John Hiatt has been recording songs for 35 years and writing them for 45. By his own admission, most of those tunes have fallen squarely into the category of love songs. However, even after all those years of firsthand experience, when asked what exactly comprises a good love song, Hiatt doesn’t even pretend to know the answer.
“I don’t know, you know?” Hiatt says. “There are so many good love songs out there, but I don’t know what to say.”
Even puzzling out the origins of his own tender tunes is a tad troublesome since, Hiatt says, he doesn’t intend to write such songs.
“The fact that they turn into love songs, it’s just a result of where I’m at personally,” Hiatt says, going on to explain the origins of his latest amorous album, Same Old Man. “I just happen to be crazy in love with my wife. The kids are out of the house now, so that’s sort of what I was writing about. It’s like we’re having a second courtship. You just kinda write about what moods you’re in and what you’re paying attention to.”
That most of Hiatt’s tunes have turned into love songs is noteworthy given the sad start to his life. When Hiatt was nine his brother Michael committed suicide. Two years later, his father, Robert, passed away.
It was about that time that Hiatt first turned to songwriting, crafting his first tune at age 11. It was the start of a music career that has spanned parts of five decades and produced 18 studio albums. The latest of those, Same Old Man, was released May 27 and has put Hiatt back on the road for a tour that pulls into the Birchmere in Alexandria for shows July 6 – 8.
Hiatt’s songs – most notably his 1987 tune “Have a Little Faith In Me” – have won over a good number of fans, but also a number of his fellow artists. Hiatt’s work has been performed by the likes of Bob Dylan, Willie Nelson, Eric Clapton, B.B. King, Joan Baez, Bon Jovi, Jewel and even Mandy Moore.
“It’s an honor. Those guys [Dylan and Nelson] are heroes to me,” says Hiatt, who grew up listening to Dylan.
The artists who have performed his songs number well over 20, however, he still remembers the first time he was covered. When he was 18, he moved from Indiana to Nashville, Tenn., bringing with him a few original songs. It was there that Tracy Nelson and Mother Earth recorded his tune “Thinking of You.”
Given the far reaching respect artists have held for Hiatt’s music, it’s little surprise that this September Hiatt is set to be honored by the Americana Music Association with a lifetime achievement award.
“Yeah, what about that? I’m not even done with my life yet,” Hiatt jokes.
Still seeing improvement in his own work with every song he writes, while flattered by the award, Hiatt jests that it may be coming too early.
“If they’d given me a little more time I could have come up with something better.”
- John Hiatt performs July 6 – 8 at the Birchmere. Tickets are $49.50. The July 6 performance is sold out. For more information on John Hiatt, visit www.johnhiatt.com.