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- Posted on Mar 13th 2010 10:24AM by Jill Jackson
John Hiatt is performing at SXSW on Thursday, March 18th.
How did you get started? Was it something you always wanted to do?
I started playing guitar when I was eleven years old and within a few months of learning two or three chords I was writing songs. I'm gonna take a wild guess and say that it's what I was supposed to do. I didn't plan it. So unless I've just been completely wrong all these years, this is what the Big Kahuna had in mind for me. Unless I've made completely the wrong career choice--which is entirely possible. I think it's what I was sent to do, for whatever reason.
This album you have out is about being on the road?
Not specifically about being on the road as a touring musician but a sort of a more in general. Looking for that open road, if you will. But I've been doing this for all my life. I've been doing it professionally for thirty something years. It's my life--the traveling musician, I guess, it's what signed up for. I love playing. You've probably heard a million musicians say this but, the other 22 hours is why we get paid. The two hours we get to play, I would do that for free. The other 22 is probably the tough part. I love playing.
Do you have any favorites out of your extensive catalog?
I like to mix it up. I like to go out and change it up and the nice thing about having a big catalog is we get to change it up with each tour. I'll pick certain groups of songs that maybe I haven't played in a while like we've done some songs on this trip that we haven't played in a while. That's fun to do. But no, I don't have particular favorites. Songs are kind of like your kids. You kind of have a soft spot for all of them.
When you write a song, do you write songs primarily for yourself?
That's correct. I've never really written a song for another artist. I've tried, and people have asked me to, specifically, and I'm really not that kind of writer. Many writers are able to do that, and have had great success that way, but I just write songs. It's just what I do. I've just been fortunate that I've written enough it's sort of a habit. That I've always had songs available. I've just been very fortunate in that respect.
How does it go from something you've written for yourself to something recorded by Bonnie Raitt or someone else?
People hear my record and get in touch with us that way. Once a song has been recorded they don't have to ask permission, all they have to do is pay you. But, before a song gets recorded, they have to ask.
What's it like to hear all the different versions of a song, like 'Have a Little Faith in Me,' that's been recorded by tons of people?
It makes me really proud that the song holds up through that many interpretations. Having your song recorded by other artists is like somebody talking about your children. It's like "Oh, you're such a nice young man." He's well behaved and good manners or whatever. It's really nice.
Are there any covers that you really like?
There are so many that I'm fond of. Willie Nelson did great version of a song of mine, 'Most Unoriginal Sin.' Eric Clapton and BB King who did 'Riding With the King.' Bonnie [Raitt] of course. Emmylou Harris sang a song of mine called 'Icy Blue Heart.' There's a soul singer from New Orleans, Johnny Adams, cut a couple of songs of mine. Buddy Guy did 'Feels Like Rain.' I was, of course thrilled to have Bob Dylan do 'The Usual.' It was for a film [Hearts of Fire] that I think went straight to the video bins. There have been a lot of good covers.
How would you describe your sound to someone who hasn't heard your music?
I would say it's straight ahead American roots rock.
What are some of your musical influences?
Do you have a couple of hours? I'm influenced by so many people. I think my first influence was probably Elvis Presley, but the first album i bough was Stevie Wonder's 'Fingertips Part 1 and Part 2' which was a single. That was when I was about 11 or 12. From there I was heavily influenced by the radio of the day. It was a great time for soul music--all the old the stuff. Otis Redding. And you had that Atlantic stuff with Aretha Franklin and Percy Sledge. Then you had the British invasion with the Rolling Stones and, of course, they were playing Muddy Waters' songs. It's through them that I was introduced to Chicago Blues and Mississippi John Hurt. Then I started digging into more--Lightnin' Hopkins, Howlin' Wolf and stuff like that. I listened to Bob Dylan and that whole folk movement. It just opened up Pandora's box, you know? Bee Bop and then classical music, Mozart... It's just a never ending well of wonderful stuff. Thelonious Monk is one of my heroes; as is Willie Dixon, one of the greatest songwriters ever, i think. It just goes on. So much great music.
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Photo Credit: Jack Spencer