John Hiatt: ‘I definitely like to groove’ |

John Hiatt: ‘I definitely like to groove’

Stewart OksenhornAspen, CO Colorado
John Hiatt plays a solo acoustic set Saturday at Snowmass Village's Massive Music & Movies event on Fanny Hill. Also performing is singer-songwriter Shawn Colvin. (Courtesy Sam Jones)

SNOWMASS VILLAGE On his forthcoming album, for which some 17 songs are already recorded, John Hiatt has gone mostly the acoustic route. The album, tentatively titled “What Love Can Do,” features Hiatt and Luther Dickinson of the North Mississippi Allstars, both playing mostly acoustic guitars. Patrick – a recent acquaintance of Hiatt’s whose last name he can’t recall – contributes on upright bass.But the album also features Kenneth Blevins, the drummer from the Goners, one of the bands Hiatt reconvenes now and again to record and tour with. And Hiatt, who is producing and engineering the sessions in the studio on his farm outside of Nashville, is making sure to give the album a kick.”It drives,” Hiatt said by phone. “It’s very acoustic, but it’s like acoustic rock in a way. I definitely like to groove.”

Those more rocking elements, drive and groove, will be mostly absent in Hiatt’s appearance Saturday in Snowmass Village’s Massive Music & Movies event. Hiatt will appear as a solo performer, with only his acoustic guitar accompanying him. Singer-songwriter Shawn Colvin, who has been touring with Hiatt and who opens the show at 6 p.m., likewise will perform a solo, acoustic set.It is not uncommon for Hiatt to leave his love of grooving aside. He said that roughly half of his concerts are played without a band; he has toured occasionally with Lyle Lovett, Guy Clark and Joe Ely in a songwriters-in-the-round format. In 2000, Hiatt released the all-acoustic album “Crossing Muddy Waters,” among his stronger efforts.”I like the electric guitar,” Hiatt said. “I also like the acoustic guitar. I’ve been doing solo stuff forever; I started out this way. It’s one of the reasons I never joined a band. I like folk singing.”

It’s probably more accurate to say that Hiatt likes music. And not just in the way that most people, or even most musicians, like music. Hiatt’s belief in music – in the sound of an instrument, the impact a rock star can have – is palpable in his music, and in his life. A fair number of his songs are specifically about music and musicians; it’s likely no accident that several of them have become his best-known songs.”Riding With the King,” the title track from Hiatt’s 1996 album, mixes a child’s reverence for the early Elvis, and a tinge of regret for what stardom did to “the King.” But the lingering impact of the song’s last lines – “I had a guitar hanging just about waist high/ I’m gonna play that thing until the day I die” – seems to reveal something essential about Hiatt. When guitar gods B.B. King and Eric Clapton teamed for an album, they borrowed “Riding With the King” as their own title track.”Memphis in the Meantime,” the opening song on what is widely considered Hiatt’s best album, 1987’s “Bring the Family,” celebrates the sounds of Memphis. “Perfectly Good Guitar,” the title track from his 1993 album, calls into the question the rock cliché of ruining an instrument for theatrical value. “Master of Disaster,” the title song from his latest album, is about a musician who is smoother with the guitar than with the ladies.

Asked what he enjoyed most about playing in the solo format, Hiatt cracked, “You get all the attention.” But then he quickly turned to the more honest answer: Not having to depend on a band means he can pull out any song in his repertoire. And in the case of Hiatt, who has some 20 studio albums to his credit, that means a deep well of music to draw from.”You can play whatever you want,” said Hiatt, adding that he has been drawing heavily on lesser-known songs – “Thirty Years of Tears” and “Listening to Old Voice” – from 1990’s “Stolen Moments” album. “You’re not limited to the band’s repertoire. When you’ve got as much material as I have, you change the set list up a lot.”Stewart Oksenhorn’s e-mail address is