LUMBERTON — Before Glen Campbell made famous the song “Rhinestone Cowboy” in 1975, Richard Hydell was dressing music legends.
In an oasis of rock records and memorabilia in his traditional Southern home in downtown Lumberton, Hydell, an artist and musician, explains how he got his start styling some of the world’s most famous stars.
“I was with a church group who opened up a thrift store in Nashville,” he said. “It was right on Broadway, with Ernest Tubbs’ Record Shop right across the street. It just happened to be in the most amazing spot.”
Hydell, who moved to Lumberton 10 years ago to be closer to his wife’s family, said the thrift store, known as the Alamo of Nashville, quickly sold out of their Western-style shirts, leaving behind only toasters and odd knic-knacks. Sensing a trend, the owners sent Hydell to Hollywood to replace the odds and ends with Western-style clothing.
“That’s when bands started coming in,” Hydell said, “and they would say, ‘Well, I like this shirt, but could you do something a little special just here?’” The request sent Hydell to Los Angeles to find the people who could make those changes.
There he met designers like Nathan Turk, who designed suits for Hank Williams Sr. and Willie Nelson, and discovered the work of Malcolm Hall, who designed suits for Led Zeppelin’s Jimmy Page and ABBA.
Hanging in the memorabilia room at his Lumberton home are two suits by each designer. The sound of tapping hangers lingers as Hydell takes one down to try it on.
A simple blue suit designed by Turk, fitted perfectly to Hydell’s shoulders and accented with white stitching, still fits the tall blond, who power walks every morning for that very reason.
The suit was a gift from Turk, and Hydell wore it Thursday and Friday night while performing “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry” and “Your Cheatin’ Heart” at the Carolina Civic Center’s premier of “The Last Ride,” a film about the last days of Hank Williams Sr.
Kendrix Singletary, the resident artist at the Civic Center, asked Hydell to sing before the showing after hearing him perform in church. Hydell also sings gospel on 1340 AM, WGAR every Saturday.
“The connection is, I’m wearing a suit made by the guy who made clothes for Hank Williams and here I am singing a Hank Williams song at a Hank Williams premier,” said Hydell. “I mean, life is just fun.”
Hydell, who stumbled upon the life of a stylist somewhat serendipitously, flicks through the collection of records stacked against his wall. He pulls out “The Mysterious Lady,” a flashy black and gold album by Hank Snow, a country-western star famous for hits like “Let Me Go, Lover!” and “Hello Love.”
“He said he wanted lapels to be super ornate, with a lot of gold and lot of rhinestones, but that he didn’t want it to be over the top — a little on the leg, a little on the lapels, black with gold accents.”
Pictured is the result of that collaboration, an album cover of Hank Snow standing in a black and gold suit with detail on the pants and sleeve.
Hydell didn’t always get it right. He tells the story of his experience working with Elvis’ backup singers, who were told by the King of rock-and- roll to spice up their outfits.
“So, I had denim outfits made up,” he said. “They were really cool denim with rhinestones and they looked amazing. During rehearsals they came out thinking they were looking amazing. When Elvis saw them, he said, ‘What are you all doing wearing these suits?’
“He said, ‘Look man, when I was poor, I wore denim. Nobody is going to wear denim in my band.’ And that was it. They called me up and said Elvis won’t let us anywhere near him in these suits, so I had these made up for them.”
Leafing through the albums, Hydell pulls out J.D. Sumner & The Stamps Quartet. It’s the result of that struggle — an album by the back-up singers wearing the same identical yellow suits, studded on the sleeves with high collars that Hydell says are typical of Elvis’ style. A jacket similar to the one featured on the album hangs in the room.
Hydell, who was born in New York City, traces his roots back to rock-and-roll and didn’t care much for country when he first got into the business. He said he just “didn’t get it.”
As a Hank Williams’ record turns slowly against the needle, it’s clear he gets it now.
Maintaining a fondness for his first love, a tribute to rock-and-roll is displayed on a hanger. It’s a black velvet suit with satin embellishment — all the typical characteristics of the British designer who made it, Malcolm Hall. Across the room hangs a beaded and rhinestoned jean jacket.
“We are who we are,” Hydell said. “…I love when people express themselves.”
And he summed up in three words why music legends so often expressed themselves with shiny rhinestones.
“They were stars.”