“Three deals and an ax to grind” – Indianapolis Business Journal
John Hiatt will perform July 27 at the TCU Amphitheater at White River State Park. (Photo provided by New West Records)
As John Hiatt sang in his 1990 hit “Real Fine Love,” he was 18 when he “flew out of Indiana in the back of a pickup truck.” The Broad Ripple High School dropout eventually built a towering songwriting career in Nashville, where he won a lifetime achievement award from the Americana Music Association in 2008 and the BMI Troubadour Award in 2019.
On July 27, Hiatt will return to his hometown to share a bill with blues icon Buddy Guy at the TCU Amphitheater in White River State Park.
“I like what was instilled in me coming from Indiana: that kind of Midwestern drive that we all seem to have,” Hiatt said in a phone interview. “I like it. My kids notice they got the same from me. It’s, ‘OK, let’s get the tools and do it.’
Hiatt is the father of a son, Rob, and two daughters, Lilly and Georgia Rae. Lilly is a singer-songwriter who has released five albums. Hiatt reports that Georgia Rae is a mother-to-be, which means he and his wife, Nancy, will be grandparents for the first time.
For the record, Hiatt earned his GED in 2006. And Indiana did its part to honor the lyricist of “Thing Called Love,” “Have a Little Faith in Me,” and “Feels Like Rain” by awarding Hiatt the Governor’s Arts Award. in 2013. .
Hiatt spoke to IBJ about his tour with the Goners, the band he originally assembled for 1988’s “Slow Turning” album. Sonny Landreth plays slide guitar, while Dave Ranson plays bass and Kenneth Blevins play the drums.
How does it feel to be with the Goners this time?
The last time we played together was on a “Slow Turning” reunion tour in 2018, which went really well. It was very fun. This time it’s even better, in some ways. We hit the ground running and found our groove pretty quickly. I hadn’t played with a drummer since the “Slow Turning” reunion tour. It took me a minute to fix my problem. But it’s like four bald tires on a car. Once we get up and leave, that’s a certain kind of thing we do. If we all had our steps, it wouldn’t sound right.
I listened to at least one episode of the live streams you did with Lyle Lovett during lockdown. Did you enjoy making them? Did you learn anything from sitting down and performing in front of a camera?
It’s a bit disconcerting at first. As an older guy, I’m not necessarily tuned into everyone’s video. I think younger people have an easier time with that, maybe. But that was what we could do. Communicating music is communicating music, whether you’re there in the flesh or it feels like what you’re doing is being broadcast to an audience on a video screen.
Are the costs of being on the road a bit high this summer?
Astronomical. But we are all in the same boat. Tours are more expensive than ever. But the value of sharing a musical communion with a room full of people cannot be measured in dollars and cents. Spiritually, it’s probably even more rewarding than in the past. You can’t fill that void when you’re making music at home. I think that more than makes up for the extra financial costs of touring.
What are the line items that catch the eye?
Diesel fuel, hotel rooms, etc. Food costs, everything. Like many acts, we had trouble finding a tour bus. We started looking back at the end of last year. It was kind of a perfect storm. He was coming. Everyone was getting ready to leave. But people come out, because they want to be part of that musical experience again. It feeds the soul.
I read the 2021 biography that Michael Elliott wrote, “Have a Little Faith: The John Hiatt Story”. One of the common threads for me is that you strive to make albums in so many different ways with so many different people. What drives this?
I don’t like doing the same thing twice. Musically, I think it’s about adventure. On the one hand, I’m an artist with a primitive style: three chords and an ax to grind. That’s pretty much my middle ground. I don’t deviate much from that. So, in turn, I like to put this constant in different contexts. In the beginning, I admired artists like David Bowie. He would do that. Every record he made was different. I think Bob Dylan has done that over the years. Buddy Guy is a perfect example. Buddy has tried all kinds of different styles. His impeccable guitar playing and singing have always been the constant. I am inspired by this kind of artists.
We consider Lilly an Honorary Hoosier. I imagine it’s rewarding to watch your career progress?
Absolutely. She’s at the pinnacle right now. She’s part of a four-piece band, which is my favorite way of working: two guitars, bass and drums. They are so good. He’s a rockstar. All she has to do is keep doing it, because people are going to understand how good she is the more she plays.
Your 2021 album with Jerry Douglas, “Leftover Feelings”, includes the song “Light of the Burning Sun”, which is the story of your brother, Michael. He committed suicide in Hamilton County when he was 21 and you were 10. Is this a song you tried to write before?
Anyone who has lived through someone near and dear who committed suicide knows that it takes a lifetime to process something like this. I had no intention of writing about it until the day I could actually write the song. I received a lot of help to solve the problems related to this kind of traumatic event. I think being able to write the song was kind of the end result. I could kind of make peace with it all, just by basically being a reporter and telling the story as it unfolded.
You have a historic birthday on August 20, when you turn 70.
I feel like a kid, except for the body aches and the bags full of medicine I take with me when I travel. Everyone in my group is older than me. I am four months youngest. None of this matters. We all play and are grateful to play any night, whether I’m 25 or 85.