John Hiatt David McClister Photography, LLC.

Back in 1990, an album (one of the 26 he released) called “Stolen Moments” had a huge impact on my life, and ever since then a goal of mine was to chat with the gentleman who released that A&M Records album: John Hiatt. Having tried on several occasions when I saw he was to perform in Maine, I had pretty much given up hope of that bucket list interview, but when I learned he was to be at the Waterville Opera House on the 28th of this month I gave it one last try, and today (the 15th of June) he called me from Nashville where he was rehearsing with his band, The Goners, who will be accompanying him when he gets up to central Maine. It was a short conversation (about 10 minutes in length), so I decided to give you the whole ball of wax, so to speak … it began with him asking me a question.

Hiatt: So, what’s so lucky about you, Lucky?

Q: I’m talking to you.
Hiatt: (Chuckle) Well, that and five bucks might get you a cup of coffee!

(Mutual laughter)

Q: To begin with, have you ever performed at the Waterville Opera House before?
Hiatt: I’m not sure, it’s one of those places if I have, I’ll remember it when I get there.

Q: It’s a great venue with great sound and a turn-of-the-century look and vibe.
Hiatt: I love those old theaters, a place where you could imagine Mark Twain doing his comedy routine in. We’ve played in a couple of venues where the management said, “Yeah, Mark Twain was here!” and we were like, “Holy (deleted)!”

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Q: Now I heard that you’re coming up here with The Goners.
Hiatt: Yes.

Q: Is this the prelude to another John Hiatt & The Goners album, perchance?
Hiatt: Oh, who knows, Lucky? You said I’m coming up with The Goners, it’s more like we’re limping up. We’ve got two gall bladders between the four of us and other missing bits, but we’re still alive (laughter), and we still sort of know how to play. So yeah, I don’t know. I’ve got some new stuff, and I have been kicking different ideas around. I’ve been working with the same manager Ken Levitan for 25 years and he’s a real creative guy, and we’re always talking about what might we do for the next project. He’s very good at not only coming up with ideas, but by letting me bounce ideas that I have off him. That was one of the possibilities that came up in our discussion, so who knows.

Q: Now one would assume that it would be hard to come up with a set list when faced with all the songs you have written over your long career.
Hiatt: Well, it’s kind of been fun with last year’s project with Jerry Douglas and this year’s project. Last year my viewfinder was looking for stuff that would lend itself to the acoustic/sort of bluegrass-esque tradition, so that was one lens. And then for this tour I just decided, “You know, let’s just play stuff that we recorded together.” So we’re going to do selections from “Slow Turning,” and we’re going to cover a couple of “Bring The Family” songs, but also “Tiki Bar is Open” — that record we made together in 2000 — as well as songs from “Beneath This Gruff Exterior,” which we recorded in 2003. So that makes it easier for me; it makes the other guys crazy, because I can form a vibe.

Q: Yeah, I have “Stolen Moments” and “Beneath This Gruff Exterior” sitting in front of me now, those were the ones I gravitate toward the most.
Hiatt: With “Stolen Moments,” other than “Real Fine Love,” I don’t give the other songs a lot of play, and I’m not sure why. But we might pull one or two off of that.

Q: Is there anything, sir, that you’d like me to pass on to the folks reading this article?
Hiatt: Well, I would just say that if you like your music live and in-person and in the raw from a group of old (deleted) who wouldn’t know how to influence if it killed them, but we’re pretty good at playing bass, guitar and drums, so there you go! (Laughter)

Q: Oh, that reminds me… (pause) … oh, crap, at 73 my train of thought derailed!
Hiatt: (Laughter) I can dig it, man; I can dig it!

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Q: Well, I guess that’s it. I promised that I would keep it short.
Hiatt: Yeah, you know, we’re excited to come out, because we know from past experience that our music really doesn’t live until we include an audience with it, because it takes an audience to kind of make music at the end of the day. I mean, otherwise you just sit in your room playing. … Recording’s one thing, but the pay-off has always been, for us, to come out and make music with an audience. We’ve always kind of seen it that way.

Q: Oh, it’s back on the track!
Hiatt: (Chuckle) There you go.

Q: The pandemic wrecked havoc with everybody and, having you just say that, it must be really great to be able to get back out and do just that: have an audience.
Hiatt: It is indeed; it is indeed. Yes, sometimes I wonder if I lost more brain cells from using liquor and drugs in my youth or during the two-year pandemic (laughter). It’s a jump-ball on that one, I’ll tell you what!

Lucky Clark, a 2018 “Keeping the Blues Alive” Award winner, has spent more than 50 years writing about good music and the people who make it. He can be reached at [email protected] if you have any questions, comments or suggestions.

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