Full Albums features covers of every track off a classic album. Got an idea for a future pick? Leave a note in the comments!
By the mid- to late-’80s, John Hiatt was seen pretty much as a lost cause. True, a pretty decent songwriter, having penned a hit or two for others, Three Dog Night and Roseanne Cash both being welcome recipients of his muse. But himself? Deemed just another drunk by the majors, with Arista having been the last to throw in his beer-stained towel; sobriety seemed to have beckoned too late for that final chance.
Luckily for him, the then-tiny UK label Demon, run by the same mavericks behind Stiff and Radar, had a little faith. Indeed, Hiatt himself later said they were willing to put out the farts in his bathtub, so enamored were they of his talent. And they had some bucks to back that up, if not many. Enough for about four days in the studio, if they could keep other costs to a minimum.
Hiatt rustled up his old buddy Nick Lowe, who was married to
Roseanne Cash Carlene Carter at the time. Lowe agreed to waive any fee and to share a motel room with Hiatt. Ry Cooder, whose 1980 album Borderline had included two Hiatt numbers (plus their author on guitar and backing vocals), was also up for it, as was journeyman session drummer supreme Jim Keltner. Remarkably, they were all free those four days, even if the material wasn’t entirely ready. Allegedly Cooder had to be persuaded to hang on a few hours at the end, whilst Hiatt finished writing a necessary tenth track. Another tale is how the impressively lairy rhythm of “Memphis in the Meantime” comes from Lowe plugging in and playing, less than an hour after arrival, for a song he had neither heard nor rehearsed.
But the gamble paid off, and 1987’s Bring the Family became Hiatt’s breakthrough, even if the same line-up were not available to promote it on the road. That came a full five years later, with, now, the band collectively entitled Little Village, coming together for an eponymous album, a tour, and no little rancor. Lowe later stated the problem was of too much time and too much money in the studio. But that’s another story.