John Hiatt (born , 1952 in Indianapolis, Indiana, U.S.) 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 Tree International, a record company in Nashville when his song "Sure As I'm Sittin' 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, Willy DeVille, Linda Ronstadt, Bonnie Raitt, Eric Clapton, B.B. King, Willie Nelson, Jesse Brand, Three Dog Night, Joan Baez, Paula Abdul, Buddy Guy, the Desert Rose Band, Jimmy Buffett, Mandy Moore, Iggy Pop, Emmylou Harris, Kathy Chiavola, Rodney Crowell, Nick Lowe, The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Rosanne Cash, Jewel, Aaron Neville and Keith Urban. Also the Dutch singer/songwriter Ilse DeLange recorded the album "Dear John" with 9 of his songs.
Early life and career
John Hiatt was born on , 1952 to Robert and Ruth Hiatt. When Hiatt was nine years old, his twenty-one year old brother Michael committed suicide. Only two years later, his father died after a long sickness. To escape from the stress of his early life, Hiatt watched Formula One racing and listened to Elvis Presley, Bob Dylan, and the blues. In his youth, Hiatt reports that he and several others stole a Ford Thunderbird, a crime for which he was caught by the owners but got away with, posing as a hitchhiker. He 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 eighteen years old and got a job as a songwriter for the Tree-Music Publishing Company for twenty-five dollars a week. Hiatt, who was unable to read or write scores, had to record all 250 songs he wrote for the company. He also began playing with the band White Duck, as one of three singer/songwriters within the group. White Duck had already recorded one album before Hiatt joined?he appears on their second album, In Season (1972). Hiatt performed live in many clubs around Nashville with White Duck, and as a solo act.
Early solo career (1974-78)
Hiatt met Don Ellis of Epic Records in 1973, and received a record deal, releasing his first single, "We Make Spirit," later that year with Ellis on drums and Michael Bell on 2nd lead guitar. 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 he released Hangin' Around the Observatory, which was a critical success and a commercial failure. A year later, Overcoats was released, and when it also failed to sell, Epic released Hiatt from his contract. For the next four years he 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.
The MCA/Geffen Years (1979-1986)
Hiatt was picked up by the MCA label in 1979. He released two albums for the label in 1979 and 1980, neither of which met with commercial success. He received a few good reviews for these albums by critics in the Netherlands. He performed at the Paradiso in Amsterdam for the first time in 1979 (opening for Southside Johnny & The Asbury Jukes) and came back often and built a solid fan base. He thanked a 2007 Holland audience for giving him a break back then. Hiatt was signed to Geffen in 1982 where he cut three stylistically diverse albums from 1982-85. The first, All of a Sudden was produced by Tony Visconti and featured heavy use of keyboards and synthesisers; his future albums combined country and soul influences. "Riding With the King" appeared in 1983, produced by Scott Mathews, Ron Nagle and Nick Lowe. Hiatt began making 'critics choice' lists and building a large European following. The title track (taken from an odd dream Scott Mathews had) was re-recorded two decades later by Eric Clapton and B.B. King and went double platinum.
During this period, Rosanne Cash covered several Hiatt compositions, taking "It Hasn't Happened Yet" to the top 20 on the country charts. In 1983, Cash would duet w/ Hiatt on his "The Way We Make A Broken Heart" produced as a duet w/ Hiatt by Scott Mathews and Ron Nagle. When Geffen failed to release the single, Cash re-recorded it in 1987 and it went all the way to #1 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.
Success at last (1987-1989)
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, Delbert McClinton, Jewel, Bill Frisell, Mandy Moore and Bon Jovi. "Thank You Girl" was a moderate radio hit, but nothing that would garner Hiatt national attention. But most notably, Bonnie Raitt would bring "Thing Called Love" to #11 on the U.S. charts with her 1989 release Nick of Time.
Following Bring the Family, Hiatt had a string of nine straight studio albums hit the Billboard 200.
In 1988, he 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 #8 on the Mainstream Rock Tracks chart as well as "Tennessee Plates" which would later appear in the Ridley Scott directed and Academy Award winning film, "Thelma and Louise" in 1991. In 1989, the Jeff Healey Band covered the Hiatt-penned song "Angel Eyes", and took it to the top 5 of the Billboard Hot 100.
The 1990s and beyond
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 15-year-old son had recommended for him. It was Hiatt's highest peaking album at #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 received his first Grammy nomination in 1995 for his album "Walk On". Hiatt's next few albums never gained any momentum on the charts, and he saw little change in his fanbase 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 heavy influence of bluegrass 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, with Davey Faragher and David Immergl?ck as his only accompanists.
In 2002, Hiatt performed several songs for the soundtrack to Disney's "Country Bears" movie, representing the voice of the lead singer.
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 album, Master of Disaster, was released on , 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 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, CA.
A July 2007 story in the Santa Rosa Press Democrat reported that Hiatt had recently recorded his first album consisting of nothing but love songs. Although the album, a mostly acoustic affair, was rumored to be titled "What Love Can Do,", on Tuesday, February 12, during a concert with Lyle Lovett at the National Arts Centre in Ottawa (Canada), John Hiatt said that his new album would be titled "Same Old Man" and that it would be released on May 6, 2008. He then re-affirmed this statement on February 13 2008 at Massey Hall in Toronto,Ontario Canada and again February 14, 2008 at The Ridgefield Playhouse in Ridgefield, CT while performing with Lyle Lovett. The new album was released on May 27, 2008.
On July 18, 2008 Hiatt performed at the Ravinia Outdoor in suburban Chicago with his daughter, Lilly, for 2 songs to great applause.
TV and movie appearances
Performed on "Sessions at West 54th"
Host of "Sessions at West 54th" during the series' third and final season.
Performed on "Austin City Limits", originally taped , 1993.
Performed on "Hard Rock Live", 1997.
Performed on "Where Music Meets Film: Live from Sundance", 1999.
Contributed the singing voice to Ted Bedderhead in the animated Disney film The Country Bears, 2002.
Appeared as himself on an episode of "Yes Dear", originally aired , 2004.