A recent Los Angeles Times article describing John Hiatt as an “Illinois native” draws a chuckle from the singer-songwriter.
“Illinois, Indiana, a state that starts with the letter I,” Hiatt jokes, “pretty much all the same I guess. But I’m very proud of my Indiana roots. Once a Hoosier always a Hoosier!”
Hiatt left Indianapolis in 1970 and moved to Nashville to pursue a career in the music business. Thirty-four years and countless songs later, Hiatt has become one of the business’ most respected singer/songwriter/musicians, and is being recognized by two Nashville-area organizations for his work.
On October 26, Hiatt will be inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame, with Matraca Berg and Tom Shapiro. Last month, Hiatt received the Lifetime Achievement for Songwriting Award from the Americana Music Association during their seventh annual Honors and Awards program at the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville.
“Like their predecessors, Matraca, Tom and John have made meaningful and lasting contributions to the music world and deserve to take their places in the Hall of Fame,” says Roger Murrah, chairman of the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame Foundation. “We’re delighted to recognize them for their accomplishments.”
“It’s a privilege to honor John Hiatt,” says Jed Hilly, Executive Director of the Americana Music Association. “He is the essence of what the Americana Songwriter award is all about; a true artist, a performer and songwriter whose work is steeped with integrity.”
For Hiatt, such recognition is something he admits he’s still getting used to.
“These are the first two such awards for me,” Hiatt says. “When I was told about the Americana award I was pretty excited. My first thought was ‘that’s some pretty tall cotton.’”
Even though he is a Hoosier by birth, Hiatt says he loves his adopted hometown.
“I love Nashville. I spent almost eight years in L.A., only to return to Nashville in ’85. When I came back to Nashville, the city had really grown. And I knew I had changed during that time too.”
Hiatt moved to a very different Nashville in 1970. “Nashville was a smaller kind of city back then, and the music industry was much smaller then too.
“All the major labels had offices here, but they were nowhere near as big as they are now. Music Row was a street lined with old houses. It was pretty accessible for an 18-year-old kid back then.”
Hiatt says that he still enjoys the process of writing songs, which for him usually means the music before the lyrics.
“It’s a rare occasion when the lyrics come first,” Hiatt points out. “I still try to write every day.
This past May Hiatt released Same Old Man, a collection of eleven original songs that he admits was not intended to be the “album of love songs” project one reviewer called it.
“Whatever,” Hiatt says about such reviews. “An album is made up of the best 10 or 11 songs I can come up with. I write some songs and then it’s, ‘OK, I can do an album now.’ The songs usually reflect whatever is happening in my life at the time. We had finally gotten rid of the last kid a few years ago, and that gave my wife and me a chance to rekindle our romance.”
On Same Old Man, Hiatt’s distinctive vocals stand out front and center, with backing from a group of very talented musicians: drummer Kenny Blevins, guitarist Luther Dickinson and bassist Patrick O’Hearne. The songs on the album are further proof of Hiatt’s ability to share his feelings with the listener in a well-crafted, plain-spoken manner.
One request that Hiatt made to the folks at New West Records was to issue a 180-gram vinyl record version of Same Old Man.
“We asked the label if they could do it,” Hiatt recalls. “I believe that there has always been an interest in vinyl records.”
Even after more than three decades of writing, recording and performing songs, Hiatt admits that when it comes to hearing one of his songs on the radio, “I’m more tickled when it’s my own version of one of my songs (laughs). Ever since I was a kid, one of my dreams was to be heard on the airwaves.”