John Hiatt (born August 20, 1952 in Indianapolis, Indiana) is an American rock guitarist, pianist, singer, and songwriter. He has played a variety of musical styles on his albums, including New Wave, blues and country. Hiatt has been nominated for eleven Grammy Awards and has been awarded a variety of other distinctions in the music industry.
Hiatt was working as a songwriter for a record company in Nashville when his song “Sure as I’m Sitting Here” was covered by Three Dog Night. The song became a top forty hit, earning Hiatt a recording contract with Epic Records. Since then he has released eighteen studio albums and two live albums. His songs have been covered by a variety of artists in multiple genres, including Bob Dylan, Linda Ronstadt, Bonnie Raitt, Eric Clapton, B.B. King, Willie Nelson, Joan Baez, Paula Abdul, Jimmy Buffett, Mandy Moore, Iggy Pop and Rosanne Cash.
John Hiatt learned how to play the guitar when he was eleven, He started his musical career in Indianapolis, Indiana as a teenager. He played in a variety of local clubs, most notably the Hummingbird. Hiatt played with a variety of bands, including The Four-Fifths and John Lynch & The Hangmen.
Hiatt moved to Nashville, Tennessee, when he was sixteen years old and got a job as a songwriter for the Tree-Music Publishing Company for twenty-five dollars a week. Because Hiatt was unable to read or write scores, he had to record all 250 songs he wrote for the company. Meanwhile, Hiatt also began playing with White Duck, as one of three singer/songwriters within the group. White Duck had already recorded one album before Hiatt joined; however, he appears on their second album, In Season (1972). Hiatt performed live with White Duck, and soloed in a variety of clubs around Nashville.
Hiatt met Don Ellis of Epic Records in 1973, and received a record deal, releasing his first single, “We Make Spirit”, later that year. That same year, Hiatt wrote the song, “Sure As I’m Sitting Here”, which was recorded by Three Dog Night and went to Number 16 on the Billboard chart in 1974.
In 1974, Hiatt released Hangin’ Around the Observatory, which was a critical success and a commercial failure. A year later, Overcoats was released, and when it failed to sell, Epic released Hiatt from his contract. For the next four years, Hiatt was without a recording contract. During this time, his style evolved from country-rock to New Wave influenced rock in the style of Elvis Costello, Nick Lowe, and Graham Parker.
Hiatt was picked up by the MCA label in 1979. He released two new-wavish albums for the label in 1979 and 1980, neither of which met with commercial success. Switching to Geffen in 1982, he cut three stylistically diverse albums for the label from 1982-85. The first, All of a Sudden, was produced by Tony Visconti and featured heavy use of keyboards and synthesizers; the next two albums combined country and soul influences.
During this period, Rosanne Cash covered several Hiatt compoitions, taking Hiatt’s “It Hasn’t Happened Yet” to the Top 20 on the country charts. In 1987, Cash would take the Hiatt composition, “The Way We Make A Broken Heart” all the way to Number One on the US country charts.
While working with Geffen, Hiatt received some praise by being called “the American Elvis Costello” by some. Hiatt even recorded a duet with Costello, a cover of the Spinners’ song, “Living A Little, Laughing A Little”, which appeared on Warming Up to the Ice Age. Shortly after its release, Bob Dylan covered Hiatt’s song, “The Usual,” which had appeared on the soundtrack to the movie Hearts of Fire. However, Geffen dropped Hiatt from the label after Ice Age failed to chart.
Hiatt finally came into success in 1987, when he released his first big hit, Bring the Family. For the album, Hiatt had a backing band consisting of Ry Cooder, Nick Lowe, and Jim Keltner. One of the cuts from the album, “Have a Little Faith in Me”, would be covered by a number of artists, including Joe Cocker, Jewel, and Mandy Moore. “Thank You Girl” was a moderate radio hit, but nothing that would garner Hiatt national attention.
Following Bring the Family, Hiatt had varied success on his following albums, though he did have a string of nine straight studio albums hit the Billboard 200.
In 1989, Hiatt returned to the studio to record Slow Turning, which would be his first album to hit the upper half of the Billboard 200. It also featured his only top ten chart single, the title track, which hit Number Eight on the Mainstream Rock Tracks chart. Also in 1989, Jeff Healey covered Hiatt’s song, “Angel Eyes”, and took it to the Top Five of the Billboard Hot 100.
In 1992, Cooder, Keltner, and Lowe again backed up Hiatt, but this time they gave themselves a band name, Little Village, a reference to a Sonny Boy Williamson II project. Expectations for the Little Village album were high, but the album failed to even chart as high as Hiatt’s last solo album, and the group disbanded after an only moderately successful tour.
In 1993, Hiatt recorded Perfectly Good Guitar with members of alternative rock groups School of Fish and Wire Train. Hiatt recorded the album with producer Matt Wallace who had worked most prominently with Faith No More, a band that Hiatt’s fifteen-year-old son had recommended for him. It was Hiatt’s highest peaking album at Number 47, but again was still not the true commercial breakthrough A&M expected. The next year, Hiatt released Hiatt Comes Alive at Budokan?, his first live album and his last album with A&M Records.
Hiatt’s next few albums never gained any momentum on the charts, and he saw little change in his fan base in the late 1990s, indicating a dedicated (but not growing) following. In 2000, Hiatt released his first independent album (on Vanguard Records), Crossing Muddy Waters, which saw a strong mixture of bluegrass music in his music. Later that year, he was named songwriter/artist of the year at the Nashville Music Awards. In 2001, Crossing Muddy Waters was nominated for a Grammy award for Best Contemporary Folk Album.
A compilation of Hiatt’s songs that have been covered was also released on Vanguard. A CD and DVD of John Hiatt’s performance on Austin City Limits was released in 2005.
Hiatt’s most recent album, Master of Disaster, was released on June 21, 2005. The album was produced by Jim Dickinson, and Hiatt was backed up by notable studio bassist David Hood and several members of the jam band, The North Mississippi Allstars. The album achieved modest sales, becoming a top ten independent album, but eluded significant commercial success in the same manner that his previous albums did. However, the album did receive recognition by winning High Fidelity Review Listener’s Choice Award in the 2005 Surround Music Awards held in Beverly Hills, California.
Looking at life through the rearview mirror was the inspiration for John Hiatt s brand new album, The Open Road (2010). A classic Hiatt record, the rockin’ songs sizzle with the heat from two-lane blacktop on a summer s day. Hiatt and his touring band (Kenny Blevins on drums, Patrick O Hearn on bass and Doug Lancio on guitars) recorded a set that gives Garage Rock a new meaning.
“All the other years, my songs are about coming home,” Hiatt says. “But within these eleven new songs, including ‘Haulin’ and the title track ‘The Open Road’, home is never the destination.”
Produced by Kevin “Caveman” Shirley (Silverchair, Aerosmith, Joe Bonamassa), Hiatt’s timeless songwriting is paired with the aggressive blues guitar on Dirty Jeans and Mudslide Hymns (2011). Hiatt is back in the studio with his touring combo (Kenny Blevins on drums, Patrick O’Hearn on bass and Doug Lancio on guitars). The first single is “Damn This Town.”
John Hiatt builds on the worldwide success of his last album Dirty Jeans & Mudslide Hymns that featured the Top 20 A3 single “Adios to California”, with his new album Mystic Pinball (2012). Hiatt works again with producer Kevin “Caveman” Shirley (Silverchair, Aerosmith, Joe Bonamassa), delivering a record that features Hiatt’s timeless songwriting. The first single is “We’re Alright Now.”