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John Hiatt And Jerry Douglas Join Forces On 'Leftover Feelings'

John Hiatt and Jerry Douglas (Patrick Sheehan)
John Hiatt and Jerry Douglas (Patrick Sheehan)

John Hiatt and Jerry Douglas have been making music for decades but they’ve never made a record together — until now.

The two American musical giants released their new album “Leftover Feelings” on Friday. Hiatt and Douglas — the master singer-songwriter and the master dobro player — mesh their talents together with terrific results. The music website Holler calls it “a match made in heaven.”

During a conversation about ideas for his next project, Hiatt said his manager suggested making an album with Douglas. A collaboration with his longtime friend and once-neighbor hadn’t crossed Hiatt’s mind but he loved the idea.

“My manager asked me and I said yes immediately,” Douglass says, “because who wouldn’t want to do that?”

The Jerry Douglas Band seems like the perfect complement to Hiatt’s singing and songwriting. Douglass says his crew knew exactly how to “surround a song like what John Hiatt would write.”

Douglas enforces one principal rule in his band, he says: “Do not play on top of the singer so people can hear the words.” The duo decided not to use drums on the album to keep Hiatt’s voice and lyrics in the spotlight.

“We’ve heard comments from people who heard the record. They say, ‘I was four or five songs into it before I realized there wasn’t a drummer,” Hiatt says.

“Leftover Feelings” was recorded at the historic RCA Studio B in Nashville — the birthplace of the Nashville sound where Waylon Jennings, Dolly Parton and Elvis Presley made music. Hiatt felt intimated by this history, but the experience of working in the studio felt different.

“It’s like they’re cheering you on from within the walls,” he says. “It’s like another musician in and of itself, kind of, the room.”

Hiatt kissed the ‘X’ marked on the floor at Presley’s “sweet spot” — as Douglas witnessed.

Interview Highlights

On the song “All the Lilacs in Ohio”

John Hiatt: “This was one of three songs that that were not kind of fresh. I actually recorded this song with The Goners back in 2003 on a record called ‘Beneath This Gruff Exterior.’ And we did a kind of a raucous, you know, four-piece rock band with wild slide guitar player … When this project came up, it was the first song I thought of for something I would love to hear Jerry’s take on and his band of merry men.”

On the song “Light of the Burning Sun.” Hiatt wrote the song about his brother who died by suicide when the songwriter was 11 — something he’d never written about before.

Hiatt: ”I’ve dealt with it my whole life. And I don’t know what shook loose in me, but I sat down one day and started playing those melancholic chords and that little figure that kicks it off. And then the song just shook out.”

On how Douglas approached “Light of the Burning Sun” as a producer

Jerry Douglas: “I heard the song and I realized the seriousness in it and decided that we would just paint around it, especially in one spot. There’s a lyric about when his father learned the news and then his mother hears the news from a policeman. And Mike Seal played this really low, ominous chord. And it just permeated the track and accentuated what John was saying, you know, and you could visualize what was happening. To me, that brought it all into view.”

On the duo’s upcoming tour

Douglas: “We’ve been looking forward to this for a year. We were supposed to record this album [in] April a year ago and then tour in August of 2020. And this pandemic set everything back a year. We did get to go into the studio last October and start the record and get a jump on the whole situation. But it was a long time waiting to get in there. And it’s going to be exciting to get out on the road and play these songs.”


Alex Ashlock produced and edited this interview for broadcast with Todd Mundt. Allison Hagan adapted it for the web.

This article was originally published on WBUR.org.

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