John Hiatt was one of seven children born to working-class parents who had a
volatile, unhappy marriage. When Hiatt was nine, his older brother Michael,
whom he worshipped, committed suicide. Two years later, Hiatt's dad died.
Hiatt, who later called himself "a screwed-up Catholic fat kid," found escape
from all this trouble and tragedy in music, especially the sounds of heroes
like Bob Dylan, Muddy Waters and Elvis Presley. At 11, he got his first guitar
and began an enthusiastic music apprenticeship involving garage bands, school
dances and songwriting. Along with it came an equal enthusiasm for drink and
In some ways, Hiatt's apprenticeship would continue for two more decades. When
he was 19, he quit school, moved to Nashville and got a publishing deal,
writing songs for $25 a week for Tree International. He wasn't successful, but
he honed his craft, and it led to the first of several record deals. Stints at
Epic, MCA and Geffen produced a string of taut, angst-driven solo rock albums,
with uniformly poor sales. One of his early songs, "Sure As I'm Sitting Here,"
became a hit for Three Dog Night and hinted at what would later bloom into a
side career as a hit-writer-for-hire.
In the late 1970s, Hiatt moved to Los Angeles and joined Ry Cooder's band.
There he continued to release near-miss solo records and landed a few stray
covers by the likes of Ricky Nelson and Rosanne Cash. By the mid-1980s, Hiatt's
perpetual also-ran status found him sinking deep in addiction to booze and
He entered rehab in 1984, got clean and re-emerged in 1987 with Bring the
Family, the record which finally brought some long overdue recognition,
thanks to emotionally expressive songs like "Thing Called Love" and "Have a
Little Faith in Me." As his solo career thrived with rootsy, R&B-tinged rock
albums like Slow Turning and Perfectly Good Guitar, his songs
were covered by a stellar list of artists, including Bonnie Raitt, Bob Dylan,
Iggy Pop, Joe Cocker, Emmylou Harris, Buddy Guy, Willie Nelson and Ronnie
The 1990s and 2000s have seen Hiatt touring and making records, while branching
out into bluegrass, folk, television (HBO's Treme) and motion pictures
(voicing an animated character in Disney's Country Bears). In
2012, he released his twenty-first solo album, Mystic Pinball. He lives
on a 100-acre farm outside of Nashville.