John Hiatt was born in Indianapolis, but you’d swear from his lyrics that he was a southern son of Memphis or New Orleans, maybe even Muscle Shoals. His deep soul pulled him from the Midwest to Nashville and the life of a professional songwriter, and before long he was performing around town, solo and with a band or two.
Hiatt’s time as a contract writer was both productive and proof of his extraordinary talent. His songs, written then and since, have been recorded by the diverse likes of Bob Dylan, Willie Nelson, Delbert McClinton, Emmylou Harris, Rodney Crowell, Kevin Welch, Ry Cooder, Bill Frisell, Joe Cocker, Joan Baez, Nick Lowe, Rosanne Cash, Aaron Neville, Rubén Blades, Bonnie Raitt, Gregg Allman, Eric Clapton, Jewell, Carl Perkins, B.B. King, Ricky Nelson, Iggy Pop and Three Dog Night.
But as is usually the case, this man’s music is best heard from the horse’s mouth. Hiatt trades in a sort of joyful swamp soul with liberal pinches of country, rockabilly, southern rhythm and blues and a little Crescent City jazz. The mighty Mississippi is a recurring visitor in his songs, and in some ways the big river is a metaphor for his journey from the Midwest to the port cities of Memphis and New Orleans.
John can lay down a sad song with the best of them, but there is always a smile in the air, always the sense that things will be all right, no matter how much it hurts right now. Quality, good-time stuff from a master of the southern way.
Three things to know about John Hiatt: (1) his song, “Riding With the King” went double platinum when it was covered by Clapton and B.B. King, (2) Little Village, his short-lived collaboration with Cooder, Lowe and Jim Keltner, was named after a song by Sonny Boy Williamson II, and (3) his song, “Perfectly Good Guitar”, was a righteous reaction to the scourge of rock and rollers bashing their guitars on-stage.