John Hiatt Struts Stuff At 'Austin City Limits' Taping

Singer/songwriter reclaims songs others made famous and plays new ones.

AUSTIN, Texas — When blues superstars

COLOR="#003163">Eric Clapton and

COLOR="#003163">B.B. King wanted a title cut

for their stellar collaborative album, they turned to

John Hiatt's

song book for his 1983 album Ridin' With the


Hiatt himself was riding high Friday night onstage at

KLRU-TV on the sixth floor of the Communications

Building at the University of Texas as he kicked off a new

season of taping for the long-running "Austin City

Limits" TV show.

Tearing into "Lincolntown," a rocking folk-blues tale

of a man leaving a town that's done him wrong, Hiatt

and his compatriots, Davey

Faragher on bass and

COLOR="#003163">Counting Crows'

COLOR="#003163">David Immergluck on mandolin, set a blazing

pace that only got hotter as their 11-song set


Blending a tale of sorrow, searching and bittersweet

memory with an insistent rhythm and shimmering fills

from Immergluck's mandolin, the trio next offered

"Crossing Muddy Waters."

That's the title track of Hiatt's next record, due in

September on Vanguard. Many of the songs on that album

are about breaking up, Hiatt said, remarking: "I only

realized that in retrospect, and I decided I had to

sit down and have a little talk with my wife. ... You

know, 'Honey, we're not breaking up — unless you know

something I don't know,'" he said to appreciative

laughter from the audience.

"There's really a kind of Walter Mitty sort of life

you live as a songwriter, at least I do," he went on.

"You get to try things out — you know, you have a little

tiff with the wife, and you write a breakup song.

People tend to take it as autobiographical, but really,

it's not."

Love And Loss

Following with one of the slower songs of the evening,

"What Do We Do Now?," Hiatt displayed another side to

his writing style, using a series of simple,

repetitive lines to draw a picture of a man at the wrenching

end of a relationship. It's a change from the intricate

wordplay for which Hiatt's better known.

Smiling, he dedicated it to "a record-company guy of a

company I'm no longer with. He's one of the few people

ever to tell me 'John, you know, you need to write

more words in the lyrics.' I'm a pretty verbose guy,"

Hiatt said, "and usually they're telling me I need to cut

it down some!"

Picking up the pace again, Hiatt launched into a

surreal journey through changes in faces, places, and times

called "Only the Song Survives." The journey became

darker and the music hotter with "Lift up Every Stone,"

a gospel-infused Southern-gothic tale of truth and

lies, which featured tight harmonies by the three men and

had all of the 400 people in the audience clapping


As the "Austin City Limits" video technicians worked

their magic to capture Hiatt and company (who have been

touring as the Queenston

Trio with this summer's Newport Folk Festival

road show), the three men again let their harmonies

reach the rafters on another driving tale of love lost,

"Take It Down," then launched into "Gone," a lighter

song with an ironic look at the same topic.

"Now I'll play you one I think you're gonna know,"

Hiatt, dressed simply in a short-sleeved striped shirt,

dark pants, white socks and dark loafers, said before

launching into "Cry Love" (


excerpt), which included a blazing electric

guitar solo by Immergluck.

Reprising Hits

Hiatt, whose songs have been recorded by artists

including Bob Dylan,


COLOR="#003163">Rodney Crowell,

COLOR="#003163">Emmylou Harris,

COLOR="#003163">Willie Nelson and

COLOR="#003163">Paula Abdul, then offered two tunes

from his back pages, "Perfectly Good Guitar" (


excerpt) and the outlaw song (with several

twists) "Tennessee Plates."

With that rocking travelers' tale, featuring Hiatt's

distinctive nasal voice against the harmonies of

Immerglaub and Faragher, the trio left the stage to a

standing ovation with the stamping its feet calling for


The three responded with an encore of "Thing Called

Love" (


excerpt), which

COLOR="#003163">Bonnie Raitt took to hit status.

Using his own unique phrasing and rhythm, Hiatt gave

the writer's version of the tune, featuring an extended

instrumental jam which saw him dancing to Immergluck's

guitar improvisations and even throwing in a bit of

scat-singing to keep the groove going.

Rocking the rafters of the studio, the trio made three

instruments and three voices sound like a full-out

rock orchestra, and once again brought the audience to

its feet in admiration.

The hour-long set, which will be edited to 30 minutes

for the series, is expected to air in October when

"Austin City Limits" begins its 26th season.