. The album is a collection of things that were thinly veiled. They’re songs of inspiration and fortitude and not giving up and forgiveness and monogamy—all the lessons I’ve learned through this journey.