John Hiatt shows no signs of slowin’ down
There’s an amazing statistic: you have 11 Grammy nominations and no wins. John Hiatt responds, “Isn't that wild? I quit going.”

(The first interview was published February 18, 1994; the second one is from July 13, 2008.)

Madison, John Hiatt says excitedly, yeah, he remembers a show he did here.

“I was opening for Graham Parker many moons ago, maybe ’82.

I was a big fan of his. I was drinking in those days, of course. I had my big old, post-show cocktail, and I went up to introduce myself and to shake his hand just before he went on stage,” he pauses. “And I accidentally spilled my drink on him.”

He laughs, “That was in Madison.”

(Parker, incidentally, took the incident in stride and told someone backstage to get him a towel and hair dryer.)

By the mid-’80s, Hiatt began a personal renaissance.

He stopped drinking – “These days the only bar I ever see,” he sings on 1990’s “Stolen Moments,” “has got lettuce and tomatoes” – eased up from hard living and devoted himself to his family.

Now, Hiatt is a revered veteran with 11 albums to his credit, including the recent release “Perfectly Good Guitar” and a 1992 effort with the semisupergroup Little Village.

Yet most people, whether rock or country fans, are more familiar with Hiatt songs that others made famous, including “Thing Called Love,” Bonnie Raitt; “Angel Eyes,” Jeff Healey; “That’s the Way We Make a Broken Heart,” Rosanne Cash; and “Drive South,” Suzy Bogguss.

“I never think of casting a song until way after the fact,” Hiatt says before a show in Ottawa, Canada.

“I mainly just write for the sheer joy of writing songs. It’s what I do. I’ve been doing it since I was 11. Now I’m 41. It’s a part of who I am.”

Prior to the rollicking “Perfectly Good Guitar,” Hiatt recorded three fairly confessional and critically acclaimed efforts: 1987’s “Bring the Family,” 1988’s “Slow Turning” and “Stolen Moments.”

Although not best sellers, each solidified Hiatt’s fan base, so it wasn’t surprising when tonight’s show at the 850-person capacity Barrymore sold out in a few days.

Joining Hiatt on stage during this tour is a band called Guilty Dogs, featuring two ex-members of Cracker and a guitarist from the Los Angeles band School of Fish. It’s a young lineup, but one that fuels Hiatt.

“I feel very good about the racket we’re making,” he says.

Still, it’s not difficult to sense Hiatt’s desire for a breakthrough single. He rattles off the peak position on Billboard’s album rock chart of several cuts from “Perfectly Good Guitar” with surprising sharpness.

Recently, his beautiful piano ballad “Have A Little Faith In Me” seemed poised for a run at the Top 40. Featured prominently in the mainstream film “Benny & Joon,” the song, however, was left off the soundtrack due to a contract snag.

“That,” he says with a laugh, “is sort of a typical Hiatt story.”


July 13, 2008

The Life of a hitman: Going under cover with John Hiatt, star songwriter


You’ve heard John Hiatt’s songs. Definitely “Thing Called Love.” Probably “Angel Eyes” and “Riding with the King,” too. Big hits … for others.

More than 100 artists have covered Hiatt’s songs and several acts enjoyed major hits with them. But Hiatt, now 56, remains a viable performer, one who carves a lonely line between rock and country.

A Madison concert favorite, Hiatt returns to the Barrymore Theatre on Thursday night. He’s promoting another acclaimed album, “Same Old Man,” that adds more fuel to his two-decade revival.

State Journal: Your show here is being billed as the first time you’ve played with a band here in 10 years. Is that true?

Hiatt: Wow. Has it been 10 years since I’ve had a band up there?

State Journal: Madison seems like a good market for you. Your concerts always sell well. Your music gets considerable radio support (from 105.5 Triple M).

Hiatt: I’m so grateful for that. Across the country, there are places like Madison that I’ve been able to build up a following.

State Journal: Do you still enjoy touring?

Hiatt: More than ever.

State Journal: Really?

Hiatt: Yeah. You know you don’t have all the time in the world in front of you – so  you’re enjoying it like you don’t have all the time in the world in front of you.

State Journal: Does songwriting get easier?

Hiatt: No, no, no. When you start the process, it’s the same old thing: Pick up a guitar and sit around strumming. There’s always that moment where I feel like I’ve never written a song before and I don’t know how to write a song and stare at a blank page. Then out of all that and the self doubt something will come if you’re lucky. When you write one you think, “This is wonderful. I love writing.” It’s a lot of emotion.

State Journal: You went through very tough times with alcohol and drug abuse in your 20s and 30s. You still recorded, but your best work came after that. Are there still demons of addiction?

Hiatt: As far as staying sober, I have a lot of support from a lot of different people. I have to make an effort everyday to choose sobriety over using. The thought of taking a drink or drug really hasn’t entered my mind in years. But I’m still crazy. (laughs) The drinking and the drugs are systematic of a much cheaper problem: just life. My problem is with reality.

State Journal: I saw this statistic: 11 Grammy nominations for you and no wins.

Hiatt: Isn’t that wild? I quit going. (Songwriter) Guy Clark and I talked about it. I said, “I hate going out there and losing.” He said, “I’m the same damn way. I don’t go.” I said, “OK, I’m not going.”

State Journal: Your songs have been covered by other artists hundreds of times. Does good money trickle down to the songwriter in these cases?

Hiatt: A lot of covers doesn’t mean a lot of money. One big country hit can probably take out a bunch of those. But it’s been great. I’ve been fortunate to have some timely covers like Bonnie (Raitt) doing “Thing Called Love.” We were out touring at the time and touring was about losing money in those days. So her cover definitely helped. “Riding with the King” with B.B. King and Eric Clapton did great for us.

I never set out to get covered. I always look at it as a really cool plus. I’m lucky that it happens. I don’t write songs for other people. The times I’ve tried I’ve failed miserably. I’m not a made-to-order songwriter.

State Journal: The gamut of people who have covered you is amazing. But one person on the list made me laugh. It’s Paula Abdul.

Hiatt: Yes. I love that she’s covered me and Iggy Pop’s covered me and Willie Nelson’s covered me. It’s not one genre. Something in the songs hits a cross section of people.

State Journal: When I jog, I listen to an iPod and your song “Cry Love” is one of the best songs to run to.

Hiatt: (laughs) I can understand that. A lot of my songs of mine come from me driving down the road so movement is a big part of them.

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