John Hiatt Explains the Vulnerability in his Latest Album with ‘Basic Folk’

The legendary singer/songwriter John Hiatt grew up as the sixth of seven Hiatt children in Indianapolis, Indiana. Throughout his childhood, the sounds emanating from the radio helped shape Hiatt’s worldview, and the assortment of songs playing on the local station inspired Hiatt’s musical aspirations.

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Cindy Howes, host of the Basic Folk podcast, recently dug into Hiatt’s life with the musician himself. At the beginning of their conversation, Hiatt reveals that the first time he heard a Bob Dylan song, it changed his life.

“I was sitting in the car, [and] my mother had parked the car and ran into a drugstore to pick up a prescription. And I was so profoundly affected by hearing the song that my thought was that when she came back out, she wouldn’t recognize me,” Hiatt tells Howes. “That’s how transformed I felt by that song.” 

That one song happened to be the 1965 iconic “Like a Rolling Stone.” With the momentum of a Dylan hit, Hiatt then launches into how his life changed after he realized that not only could he listen to the radio, but he could be on the radio. His first album, Hangin’ Around the Observatory, dropped in 1974 and Hiatt listened to every minute of it from his Volkswagen van radio. 

Today, Hiatt is still cranking out music that radiates with a timeless tenderness. His latest record, Leftover Feelings, features Jerry Douglas. In the podcast, Hiatt explains that Douglas supported his efforts to publish a more vulnerable sound. For instance, “Light Of The Burning Sun” was particularly difficult for Hiatt to produce because the song centers around the suicide of Hiatt’s oldest brother.

“We’ve known each other professionally, but we’re just now actually becoming friends through working on this record,” Hiatt says about Douglas. “I was so touched with the kindness— the way he handled [‘Light Of The Burning Sun’] and urged me to record it. I didn’t even want to record it, I was a little leery. I said, ‘Jerry, Geez this is so dark.’ And he said, ‘No, people need to hear this.’ It was encouraging.”

Listen to this Basic Folk episode with John Hiatt for the rest of the conversation about Hiatt’s latest record. Hiatt also talks about his kids and his songwriting on the podcast. 

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