When most people consider legends of rock and roll few would consider John Hiatt, though perhaps they should. Most people do not know his name, however many know his works. Hiatt’s career as a singer songwriter has spanned more than 45 years, over 20 studio albums, and half a dozen genres. He has been covered by, collaborated with, and influenced some of rock and roll’s most popular and celebrated artists. The work of John Hiatt is historically significant because of its incredible length, variety, generally unrecognized sphere of influence, and pioneering of the Americana genre.
John Haitt’s musical career is one of perseverance and determination. His musical interest began at the age of 11 when he picked up the guitar. Playing in a variety of garage bands in local dives he began to develop his musical chops. In 1971, at the age of 18 he moved to Nashville to follow his dream of becoming a singer songwriter. His profession career began in an era of incredible social upheaval. Women’s and gay rights were coming to public attention, Vietnam had rolled into yet another year, all in the backdrop of the Cold War. During this time he worked for Tree Publishing Music at a salary of 25 dollars a week.
During his tenure at the company Hiatt wrote over 250 songs, which he has describes as an “exercise in songwriting’. In 1973 he met Don Ellis of Epic records and was quickly signed. During his time at Epic Hiatt released two albums. Both received critical acclaim but did not sell in any notable way. Due to the highly competitive climate in music at the time he was released from his contract. One of the albums he released with Epic, Hanging Around the Observatory, could be considered one of the first Americana albums ever released, although the term had yet to be coined.
He was one of the first ever to fuse the styles of rock, country, and soul. While these albums did not rocket Hiatt to fame as he may have hoped, it would set the tone for his creative style for the next 45 years. Hanging Around the Observatory only sold 15,000 copies. However a cover of one of its tracks, Sure as I’m Sitting Here, was covered by Three Dog Night and broke the top 20 on Billboard’s Hot 100. This was the first time that Hiatt’s words would be heard by a wide audience. For the next several years he continued to work but had no affiliation with any label until 1979 when he was signed by MCA records. As with Epic he released two albums with the label. Unfortunately Hiatt’s time at MCA further echoed his time at Epic, as both albums he released failed to achieve commercial success.
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