Do you still play the old songs, the songs from your first few albums?
The question made John Hiatt – a singer-songwriter equally adept at rock, country or blues – hesitate a moment.
The singer-songwriter had just finished talking about how he doesn’t really plan a lot, how things in his daily life often happen organically. So he had to think a minute about what old songs he does play on stage.
“It seems like over the last 10 or 15 years of touring about as far back as I go is (the album) ‘Riding with the King.’ What was that, 1983? The first nine or 10 years worth of songs I tend to leave alone. But maybe I shouldn’t, those were some pretty good songs,” said Hiatt, 61, from a tour stop in Indianapolis, which happens to be his birthplace. “Trouble is, it’s hard. There are so many damn songs. That’s the problem.”
Maybe for Hiatt.
But for fans, Hiatt’s prolific output during a 40-year career is anything but problematic. He tells a story in song like few others, drifting seamlessly from rock to country to blues and stopping at all sorts of places between.
He’ll be playing, with his combo, at the State Theatre in Portland Tuesday. On the bill with him is his long-time friend and frequent touring partner, Robert Cray.
“We’ve been working together, touring together, since the ’80s, and it’s always great because he’s such an amazing guitar player. And he has one of my favorite voices,” said Hiatt.
Will the two musicians do any songs together?
“We haven’t so far, but you never know,” said Hiatt.
Hiatt knows Maine about as well as any musician. Two of his children, now grown, attended the Hyde School in Bath. He came up often, and helped lead music workshops for students there.
Hiatt was just 18 when he moved from Indiana to Nashville and started working as a songwriter. A couple years later his song “Sure as I’m Sittin’ Here” was covered by Three Dog Night, in the midst of their hit song run. The song became a radio hit and helped launch Hiatt’s career.
His 1983 tune “Riding With the King” was later recorded by Eric Clapton and B.B. King. Bonnie Raitt’s version of his “Thing Called Love” was a radio hit in 1989.
While other people were having hits with his songs, Hiatt was building his own fan base.
He had nine straight albums land on the Billboard albums chart.
His latest album, “Terms of My Surrender,” is due out this month and is rooted in acoustic blues. Did he set out to make a blues album knowing he’d tour with Cray?
“No, that’s just a concidence,” said Hiatt. “I don’t ever set out to do anything.”
It makes sense then that Hiatt credits the haphazard, not planned feeling of AM radio in the 1960s as his biggest musical influence. He remembers that as a teen he listened to Lloyd Price, or various Motown groups, or Otis Redding, all on the same station.
Today, he says, he listens to as wide a range of music as he can.
“I love jazz, I listen to a lot of (Thelonious) Monk. I love bebop. I listen to Mozart, the Clash, Grand Funk Railroad,” said Hiatt. “What else you got?”
WHEN: 8 p.m. Tuesday
WHERE: State Theatre,
609 Congress St., Portland
HOW MUCH: $30 to $55