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John Hiatt

unauthorized and based on facts and fiction from different sources.
  • August 20, John R Hiatt born in Indianapolis, indiana. Mother "Ruth", father "Robert" and 6 brothers and sister

John Robert Hiatt was born in Indianapolis, Indiana, USA, on August 20th 1952. His father Robert, who stood model for one of John's most pungent songs about the American way of life, "Your Dad Did" (Bring the Family) was a kitchen cabinet and metal school locker salesman and not in very good health. When he got sick, John's elder brother Michael took over the business. Although John is a very private person and does not like to talk about his personal life and past (except in his songs), it is known that his childhood was not alltogether a happy one. His mother Ruth and his father didn't have a happy marriage and Michael, who John worshipped, committed suicide at twenty-one (John was nine at that time), which must have been hard to cope with, especially because the Hiatt-family was Catholic. (On a lighter note: imagine John being a choir boy...) Two years later his father died. Because of these traumatic experiences John developed a high level of existential angst, one of the leitmotifs in his music.The atmosphere in the Hiatt-household - with seven childeren - was tense and to escape from it all John listened to the radio a lot. He admired Elvis Presley, and among his other musical heroes were Bob Dylan, Jimi Hendrix, Muddy Waters, The Rolling Stones and Howlin' Wolf. And being from Indianapolis, home of one of the most famous Formula One races, it is not surprising that he still considers racers like J.A. Foyt and Mario Andretti as the gods of his youth.

  • brother Michael committed suicide at twenty-one.
  • father Robert died.
  • started playing guitar.
  • wrote his first song "Beth-Ann".

The first song I ever wrote was called Beth-Ann and was about a girl a friend of mine was in love with. I myself didn't have a girlfriend yet, that's why I decided to write about her. Beth-Ann was the kind of girl who was rather precocious and well developed in certain places, if you know what I mean. She had the attention of all twelve year old boys, so I wrote a song about her. I've even performed Beth-Ann a few times with one of the garage bands I was involved with. We once played during a church social and my friend, who had been trying to become Beth-Ann's boyfriend for a long time, convinced me to sing that song and to make the text even more suggestive then it already was. My referrals to her considerable developments were unmistakable. Her boyfriend, who was already at high shool, a big guy, a football player, an enormous fellow in the eyes of twelve year old boys, - even if he probably only was fourteen - was also at the party. Afterwards he came backstage and punched my lights out.

  • his first bands: Four Fifths, Joe Lynch and the Hangmen. He played in a variety of local clubs, most notably the Hummingbird.

When he was eleven years old John began to learn to play the guitar. After half a year, when he knew only three chords, he started to write songs, which he thought was "pretty sick", because he should have been playing baseball or something like that, instead of sitting in his room, a small, obese boy, composing songs. But being what he was and doing what he had to do, John knew he was destined to become a singer-songwriter. He was influenced by the artists already mentioned, but also by Mitch Ryder, the Shondells and Little Stevie Wonder. In an interview with the American magazine No Depression (September-October 2000), he told: "I played "Fingertips" over and over in the basement of our house for a year." But as far as writing is concerned he was initially most influenced by Leonard Cohen and Bob Dylan. He locked himself in his room and listened to "Visions of Johanna" over and over. His sisters later told him that they were quite concerned about his mental health at that time.

By watching the Ed Sullivan Show on television, John discovered British bands like the Yardbirds, who he also saw perform live when he was fourteen years old, an experience he still vividly remembers more than 35 years later. And it were British bands that led him to the blues, because "these white guys were playing Mississippi John Hurt and Muddy Waters..." He could easily identify with the blues, because he was "a screwed-up Catholic fat kid... I had breasts... When I went swimming, I was ridiculed by my peers. So I had the blues..."
One of the clubs John performed in in his teens was The Hummingbird on Talbot t Street in Indianapolis, a place for music, but also for discussions about many aspects of life, and for drinking. John already started to drink when he was thirtheen years old. One of his bands at that time was called The Four Fifths or 4/5ths, referring to a measure for whisky or other liquor in the States (a fifth of a gallon). (Bands with odd names would become one of the trademarks of John Hiatt.) First he drank to keep his weight down - girls didn't like fat boys - later to feel good or to find inspiration, but often just to get drunk. John pretty much knew from the beginning that he had a problem, though he didn't want to admit it to himself, he once said. "I didn't drink like my friends. We'd get half-pints of  cherry-flavored vodka, go to the alley and get loaded and then go to somebody's party. I remember looking at the kids who were drinking with me. I could see that they were getting drunk, but they weren't  any different. When I got drunk, I felt like a completely different  person." John also got hooked on various drugs at an early age. In the late sixties - he had left school when he was sixteen! - he performed with different bands in local bars, one of those being called Joe Lynch and the Hangmen (see what we mean about names... but as the record shows they at least abonded the idea of hanging nooses from their mikes).

  • quit school and moved to nashville.
  • rented a room at music row and started working for tree publishing music international as a songwriter for $25 a week. recorded all 250 songs he wrote for the company.

One of John's most biographical songs is "Real Fine Love" (Stolen Moments) although he did not "roll out in the back of a pick up truck", but rode out of Indianapolis on his way to Nashville in a Corveer, which he bought for 35 dollars from a friend. This vehicle didn't have any floor boards, but it brought him to Nshville, the city where he would learn to be a songwriter in the classic tradition, writing songs which tell a story, having a beginning and an end, verses, a refrain and many times a bridge.

After having arrived in Nashville he immediately started to look for work as a songwriter, but most of the music publising companies were not interested. Then he walked into the building of Tree Music-Publishing Company.... He was asked to play some songs on his guitar and then they offered him a job for 25 dollars a week. With eight other boys, all of them with the same aspirations, he rented a house and in a room with not much more in it then a bare lightbulb and a hot plate, he worked all day on his songs. He never learned to write or to read scores, so he had to record each song he composed. John now regards the many songs - about 250 in five years - which he wrote for Tree, mostly as an exercise in songwriting.

  • 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"

In 1973 John played some songs for Don Ellis of the Epic Record Company in Nashville, who asked him if he would like to make an album. January 1974 saw the release of this first solo album, the ecclectic "Hangin' Around The Observatory", with gems like Rose and Sure as I'm sitting here, of which the latter the same year would be recorded by Three Dog Night, at that time a well-known group. Although the album was quite well received by critics, only 15.000 copies were sold. According to these critics the album showed John to be a promising lyricist and composer, but it lacked focus because of the many different styles of the songs. John however blamed Epic for not pushing the album. ''I never toured to promote it", he complained in 1979 to a journalist of BAM magazine. (The years ahead would prove that John often disagreed with record companies.) But he recorded a second album for Epic, which was released in 1975, Overcoats, with beautifully written songs like Motorboat to Heaven (almost a gospel song) and the catchy Down Home, but also John's silliest song (according to many): I killed an ant with my guitar. Again this album was not a commercial success and it meant the end of the record deal with Epic.

  • epic released his second album "overcoats".
  • both albums received critical acclaim, neither generated the desired sales levels, and he was dropped by epic.
  • Tree Publishing had let him go as well.
  • went to San Francisco for a year.
  • 2 months after he met Barbara Rosalie Mordes they married on june 5, Baltimore Maryland and moved to L.A. Wilshire Blvd., Beverly Hills.
  • signed to MCA records and released "slug line".
  • release of "two bit monsters". again to critical acclaim but slow sales.  Dropped by MCA. 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 and 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.
  • spent most of 1980 as a member of Ry Cooder's backing band, playing rhythm guitar on the Borderline album and touring with the guitarist. Hiatt stayed with Cooder throughout 1981.
  • formally divorced from Barbara Mordes.
  • married to isabella cecilia wood (born october 7, 1954 georgia).
  • moved to Topanga Canyon, southern California.

One of the best early interviews with John in our archives is from a Scottish magazine called Hot Wacks (issue 19 - 1980). It is worth reading because the interviewer, Mike Davies, asked good questions and - most important - gave John plenty of space to answer. John's album Slug Line was just released and John was touring in Europe.

A few fragments:

...R&B and Gospel shows...

MD: Considering the way he sings, Hiatt speaks in a much lower tone of voice, slowly and purposefully, eager but never brash, the exuberance of youth having been replaced by the bad breaks of reality. He's a guy who recognises his own talents and limitations and doesn't play the bullshit game with either. Taking time out from the recent tour with Soutside Johnny, a perfect pairing if I ever heard of one I took the chance to run down the Hiatt story to date. Taking the strong black influence apparent on his album (Slug Line, ed.) and the admiration he expressed for artists like the Isleys, it's somewhat surprising to discover he was brought up in Indianapolis in the 50's and early 60's, certainly not an area noted for the R&B roots. How did he get exposed to the music that has helped shape his style?

John: I used to listen to WLAC Radio from Nashville, Tennessee. Nashville was only 300 miles South and I could pull it in at night. This would be about 1963 when I was 11. There was a great R&B programme on every night and besides hearing the soul hits of the day like Otis Redding you'd get to hear the weird regional stuff such as Robert Knight and James and Bobby Purify. Then on Sunday night they'd have a gospel show and they'd go to a different Negro church every week and just broadcast the service. Those gospel shows used to scare the shit out of me, there was some real heavy stuff going on and for a shite mid-Western Catholic point of view where you just walk into church and feel guilty for a while and leave, that was really something, They just let it rip and that was what attracted me.

MD: Did you spread the word much on the stuff you were listening to?

John: I didn't really have too many friends. I kept to myself a lot and I didn't buy the records. I really didn't get it together to go out and get them. I was pretty much a typical white kid. I didn't search it out, I just enjoyed turning it on.

...too bizarre...

MD: What led you to performing?

John: I was a fat kid and I wanted to win friends, be loved, and it was the only thing I could do. I got a guitar when I was 11 and I knew immediately that this was the right thing for me and within the first year I was putting bands together and teaching people to play. I'm sure I wasn't anything as far as guitarists go but I grasped the chord thing immediately. My mother strangely didn't put up any resistance to what I was doing. Strange because I was this 12 year old kid hanging out with 17 and 18 year olds and my school grades just nosedived. Maybe she saw it as therapy for me.

MD: Those early bands you put together, there was Four Fifths and Joe Lynch and the Hangmen...

John: Joe Lynch was the drummer and we thought he had a cooler name. After a couple of months with these bands someone would leave and we'd start all over. None of them were ever hot stuff in Indianapolis. I mean you've got to picture a 12 year kid at 260 lbs, playing a guitar fronting a band of 17 year olds. It was a bit too bizarre for Indianapolis.

MD: Considering that you were the fat kid and being picked on, did you develop an aggressive stage personality?

John: I was terribly shy and self-conscious, but I remember feeling that all of that didn't exist when I opened my mouth to sing - and in those days I was a soprano - and I remember feeling suspended above this miserable life as a chubby kid and that was what kept me doing it. I felt so great when I could sing and I'm sure the kids who picked on me were confused. You could sense a reaction and recognition of what I had to offer.

...Running away from home, a short stay in NYC and then Nashville...

MD: In the early 70's Hiatt moved to Nashville, the shrine of his earlier exposures to R&B.

John: That was my initial attraction. About 15 years of age I started getting yancey and running away from home, getting a few states away and ringing home for the bus ticket back. On one of these attempts when I was 16 1/2 I was heading for California and through Nashvile and I thought it was beautiful, the whole Southern mystique and I met Bob Frank who was writing songs for Tree Publishing and making $25 a week and I thought what a great life. Anyway, I never got to California but the next year I spent working on my only regular job as a stock-boy with an insurance company, so I could make money to buy amps and guitars to go to New York City and put a band together with a couple of friends of mine. So we finally made the trip to New York and lived Upstate for 2 weeks and got hold of some LSD and wound up in hospital for 3 days, wigged out. I had to talk my way out and this time it's a plane ticket home please. So I get home feeling defeated and decide to go to Nashville. I was 18. I get there and call Tree and tell them I've got a bunch of songs they have to listen to because all I've got left is 10 bucks. I played them and they asked what I wanted so I said 25 bucks a week and they said OK. I was with them for five years.

- I took them about 15 songs and I had a friend in Minneapolis who had 2 Sony 2 track decks and a little mixer and I went round town borrowing all the instruments and playing everything and mixing them down. I had about 6 on the tapes. Anyway they signed me on and I was living in this room with a bed with tyres under it and a bare light bulb, buying roll your own tobacco and eating Boloni ends and beans. That's all I ate for 6 months. I got there in 71 and in the second year they upped my wages to $50 a week. There was a scene starting at the time at a club called the Exit Inn and I'd play there occasionally and there was Guy Clark, Rodney Crowell, Chris Gantry, but I was pretty much a loner. Clark comes from Texas, but coming from the mid-West you don't have any of that stuff to draw from when you write, it's a real faceless land. It's not a hot bed of activity. Those first two years I was just biding my time, learning how to be a staff writer, turning out a lot of shit and they weren't getting anything recorded because it wasn't very good and it wasn't country. There was nobody writing the stuff I was.

  • signed contract to Geffen Records.
  • his first geffen album "all of a sudden". produced by Tony Visconti and featured heavy use of keyboards and synthesisers; the next two albums combined country and soul influences. During this period, Rosanne Cash covered several Hiatt compositions, taking "It Hasn't Happened Yet" to the top 20 on the country charts. In 1987, Cash would take his "The Way We Make A Broken Heart" all the way to #1 on the US country charts.
  • daughter lily born in april. By then, Hiatt had developed a dependance on vodka and cocaine.

Daughter lily born in april. By then, Hiatt had developed a dependance on vodka and cocaine. He remembers - or doesn't quite remember - playing a show in Belgium, after which members of his touring band politely pointed out to him that he had played only 23 minutes of a scheduled hourlong set. Hiatt now says he was in a ''semiblackout state.''
''One of the weird properties of this disease is how it starts out being very useful,'' he says referring to alcoholism, ''and then it turns on you. I guess it turned on me about five years or so before I did anything about it, and those years were pretty awful.'' The ending came in a scenario that sounds like the kicker from one of Hiatt's lyrics. Estranged from his wife, Isabella, he found himself driving around Biloxi, Miss., in a rented black Camaro, crying and drinking beer, with a Dutch girl he barely knew by his side. ''That was the bottom,'' Hiatt recalls. ''There in the Batmobile with this little Dutch girl - who in my infinite wisdom and clarity I had decided to bring over to America -drinking and crying. And I felt like I didn't have any blood left inside me, like I was a shriveled-up kind of vampire.''


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.
With the help of a psychiatrist, Hiatt checked into a Pasadena, Calif., drug and alcohol treatment center in the winter of 1985.
In the frail first months of sobriety, shortly before his daughter's first birthday, his estranged wife, beset by her own personal problems, hanged herself on april 23 in L.A.

  • signed to A&M.
  • married Nancy Stanley (son: Rob, 1978).
  • may, release of "bring the family". peaked at 107 on the Billboard 200 charts, it was his first charting album. the single "thank you girl" peaking at number 27 on the mainstream rock tracks.
  • Hiatt attempted to record a follow-up with Cooder, Lowe and Keltner, but the musicians failed to agree on the financial terms for the sessions. Undaunted, he recorded an album with John Doe, David Lindley and Dave Mattacks, but he scrapped the completed project, deciding that the result was too forced.
  • daughter georgia rae born on may 30.
  • release of "slow turning". received nearly unanimous positive reviews and it was fairly well-received commercially, spending 31 weeks on the Billboard 200 charts and peaking at 98. the single "paper thin" peaked at number 18 on the mainstream rock tracks. the single "slow turning" peaked at number 8 on the mainstream rock tracks and number 22 on the modern rock tracks.
  • bonnie raitt covered "thing called love".
  • september, release of "ya'll caught?".
  • successfully toured throughout America and Europe, strengthening his fan base along the way.
  • ry cooder, jim keltner, nick lowe, john hiatt re-formed as a band called Little Village.
  • bought a 96-acre farm in Franklin, TN.
  • <> Little Village released the<> self-titled album. expectations were quite high, yet the record and its supporting tour were considered a major disappointment. Later, the individual members would agree that the band was a failure, mainly due to conflicting egos.
  • september 7, release of "perfectly good guitar". Recorded in just two weeks with a backing band comprised of members of alternative rock bands School of Fish and Wire Train, the album was looser than any record since Bring the Family, but it didn't quite have the staying power of its two predecessors, spending only 11 weeks on the Billboard 200 charts and peaked at number 47. the single "perfectly good guitar" peaked at number 16 on the mainstream rock tracks.
  • Rhino Records released Love Gets Strange: The Songs of John Hiatt, which collected many of the cover versions that were recorded during the '80s and '90s.
  • the single "something wild" peaked at number 31 on the mainstream rock tracks.
  • november 22, release of the live album "Hiatt comes alive at Budokan". recorded on USA tour may, 1994. his first live album and his last album with A&M Records.
  • hiatt stepped in to the racing world.
  • october 24, release of "walk on" on his sixth record label "capitol records". "walk on" was recorded during his supporting tour for perfectly good guitar and featured guest appearances by the Jayhawks and Bonnie Raitt. walk on entered the Billboard 200 charts at 48, but slipped off the charts in nine weeks, indicating that his audience had settled into a dedicated cult following. received his first Grammy nomination in for his album "Walk On".
  • july 1, release of "little head". on the Billboard 200 charts peaking at number 111.
  • again a "best of" album on the A&M label.
  • august 25, another "best of" album on the capitol label.
  • daughter lily is at the Battle Ground Academy.
  • daughter georgia rae is at the Harding Academy, Nashville.
  • september 26, release of "Crossing Muddy Waters" recorded at a friend’s home studio near his farm in Nashville.  He has leased the recording to Vanguard but retains ownership.  The album was nominated for a Grammy for Best Contemporary Folk Album. on the Billboard 200 charts peaked at number 110. on the top blues albums peaked at number 2. Top Independent Albums peaked at number 18, and on Top Internet Albums peaked number 5.
  • august 7, release of the compiliation "anthology" album by hip-o records.
  • september 11, release of "the tiki bar is open" (also on vanguard label). on the Billboard 200 charts peaked at number 89. on the Top Independent Albums peaked at number 4 and on Top Internet Albums also peaked number 4.
  • daughter georgia rae went to Fencing Academy.
  • release of the soundtrack "the country bears".
  • may 6, beneath this gruff exterior released on the new west records label peaked at number 73 on the Billboard 200 charts. Top Independent Albums peaked at number 3.
  • june 21, release of "master of disaster" on the new west records label. on the Billboard 200 charts peaked at number 126. on the Top Independent Albums peaked at number 10 and on Top Internet Albums peaked number 126. 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.
  • september 23, Full house DVD released. A live registration form a concert  Germany 1987.
  • September 27, A 3 cd box out on A&M label. Chronicles is a 3 cd box with bring the family - slow turning - stolen moments
  • November 1, Live cD/DVD from concert in 1993 Live from austin texas

Shake Go Home is a breath of fresh air in the music industry, combining elements of soul, classic rock, and folk to create a raw, bluesy sound that is impossible to ignore as a powerful new entity in the Nashville music scene. Building a loyal fan base, Shake Go Home is more than a buzz name around town. The four-musician group, with seemingly endless talent is completely multi-faceted. The unique sound draws comparisons to the defining years of Rock and Roll, when soul and musicianship ruled the charts. Each member brings his or her own style and experience to the arrangements. The honest lyrics come from life’s experiences, making each song feel like a private conversation with the musicians. The compilation of sounds and genres implies a mature, genuine group of artists. Shake Go Home has the evolving sound of fresh musicians who aren’t afraid of taking risks, mixing genres and completely putting themselves out there as only young, raw talent can do.

  • april 22, Hiatt get's his own star at the walk of fame.

The welcoming committee was absent from the scene in 1979, on John Hiatt's first night in Nashville. That evening, the man now known as one of America's finest singer-songwriters slept under a bench in Centennial Park.

  • may 27, release of Hiatt's 18th studio album, "Same old man" on the new west records label. on the Billboard 200 charts peaked at number 84. on the Top Independent Albums peaked at number 5 and on Top Internet Albums peaked number 84.
  • september 18, Hiatt received the Lifetime Achievement Award for Songwriting at the Americana Music Association Honors and Awards program at the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville, TN.
  • March 2, new album release "the open road".
  • August 2, new album "Dirty Jeans and Mudslide Hymns".
  • September 25, new album "Mystic Pinball".
  • July 14, new album "Terms of my surrender".



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Last update:
June 14, 2024, 06:51

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