Despite a novel-length list of writing credits and a 30-year career in the music business, perennial singer-songwriter John Hiatt has spent most of his career below the pop-culture radar. Though he continues to perform and record his own songs, those tunes are far more likely to become hits when reinterpreted by others.
Bonnie Raitt's "A Thing Called Love," Jeff Healy's "Angel Eyes," and B.B. King and Eric Clapton's "Riding with the King" are all Hiatt songs, and that just touches the tip of the iceberg. Since his 1974 debut, Hangin' Around the Observatory, Hiatt has recorded literally hundreds of tunes. His latest album, last year's Crossing Muddy Waters, is a return to the bluesy folk of his roots, from the jug-bandish "Lincoln Town" to the work-song, chain-gang melody of "Lift Up Every Stone." Time will tell whether these songs turn out to be hits for someone else as well.
The irony is surely not lost on Hiatt, who maintains that both singing and songwriting are integral parts of his existence and if one proves to be more successful, so be it. It's good that he can laugh about it, but at the same time, his man-behind-the-songs image has drawn fans to him from all areas of blues, country, and pop. After all, everyone from Buddy Guy to Willie Nelson to Jewel to Iggy Pop to Emmylou Harris has done a Hiatt tune.
And besides, being covered by everyone and their mother isn't such a bad thing. It has to be quite an honor when all the other great singer-songwriters are doing your stuff. When Bob Dylan plays one of your songs instead of, well, a Dylan tune, you know you must be doing something right.