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John Hiatt revisits ‘Slow Turning’

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John Hiatt is celebrating the 30th anniversary of “Bring the Family and “Slow Turning.” (Courtesy Jim McGuire)

John Hiatt wrapped a new album (the upcoming “Robber’s Highway,” a nickname for the historic Natchez Trace trail in the South) as his old label A&M was reissuing 30th-anniversary vinyl editions of his catalog classics, 1987’s “Bring the Family” and 1988’s “Slow Turning.” To celebrate, he hastily reassembled his Sonny Landreth-led backing band from that era, The Goners, for a tour featuring “Slow Turning” played in its entirety. “Sonny’s got a record that’s up for a Grammy this year, but he had some time off and was really up for this, and we’ve just been having a great time,” he says.

You were the king of punk cynicism in the late 1970s and early ‘80s, with “Slug Line” and “All of a Sudden.” But you fell into this rustic, laconic groove on “Bring the Family.” What changed?

I moved back to Nashville in ’85. But the big change was, I got clean, I got sober. So it was a huge change in my life. I was an alcoholic and a drug addict, and that, uh, kind of hampered me a little bit. I kind of always got my own way, so to speak. So that provided me with a clearer path to my artistry. And I noticed that, for sure. Songwriting became more of a part of who I was and less of something that I tried to do.

It’s still hard to believe that “Family” was cut in only four days, with Nick Lowe, Ry Cooder and Jim Keltner backing you.

Yeah. At Ocean Way Studios. And it kind of set the precedent for how I’ve approached records ever since. I don’t spend a whole lot of time on them. That album was live, and that’s pretty much how I like to record. I’ve never done a record, for example, where you put things down to a click track. I feel like I should show up with the songs. That’s my bit.

Your daughter Lily Hiatt is in the business now, too.

She’s doing great. It’s hard to sell any records these days, but she’s out there getting noticed. She just made a great third record, “Trinity Lane,” and she’s done this all on her own. All she does with me is ask me for advice or a shoulder to cry on when she’s having tough times on the road.

For advice, you could play her “Slug Line”: “Keep a smile on the face of the consumer/ Or you’ll be just a rumor.”

Ha! Yeah, I tell her, “Don’t do this.” That’s pretty much all I’ve got for her.


John Hiatt and The Goners
Where: Masonic, 1111 California St., S.F.
When: 8 p.m. Jan. 31
Tickets: $39 to $50
Contact: (415) 776-7457, www.ticketmaster.com

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