You can’t make this stuff up. John Hiatt, from Indianapolis, left home as a teen troublemaker in a rock band. He landed work in Nashville — not as a dishwasher or a grocery bagger, but as a songwriter. Hiatt could neither read nor write music, but his songs rang the dinner bell. In short order, Epic Records granted Hiatt a deal. He recorded them some gems, but they failed to sell. No matter. An early song penned by Hiatt got recorded by a major pop act of the day, went big as a radio hit, and for a long time after put money in Hiatt’s mailbox. Epic dropped him anyway.
John Hiatt (and Ry Cooder), "Riding with the King," Basel, Switzerland, 2003
- Tuesday, January 23, 2018, 8 p.m.
Belly Up Tavern,
143 S. Cedros Avenue,
This happened many more times in Hiatt’s career: labels came, labels went. It turned out that John Hiatt was a great songwriter — for everyone, that is, except himself. Many artists spun gold with Hiatt originals, until the late 1980s and the release of Slow Turning. That’s the record that finally put Hiatt on the radio in his own voice, small vindication perhaps for the legions of followers who already knew the man’s worth.
Last year, Sonny Landreth released a live collection called Recorded Live in Lafayette. Landreth, 66, is a good old boy, a slide guitarist of rare gifts and abilities. Like Eddie Van Halen (minus the overstatement), Landreth has likely re-invented the manner in which musicians will approach that instrument for years to come — or until someone comes along and bests him at it. He bills himself as the King of Slydeco.
Once a member of John Hiatt’s Goners (and featured in this lineup), Landreth’s fronted his own bands for so many years that the inevitable has happened. Like all of the guitar greats before him, he became a better singer. Don’t get me wrong — his guitar is amazing. But the way he sings “Keys to the Highway” or “True Blue” is what it’s all about: a great artist, creating a moment.