John Hiatt

2014 John Hiatt

A number of noted singers have their birth certificates filed in Indiana offices, Michael Jackson and John Mellencamp among them. Another one, a man whose artistry is just as respected if not as obvious on the radio, is Indianapolis native John Hiatt.

Born into a difficult family situation, John Hiatt found an early escape in music. He began to play the guitar at age eleven, and soon he was writing songs. With such influences as Elvis, the Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, Jimi Hendrix and Muddy Waters echoing in his mind, it's no surprise that Hiatt would develop the folky-bluesy rock sound he displays today.

Hiatt made his way onto the Indianapolis stage in his early teens, when he weighed 260 pounds. Rubbing elbows with the adult musicians led to a drinking problem early on (in hopes of taking off some weight), as well as some drug use. He dropped out of high school at 16 and scraped together enough cash to get him to Nashville. He signed on as a staff songwriter with Tree Music Publishing, and his first success was a song that Tracy Nelson recorded, 'Thinking of You.' In his spare time, Hiatt played in Nashville clubs, but the songwriting contract and the nightclub gigs were not quick tickets to success.

What made it happen for John Hiatt was an interview with Don Ellis of Epic Records, who let Hiatt record an album, 1974's HANGIN' AROUND THE OBSERVATORY. The album itself was not the hit it should have been, but one cut, 'Sure As I'm Sittin' Here,' was covered by Three Dog Night and made the Top 40.

That cover song began a trend: numerous artists have chosen to record songs Hiatt had already released. Bonnie Raitt recorded 'Thing Called Love' in 1989, and B.B. King and Eric Clapton recorded 'Riding with the King' in 2000. Something to note about these covers is that many people assume that the singers wrote these songs. That belief shows the flexibility of John Hiatt's compositions - though a lot of his songs have an autobiographical side to them, his ability to convey his experiences in universal terms makes them effective in the idiom of other artists as well as in his own.

Finally, after years of writing and recording in obscurity, Hiatt began to get the recognition he deserved as an artist in 1987, when he released BRING THE FAMILY. It didn't hurt that his band on the album consisted of Nick Lowe, Ry Cooder and Jim Keltner. With new career momentum, Hiatt released SLOW TURNING in 1988 and made it clear that he was on top to stay.

As he continued to turn out critically acclaimed, hot-selling albums, John Hiatt tickets became a hot item to own as well. His live show, including material from the early albums as well as his classics like 1994's PERFECTLY GOOD GUITAR and 1995's WALK ON (which won him his first Grammy nomination), shows his flexibility as a folk-blues-rock performer who knows how to wield his guitar.

Now, he has added the material from the acoustic roots album CROSSING MUDDY WATERS (2000) and the stellar album BENEATH THIS GRUFF EXTERIOR (2003) to his repertoire. With the legendary Sonny Landreth contributing to his sound, the mature John Hiatt sounds better than ever, and the tickets keep selling.


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