While he was growing up in his
hometown of Indianapolis, Jon Hiatt played in a number of garage bands.
Initially, he was inspired by the Rolling Stones and
Dylan, and the
music of those two artists would echo strongly throughout his work.
Following his high school graduation, he moved to Nashville and landed a
job as a songwriter for Tree Publishing. For the next several years, he
wrote and performed at local clubs and hotels. Within a few years, his
songs were being recorded by artists such as Conway Twitty, Tracy Nelson
and Three Dog Night, who took John Hiatt's "Sure as I'm Sittin' Here"
to No. 16 in the summer of 1974.
Eventually, his manager secured him an
audition at Epic Records. The label signed him in 1974 and released his
debut album, Hangin' Around the Observatory, later that year.
Despite their critical acclaim, neither Hangin' Around the Observatory
nor its 1975 follow-up Overcoats sold many copies, and he was
dropped by the label. By the end of the year, Tree Publishing had let him
go as well.
Following his failure in Nashville, John
moved to California. By 1978, he had settled in Los Angeles, where played
in clubs, opening for folk musicians including Leo Kottke. With Kottke's
assistance, Hiatt hired a new manager, Denny Bruce, who helped him secure
a contract with MCA Records. Although his first two records were
straight-ahead rock 'n' roll and folk-rock, Slug Line (1979) was in
the new wave vein of angry English singer-songwriters like Elvis Costello,
Graham Parker and Joe Jackson. The new approach earned some strong
reviews, yet it failed to generate any sales. Two Bit Monsters
(1980), his second MCA album, faced the same situation and the label
Apart from working on Two Bit Monsters,
John Hiatt spent most of 1980 as a member of Ry Cooder's backing band, playing
rhythm guitar on the Borderline album and touring with him. John
stayed with Cooder throughout 1981, signing a new contract with Geffen
Records by the end of the year. Produced by Tony Visconti (David Bowie, T.
Rex), his Geffen debut All of a Sudden was released in 1982,
followed by Riding With the King in 1983. As with his previous
records for Epic and MCA, neither of his first two Geffen releases sold
By this time, Jon
Hiatt was sinking deep into
alcoholism. Around the time he completed 1985's Warming Up to the Ice
Age, his second wife committed suicide. By the end of 1985, he had
been dropped from Geffen and entered a rehabilitation program.
In 1986, he remarried and signed a new deal
with A&M Records. For his A&M debut, Hiatt assembled a small band
comprised of his former associates Ry Cooder (guitar),
Nick Lowe (bass),
and Jim Keltner (drums). Recorded in a handful of days, Bring the
Family (1987) had a direct, stripped-down, rootsy sound that differed
greatly from his earlier albums. The album received the best reviews of
his career and, for once, the reviews began to pay off. It peaked at 107
on the U.S. charts.
John 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. Hiatt's final attempt at
recording the follow-up to Bring the Family was orchestrated by
veteran producer Glyn Johns, who had him record with his touring band, the
Goners. Despite all of the behind-the-scenes troubles behind its
recording, the follow-up album, Slow Turning appeared in 1988.
Within the next year, Hiatt successfully toured throughout America and
Europe, strengthening his fan base along the way.
In 1990, John Hiatt returned with Stolen
Moments, which was nearly as successful as Slow Turning, both
critically and commercially. In 1991, the group that recorded Bring the
Family -- Hiatt, Cooder, Lowe and Keltner -- re-formed as a band
called Little Village, releasing their eponymous debut in early 1992.
Expectations for Little Village 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
Hiatt decided to back away from the
superstar nature of Little Village for his next album, 1993's 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 charts and peaking at No. 47. He released his first live
album, Hiatt Comes Alive at Budokan, in 1994, then signed to
Capitol Records the following year.
Walk On was recorded during his
supporting tour for Perfectly Good Guitar and featured guest
appearances by the Jayhawks and Raitt. Walk On entered the charts
at No. 48 but slipped off the charts in nine weeks, indicating that his
audience had settled into a dedicated cult following. After 1997's Little
Head quickly came and went in the marketplace, Hiatt parted ways with
Capitol, and his next album, 2000's Crossing Muddy Waters was
released on Vanguard Records. After a second album with Vanguard, The
Tiki Bar is Open, he aligned himself with another independent label,
New West, for Beneath This Gruff Exterior (2003) and Master of
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