But it was his mid-'60s work that put Hannibal (as he was officially known by now) on the map. "Jerkin' the Dog" and "Fishin' Pole" showed the turban-decked one growing measurably in his singing and arranging skills. But it was the prophetic Shurfine hit "Hymn No. 5," a sobering gospel-blues about a black soldier writing home from Vietnam, that Hannibal will perhaps be best known for. Released in 1966, the tune beat the white hippie acts to the punch by at least a year in its anti-war consciousness. But by now, however, Hannibal had developed a serious heroin habit and was spending more time as a pimp than a performer, and wasted much energy trying to sound like the newly funkified James Brown
and producing somewhat weaker singles.
By 1972, he had kicked heroin for good and recorded some of the best work of his career to this point. On "I'm Coming Home," Hannibal again visits the Vietnam quagmire, this time (it is now 1970) sending a young black man out of cities torn by drugs and riots into an even worse nightmare (could this be the younger brother of the vet described in "Hymn No. 5" half a decade earlier?). His anti-drug screamer "Truth Shall Set You Free" saw him (now calling himself King Hannibal
) finding new direction in gospel, but it marked a low period for his songwriting. Hannibal spent most of the 1970s as a bit actor in films like The Buddy Holly Story and Roots or as a staff producer at Venture Records. He even worked as entertainment editor for a time at Atlanta Voice newspaper. The cult glam film Velvet Goldmine featured some of his music and helped jump-start his career again. ~ John Duffy, Rovi