T.K. Hulin has spent the better part of five-plus decades playing three or four-hour sets inside night clubs across the swampy landscape of Louisiana and Texas.
Now, the 72-year-old Louisiana legend is more than happy to play for a few hours at the Gueydan Duck Festival, the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival and the occasional casino show.
Hulin will be playing one such show New Year’s Eve as he and his band Smoke will serve as the opening act for Wayne Toups at Evangeline Downs in Opelousas. The show is free. Doors open at 6:30 p.m. The show starts at 7 p.m.
“I have been playing music for most of my life,” Hulin said. “Since I am getting older, I don’t do clubs anymore. I just do festivals and casinos. At a club, you have to play for four hours or more. At a casino or festival, you play around an hour-and-a-half to two hours. I am 72 years old. I can’t be playing until 2 a.m. no more.”
Hulin and his six siblings were raised on a small farm on Cypress Bayou. It was during that time that Hulin taught himself how to play music in the family’s barn and drew inspiration as a singer from the likes of soul legend Otis Redding.
At 13 years old, Hulin recorded his first hit song, “Many Lonely Nights.” That song brought him some regional recognition, but Hulin’s career really took off the following year with “I’m Not a Fool Anymore,” written by Hulin’s music teacher Robert Thibodeaux.
Hulin and his father, Eli, traveled all across southwest Louisiana and southeast Texas to give copies of the 45 single to radio stations. That strategy paid off.
“My daddy and I hit every radio station between Lafayette, Lake Charles and Port Arthur, Texas,” Hulin said. “The next thing I know, I have signed to Mercury Records, and I am on tour.”
That two-week tour in 1964 featured a few familiar names, including B.J. Thomas, Ray Stevens and Jerry Lee Lewis and went through Texas and Louisiana. It proved to be Hulin’s first and last major tour for quite some time.
Hulin got very little sleep and had lost 10 pounds while on the road. That didn’t please his Cajun mother, Irene, all that much.
“My mama was old-fashioned,” Hulin said. “She picked me up in Lake Charles and said ‘Oh my Lord’ in French. She said, ‘That’s it. You are staying around here. You’re not going anywhere else but around here.’ ”
Those restrictions enforced by his mother didn’t stunt Hulin’s musical career, which has since attracted fans of traditional rhythm and blues, classic country and swamp pop.
Hulin, referred to by his close friends as “The King,” would go on to record several more records, including the lasting hit “As You Pass Me By,” which is now known as “Graduation Night.” He then formed a 12-piece band in the mid-1960s that included future 1970s rock icon Edgar Winters and even briefly owned his own night club in his native St. Martinville.
Hulin’s last studio album “Larger Than Life” was four years ago, but Hulin is hoping to finally record his dream project with close friend and swamp pop legend G.G. Shinn.
“I have been friends with him for a long time, and we have performed together but never did a record together,” Hulin said. “Me and G.G. would sound really good together. We are thinking about doing that record before we both die.”
Hulin never gets tired of singing his songs, including a French version of “Jolie Blonde,” a fan favorite. If he does gets tired of singing a particular song, he will sometimes just tweak the melody just a little bit to keep it fresh.
Hulin also never tires of interacting with his fans.
“I love people,” Hulin said. “When I get on stage, I go talk to them. I am always nice to them, and I always try to perform my best. They love me, and I love them. They have kept me in business for years and years. It’s been a wonderful life that I have had.”