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LIANE HANSEN, host:

Guitarist-singer-songwriter John Hiatt has played in bar bands, backup bands and fronted his own groups. His songs have become hits for others--Bonnie Raitt, Conway Twitty, Iggy Pop. His own recordings rarely stay in the charts, but his club and concert followers are legion. This summer, John Hiatt released his 21st album. It's called "Master of Disaster."

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. JOHN HIATT: (Singing) But the master of disaster can't stand on any Stratocaster. He can't play it any faster when he plays the blues.

HANSEN: John Hiatt arranged to come to NPR Studio 4A when his tour came to Washington, and he's brought his guitar.

Thank you for coming. What a pleasure to meet you, John.

Mr. HIATT: It's nice to meet you, Liane.

HANSEN: You're going to play the title tune for us, but I have to ask you: Who is the master of disaster? There's this gentleman on the cover who looks like he's wearing a bondage mask, but the entire thing is kind of packaged like a World Wrestling Federation match. Who is this guy?

Mr. HIATT: That's me.

HANSEN: Really?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. HIATT: No. No, it's not me. I believe the gentleman is a famous Mexican wrestler, so I'm told. It was all Jim Dickinson's fault, the producer, because he's a big-time wrestling fan. I had the song the "Master of Disaster" and I just thought it just fit as a moniker for a big-time wrestler, you know? It just sounded like, you know, Freddie the Geek or Handsome George or, you know, some contender. So...

HANSEN: Uh-huh.

Mr. HIATT: ...the Master of Disaster! So there you go.

HANSEN: Well, but you'll play the tune for us. This is "Master of Disaster."

(Soundbite of John Hiatt performing "Master of Disaster")

Mr. HIATT: (Singing) Close, warm air, choking in clean underwear. Bleeding tongue, eight ball pounding in my lungs. Ship to shore, can't see the coastline anymore. I shouldn't be here. I thought I made that loud and clear.

But the Master of Disaster gets tangled in his Telecaster. He can't play it any faster when he plays the blues. When he had the heart to ask her, and every note just shootin' the plaster. Now he's just a mean ol' bastard when he plays the blues.

Chinatown, chasing that old dragon down. Madam walks. We play the blues with the curtains drawn. Sidewalks of white, where the LA sun beat out the night. Pounding brain, my last transmission down the drain.

Well, the Master of Disaster gets tangled in his Telecaster. He can't play it any faster when he plays the blues. When he had the heart to ask her, and every note just shootin' the plaster. Now he's just a mean ol' bastard when he plays the blues.

There's a debt I owe I'll never pay before I go. So I sing the blues. Hand me down my walking shoes. You're in my heart, though we might be miles apart. There's my point. I'll see another joint.

When the Master of Disaster gets tangled in his Telecaster, he can't play it any faster when he plays the blues. When he had the heart to ask her, and every note just shootin' the plaster. Now he's just a mean ol' bastard when he plays the blues. Oh, now he's just a mean ol' bastard when he plays the blues. When he plays the blues.

HANSEN: "Master of Disaster," the title tune on John Hiatt's new CD.

Throughout your career, and we're talking some 30 years and counting, you've been in and out of bands, both big and small; you've recorded on many different labels. This recording features the North Mississippi AllStars. How collaborative was the project? I mean, did you have music and songs in mind and then go after the people, or had your paths crossed over the years, maybe on the road, and the idea was born?

Mr. HIATT: Well, how this one happened is I called up my old friend Jim Dickinson, who is the daddy of two of three North Mississippi Allstars--Luther Dickinson, who plays guitar, and Cody, who's the drummer. And Jim and I have known each other since we played together with Ry Cooder back in 1980. So anyways, so I called Jim and I said--I was actually trying to make an acoustic record at home this past fall and really not having a good time because I was trying to do it myself, which was not a good idea. And it was like shaving, is what it was like. It was like, you know--it was like looking in the mirror and shaving. That's about how much fun it was. And so I called Jim and I said, basically, `Help,' you know?

HANSEN: You're going to do an acoustic tune for us. This is a great road song, a little road song. It's called "Thunderbird." It's an ode to that Ford car. Do you actually drive one yourself?

Mr. HIATT: I don't, you know, but I stole one when I was 14, if that carries any weight. Me and some buddies, we had a quick little six-month criminal career--you know, some snot-nosed, sort of lower-middle-class, you know, trying to be gangsters, you know. That's nothing new, by the way.

HANSEN: No, no. But here 40 years later you're...

Mr. HIATT: Yeah.

HANSEN: ...you know, immortalizing it in song.

Mr. HIATT: Yeah, yeah.

(Soundbite of John Hiatt performing "Thunderbird")

Mr. HIATT: (Singing) My Thunderbird, my Thunderbird. Put your head on my shoulder, don't say a word, we'll cut across town in my Thunderbird.

There's a burial ground beneath the cattle herd. Mr. Henry Ford's building me a Thunderbird. My Thunderbird, my Thunderbird. Put your head on my shoulder, don't say a word, we'll cut across the county in my Thunderbird.

We're from Pennsylvania, Welsh men of words. My daddy drove a Desoto; I drive a Thunderbird. My Thunderbird, my Thunderbird. Put your head on my shoulder, don't say a word, we'll cut across the county in my Thunderbird.

She got electric windows, tilt-away wheels, slide across the bucket seat for that sexy leather feel of my Thunderbird, of my Thunderbird. She's the voice of the future. Baby, have you heard? Tomorrow's taking wing on my Thunderbird. My Thunderbird, my Thunderbird. Put your head on my shoulder, don't say a word, we'll cut across the county in my Thunderbird.

From the old Volkswagen back to the Model T, well, a lot of men have died just so you can ride with me in my Thunderbird, in my Thunderbird. She's drives like a dream, baby, rest assured, don't get any better than a Thunderbird.

My daddy was a salesman. My brother was, too. I would sell anything just to try to stay with you, but not my Thunderbird. Oh, not my Thunderbird. Well, the lawman's saying something, I can't hear a word. I'm going too fast in my Thunderbird.

Why they make them that way? Yeah, they make them that way. Why they make them that way? Yeah, they make them that way. Well, they make them that way.

HANSEN: "Thunderbird" from John Hiatt's new CD, "Master of Disaster." John Hiatt played it for us in Studio 4A.

So many people have done covers of your tunes. Do--I mean do you have a favorite one, one you can listen to?

Mr. HIATT: Oh, it's the greatest kick, you know, and so unexpected. You know, I never started writing to have other people do my songs, and so it was--that's probably the biggest surprise of my whole little funny career is that other people--and the biggest--and the thing, in a way, I'm sort of most proud of because I never--it was so unexpected that other people would think my songs were good enough to record, you know. It just really, really tickles me.

HANSEN: John Hiatt, thank you so much for finding the time to drop by during your tour.

Mr. HIATT: Thank you, Liane. It's my pleasure.

HANSEN: John Hiatt's new CD on New West Records is called "Master of Disaster."

Our feature producer is Jesse Baker, our engineer in 4A is Drew Reynolds and there's plenty more on our Web site, npr.org.

(Soundbite of song)

Mr. HIATT: (Singing) ...(Unintelligible) and love's not where we'd thought we left it. ...(Unintelligible) and love's not where we thought we lift it.

HANSEN: This is NPR's WEEKEND EDITION.

(Credits)

HANSEN: I'm Liane Hansen.

(Soundbite of music)

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