What I’ve Been Listening to: John Hiatt/Perfectly Good Guitar

John Hiatt is a great artist I’ve been aware of for many years. I’m glad his excellent recent collaboration album with Jerry Douglas, Leftover Feelings, brought the acclaimed singer-songwriter back on my radar screen. It finally made me start exploring some of Hiatt’s other albums in their entirety, including Perfectly Good Guitar, his 11th studio release that appeared in September 1993. I’m sure Hiatt aficionados are well aware of it; if you’re not and dig heartland and roots-oriented rock, you’re in for a treat.

Hiatt who was born in Indianapolis had a difficult childhood. After the death of his older brother and his father, he used watching IndyCar races and listening to music by the likes of Elvis Presley, Bob Dylan and blues artists as escape mechanisms. At the age of 11, Hiatt learned to play guitar and started his music career as a teenager in Indianapolis, playing local venues with the a variety of bands.

When he was 18, Hiatt moved to Nashville, Tenn. where he landed a job as a songwriter for the Tree-Music Publishing Company. He also continued local performances, both solo and with a band called White Duck. Hiatt got his break in June 1974 when Three Dog Night turned his song Sure As I’m Sitting Here into a top 40 hit. His original version he had released as a single in February that year had gone nowhere.

In July 1973, Hiatt recorded his debut album Hangin Around The Observatory, which came out the following year. While it received favorable reviews, the album was a commercial failure. When the same thing happened with his sophomore release Overcoats, his label Epic Records was quick to drop him. Meanwhile, other artists kept covering Hiatt’s songs. Unfortunately, the story pretty much kept repeating itself until Bring the Family from May 1987, finally giving Hiatt his first album to make the Billboard 200, reaching no. 107.

Bring the Family featured the gems Thing Called Love and Have a Little Faith in Me, which became hits for Bonnie Raitt and Joe Cocker, respectively. Hiatt’s songs have also been covered by an impressive and diverse array of other artists like B.B. King, Bob Dylan, Buddy Guy, Emmylou Harris, Joan Baez, Linda Ronstadt, The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band and Willy DeVille, and the list goes on and on.

To date, Hiatt has released 28 albums, including two live records and two compilations. In 1991, he also formed the short-lived group Little Village together with Ry Cooder, Nick Lowe and Jim Keltner. Previously, Hiatt had worked with each of the three artists on Bring the Family. After issuing a self-titled album in February 1992 and a short supporting tour the group disbanded.

Let’s get to some music from Perfectly Good Guitar. Here’s the great opener Something Wild. Like all other tracks except one, the tune was solely written by Hiatt. I dig the nice driving drum part by Brian McLeod. With the recent death of Charlie Watts, perhaps it’s not surprising that Satisfaction came to mind right away!

The title track perfectly captures my sentiments when I see footage of Pete Townshend trashing his guitar at the end of a Who gig; or Jimi Hendrix setting his guitar on fire for that matter. Oh, it breaks my heart to see those stars/ Smashing a perfectly good guitar/I don’t know who they think they are/Smashing a perfectly good guitar…Yes, of course, it was all for show and I believe Townshend at least glued some of his smashed guitars back together. And while I certainly don’t support jail sentences for guitar-smashing, destroying instruments still rubs me the wrong way! Instead, make some kid happy and give it to them! Who knows, you might even change their trajectory!

Another nice track is Buffalo River Home. I really like the guitar work on that tune.

Another track that got my attention, primarily because of the drum part, is Blue Telescope. McLeod’s drum work reminds me a bit of Steve Gadd’s action on Paul Simon’s 50 Ways to Leave Your Lover. I have no idea whether Gadd’s unique drum part served as an inspiration here. Regardless, it sure as heck sounds cool to me!

The last track I’d like to call out is Old Habits, which has a great bluesy vibe. It’s the one song on the album Hiatt co-wrote with somebody else: Female singer-songwriter Marshall Chapman. Similar to Hiatt, it appears her songs have been covered by many other artists, such as Joe Cocker, Jimmy Buffett, Emmylou Harris, Irma Thomas and Ronnie Milsap.

Before wrapping up this post, I’d to acknowledge the other fine musicians on this great album. In addition to Hiatt (guitar, vocals, piano, organ) and MacLeod (drums, percussion), they include Michael Ward (guitar), Ravi Oli (electric sitar; Ravi Oli is a pseudonym of David Immerglück), Dennis Locorriere (harmony vocals) and John Pierce (bass guitar).

Perfectly Good Guitar was Hiatt’s last studio album with A&M Records. Once again, another great record failed to meet the commercial expectations of the label, though ironically, it became Hiatt’s most successful record on the U.S. mainstream charts to date, peaking at no. 47 on the Billboard 200. Hiatt subsequently signed with Capitol Records, which released his next two studio albums, including the Grammy-nominated Walk On from October 1995.

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube

My Playlist: Bonnie Raitt

While I previously wrote about an amazing Bonnie Raitt show I saw in 2016 and included her in a few other posts, it occurred to me I haven’t done anything related to her recorded music. Considering how highly I think of this lady as a musician and songwriter, this feels like a big miss that is overdue to be corrected.

First a bit of history. Bonnie Lynn Raitt was born on November 8, 1949 in Burbank, Calif. She grew up in a musical family. Her dad was John Raitt, an actor and acclaimed Broadway singer. Bonnie’s mom, Marjorie Haydock, was a pianist and John’s first wife. According to her online bio, Raitt was raised in LA “in a climate of respect for the arts, Quaker traditions, and a commitment to social activism,” all important influences that shaped her future life.

Raitt got into the guitar at the age of eight, after receiving a Stella as a Christmas present. According to an AP story in a local paper, she taught the instrument herself by listening to blues records – yet another example of a self-taught musician who turned out to be exceptional!

Bonnie Raitt 1969

In the late ’60s, Raitt moved to Cambridge, Mass. and started studying Social Relations and African Studies at Harvard/Radcliffe. She also began her lifetime involvement as a political activist. “I couldn’t wait to get back to where there were folkies and the antiwar and civil rights movements,” she notes in her online bio. “There were so many great music and political scenes going on in the late ’60s in Cambridge.”

Three years after entering college, Raitt decided to drop out to pursue music full-time. She already had become a frequent performer on the local coffeehouse scene, exploring slide guitar blues and other styles. Soon thereafter, she opened shows for surviving blues legends, such as Fred McDowell, Sippie Wallace, Son House, Muddy Waters and John Lee Hooker. Word spread about her great talent, which led to her first record contract with Warner Bros.

Bonnie Raitt_Bonnie Raitt

Since her 1971 eponymous debut, Raitt has released 16 additional studio albums, three compilations and one live record. Over her now 45-year-plus career, she has received 10 Grammy Awards. She is also listed at no. 50 and no. 89 in Rolling Stone’s lists of 100 Greatest Singers Of All Time and 100 Greatest Guitarists Of All Time, respectively.

Like many artists, Raitt’s life wasn’t all easy peasy. She struggled with alcohol and drug abuse but became sober in 1987. “I thought I had to live that partying lifestyle in order to be authentic, but in fact if you keep it up too long, all you’re going to be is sloppy or dead,” Raitt told Parade magazine in April 2012, adding, “I was one of the lucky ones.” Yep – time to get to some music!

Mighty Tight Woman is from Raitt’s 1971 debut record – just love that tune, which was penned by Sippie Wallace and recorded in 1929.

In September 1974, Raitt released her fourth studio album Streetlights. One of the gems on that record and frankly Raitt’s entire catalog is Angel From Montgomery, a country tune written and first recorded by John Prine.

Among the early ’60s pop songs I’ve always dug is Runaway by Del Shannon, a tune he co-wrote with keyboarder Max Crook for his 1961 debut Runaway With Del Shannon. Raitt’s version of the tune, which is included on her sixth studio album Sweet Forgiveness from 1977, is a brilliant cover with a cool bluesy soul touch. Here’s a great live performance, which apparently was captured at the time the album came out.

In addition to recording songs from other artists, Raitt also writes her own music. Here is Standin’ By The Same Old Love from 1979’s The Glow, which prominently features Raitt seductive electric slide guitar work.

Can’t Get Enough just about sums up how I oftentimes feel about Raitt’s music. Co-written by her and keyboarder Walt Richmond, the track appears on Raitt’s 1982 record Green Light. I just love the cool reggae style groove of this track and the saxophone accents.

Raitt’s 10th studio album Nick Of Time perhaps is the equivalent to Carole King’s Tapestry. In fact, even though King’s music is quite different and unlike Raitt she’s a full-blown singer-songwriter, Raitt does remind me of King in another aspect. Like King, she has that warm and timeless quality to her music, a rare gift. While better known for its title track and Thing Called Love, Nick Of Time includes another track that is one of my favorites from Raitt: Love Letter. The tune was written by another Bonnie, Bonnie Hayes, who according to Wikipedia is an American singer-songwriter, musician and record producer.

Oh, and did I mention Raitt also knows how to perform beautiful ballads? Here’s I Can’t Make You Love Me from 1991’s Luck Of The Draw. The tune was co-penned by country music artist Mike Reid and country songwriter Allen Shamblin. Following is what appears to be the official music video.

Another powerful ballad Raitt recorded for her 13th studio album Fundamental from 1998 is Lover’s Will. This tune is from John Hiatt, one of Raitt’s favorite writers. He recorded and released it as a mid-tempo track in 1983 on his studio album Riding With The King. It’s beautiful how Raitt slowed it down, making it her own, similar to Runaway!

Used To Rule The World is from Slipstream, which appeared in April 2012. Widely acclaimed, Raitt’s 16th studio release became her highest charting album in 18 years, climbing to no. 6 on the U.S. Billboard 200, and hitting no. 1 on both the Top Rock Albums and Top Blues Albums charts. The tune, which is another great example of Raitt’s feel for groove, was written by Randall Bramblett, a singer-songwriter, session keyboarder and touring musician. Here’s a nice live performance.

When it comes to an artist like Raitt with so many great tunes and such a long career, it’s hard to keep a playlist to ten tunes, but that’s the maximum I’m setting myself. I’d like to conclude with Gypsy In Me from Raitt’s most recent studio album Dig In Deep, which appeared in February 2016. The song is a co-write by Gordon Kennedy and Wayne Kirkpatrick, two Nashville-based songwriters and musicians.

While I haven’t seen any hints about a new album, it looks like 2018 is going to be a busy year for Raitt. Her tour schedule lists a steady stream of U.S. gigs from mid-March to the beginning of July, immediately followed by various concerts in Europe. Among the highlights are an opening/special guest appearance for James Taylor & His All-Star Band during his U.S. tour from May to the beginning of July, and Paul Simon’s farewell concert in London’s Hyde Park on July 15.

Sources: Wikipedia; Bonnie Raitt official website; Bonnie Raitt discovers her roots in Scotland (AP/Lawrence Journal-World, Jul 14, 1991); Parade; YouTube

Bonnie Raitt at NJPAC

Bonnie Raitt is one my favorite artists, and I finally got a chance to see her live.

Yesterday (Aug 13), the wait was finally over. It was time to see Bonnie Raitt at New Jersey Performing Arts Center!

During the week leading up to the show, I had listened to her music pretty much whenever I got a chance to get in the mood. And with a 45-year professional career and 17 studio albums, there is a lot to listen to!

A good friend of mine who has been to various Bonnie Raitt concerts over the years had highly recommended that I go see her. He was right – the show was absolutely amazing!

Bonnie presented a mix of new and old songs, including a few of her previous hits. She started off with her cover of the INXS song Need You Tonight, which appears on her latest excellent album, Dig In Deep. Throughout the show, she also played various other songs from that album including Unintended Consequence of Love and Gypsy In Me. Another cover included Burning Down the House, the 1983 hit from the Talking Heads. In my opinion, it’s even better than Need You Tonight.

Perhaps the best known hit songs she played were Something To Talk About and the beautiful ballad I Can’t Make You Love Me, both from Bonnie’s 1991 album, Luck of the Draw. I was a bit surprised and disappointed that she didn’t play material from Nick of Time, such as Thing Called Love, the title song and Love Letter. At least I didn’t recognize any songs from the 1989 Grammy Award winning album. She did perform one of my other favorite songs, Can’t Get Enough (from 1982’s Green Light). 

As I had expected, Bonnie’s slide guitar playing was superb! But I have to say I was even more intrigued by the songs she played on acoustic guitar. The highlight in this context and perhaps of the entire night was Angel from Montgomery, from her fourth studio album Streetlights, released in 1974. BTW, Bonnie’s voice live sounds just as great as recorded. I would also like to acknowledge her fantastic band: Ricky Fataar (drums), George Marinelli (guitars), James Hutchinson (bass) and Mike Finnigan (keyboards).

Another shout-out is in order for Bonnie’s opening act, Richard Thompson Trio. Thompson, a founding member of the Fairport Convention, is an outstanding British electric and acoustic guitarist. I have to admit I’m not familiar with his music, but I certainly enjoyed what I heard! The drummer and bassist who performed with Thompson were excellent as well.

Notably, Bonnie asked Thompson to come back to the stage and play a song with her. You could clearly see the admiration she has for him. I think the gesture also shows what a class act Bonnie Raitt is when it comes to acknowledging other artists.

Here’s a clip of Raitt’s entire gig.

Set List

Need You Tonight (INXS cover)

Used to Rule the World (Randall Bramblett cover)

No Business

All Alone with Something to Say

Shakin’ Shakin’ Shakes (Los Lobos cover)

Not the Only One (Paul Brady cover) (with Richard Thompson)

Round and Round (J.B. Lenoir cover)

I Feel the Same (Chris Smither cover)

Hear Me Lord (Oliver Mtukudzi cover)

Something to Talk About

The Comin’ Round Is Going Through

Angel From Montgomery (John Prine cover)

Don’t Answer the Door (B.B. King cover) (Mike Finnegan, vocal)

Gypsy in Me

Unintended Consequence of Love

I Believe I’m in Love With You (The Fabulous Thunderbirds cover)

What You’re Doin’ to Me

Encore:

I Can’t Make You Love Me (Mike Reid cover)

Burning Down the House (Talking Heads cover)

Louise (Paul Siebel cover)

Your Sweet and Shiny Eyes

Note: This post was updated on November 15, 2020 with above clip and setlist.

Sources: Wikipedia; Setlist.fm; YouTube