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3 Texans and a Hoosier

Stewart Oksenhorn

When John Hiatt toured with fellow singer-songwriters Lyle Lovett, Guy Clark and Joe Ely for a series of singers-in-the-round shows in the early ’90s, Hiatt jokes that he felt like a bit of the outsider in the company of the three Texans.

“Three Texans and a Hoosier we called it. I don’t know what the hell I was doing there,” said Hiatt, an Indiana native who has called Nashville home for more than 25 years.

But what Hiatt was doing teamed up with Lovett, Clark and Ely was obvious to anyone familiar with the music. Like the threesome from Texas, Hiatt is one of the finest contemporary songwriters America has to boast of. Like his partners, Hiatt is a standout singer and performer, and a solid guitarist, but truly excels when it comes to crafting a song.

The four singer-songwriters reunite for another in-the-round performance at this weekend’s Spirit of Skiing 2001 Benefit Concert in Aspen. Lovett, Hiatt, Clark and Ely will take turns performing their own songs, and those of their fellow songwriters, at the St. Regis Aspen ballroom Friday at 8:30 p.m.

The concert will be held in conjunction with the Oldsmobile Bravada Spirit of Skiing, a benefit created by Aspenite Kiki Cutter, a five-time world champion ski racer. The weekend of events, including celebrity ski races, a silent auction and a dinner at the Elk Mountain Lodge, will raise funds for the Cancer Research Institute’s Prostate Cancer Initiative and the Roaring Fork Conservancy.

While all four of the musicians are celebrated as performers, it is Hiatt above the others who has made his reputation as a writer. After arriving in Nashville in the early ’70s, Hiatt turned out a series of albums that were barely noticed by the public.

Word began to spread, however, about his songwriting abilities after Bonnie Raitt had a hit covering Hiatt’s “Thing Called Love.” Hiatt’s songs continued to provide the hits for a variety of singers: Suzy Bogguss’ version of “Drive South”; Jeff Healy’s take on “Angel Eyes”; Rosanne Cash’s “The Way We Mend a Broken Heart.” And both Aaron Neville and Buddy Guy have made “Feels Like Rain” a centerpiece of their shows.

“Riding with the King,” Hiatt’s tribute to his early inspiration by Elvis Presley, became the title track for the recent collaborative album between B.B. King and Eric Clapton.

“It’s something I really didn’t anticipate happening,” said Hiatt of his status as songwriter to the stars. “I look at it as gravy, so to speak, on the mashed potatoes.”

The mashed potatoes, in Hiatt’s metaphor, would be his own recordings. And they are quite a tasty lot. Hiatt arrived as a recording artist in his own right with 1987’s “Bring the Family,” which yielded such songs as “Have a Little Faith In Me” and “Memphis in the Meantime.”

Over a series of albums since, Hiatt has proved himself one of popular music’s most consistent and articulate writers. Hiatt’s latest recording, last year’s acoustic-leaning “Crossing Muddy Waters,” is up for a Grammy Award for best contemporary folk record.

While few singers have interpreted Lyle Lovett’s body of exceptional material, he stands as one of the most vocal champions of his fellow Texas songwriters. His most recent studio recording, the two-CD set “Step Inside This House,” is devoted to his reworking of material by a variety of Texas writers: the late Townes Van Zandt, Steven Fromholtz, Walter Hyatt and more. The album’s title track, a gorgeously melancholy meditation on memories, mementos and friendships, was written by none other than Clark.

Clark’s own latest CD, “Cold Dog Soup,” is a spare, poetic work that has received wide acclaim. Ely’s most recent CD, “Live at Antone’s,” is his third live recording.

Tickets for the full weekend of events – Friday night’s concert, ski racing and lunch on Saturday, followed by dinner at the Elk Mountain Lodge – are available by calling 544-7077. Tickets for the concert only are available at the Wheeler Opera House box office.


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