Tour Preview and Interview: John Hiatt with The Jerry Douglas Band – Leftover Feelings

One of the better pairings on calendar is the John Hiatt / Jerry Douglas tour. Both cast massive shadows in the music world. Hiatt’s lyrics and melodies have graced more than 20 studio albums, have been recorded by Bob Dylan, Emmylou Harris, B.B. King, Willie Nelson, Bonnie Raitt and scores of others, and have earned him a place in the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame, a BMI Troubadour award, and a lifetime achievement in songwriting designation from the Americana Music Association. Douglas has performed on more than 1,500 albums by artists including Ray Charles, George Jones, Alison Krauss, Earl Scruggs, and James Taylor, and none of those works sound a bit like this collaboration with Hiatt.

I first interviewed Hiatt years ago, on the eve of his breakthrough 1987 debut on A&M Bring the Family. He was a great interview, claiming he had never told anyone before that he once worked in a head shop.

I was able to chat with Douglas several months before their scheduled stop at The Belly Up in Solana Beach. He was in a jovial mood and excited about the prospect of again playing music live.

Jerry Douglas: Being busy now a good thing. But I am more used to being more in control. We were originally supposed to record in April 2020, but of course we couldn’t. No studio was open, and there were too many Covid rules to get that many people in one room. We finally recorded in October, with only two or three people in the control room at one time. Once seated at the recording station we could unmask.

Brad Auerbach: What was it like recording in RCA Studio B [the fabled Nashville studio, home to a treasure trove of recordings]? 

JD: The Country Music Hall of Fame owns RCA Studio B, so no tours were being run at the time. That kept us from having to break down our recording set every night. So, a silver lining there. The studio is rarely used for recording these days, it’s mostly used for tours. The studio is intact, you can’t get rid of the sound…not that you’d want to. It was amazing to be in the room where Chet Atkins broke new ground. It was his playground. To my mind Studio B is the only studio, other than Owen Bradley’s Quonset hut. Studio B is the Garden of Eden, Ground Zero, Mecca. Everything is recorded at once, no overdubbing. Mike stands are mounted to the wall, at the ready, that we could swing out with Neumann microphones to capture the set up for each recording.

It was a factory, with the same musicians seated as the singers come through. We had no drums on the Hiatt project, so no [sonic] bleed or splatter concerns. It got a little spooky in there. You leave part of yourself. There is a wake.

I still miss the big sound stages. I want all the musicians there. The records we love the best were done that way. Big band records were done that way. They sound so good because of the distance between microphones, capturing the notes meeting in the air, that is where the magic is.

But it is expensive.

The new album

BA: Were you able to do anything else during the Covid clampdown?

JD: I played on 50 records during Covid because of the technology, but I don’t like it. I like the immediacy of bouncing ideas off players. Can’t do that on Zoom. No one could get a record into the pipeline, as everyone made a record during Covid. We kept our place in line for pressing. 

BA: Have your thoughts about music evolved over the years?
JD: We deliver an album, not a collection of tracks. It is a point of pride to produce something great with constraints, instead of tuning vocals, pulling guitar licks and moving them around. I try to keep it as human as possible. I love as much to happen at once. Magic is what happens above us, when it gets into the room. We can’t play loud in Studio B, tile floor on concrete.

We wrapped up our chat, with promises to reconnect in Southern California. Clearly, the Hiatt and Douglas collaboration captured the magic in the studio. You can hear it on their sterling new release Leftover Feelings. Luck fans will hear it live all over again on tour.

Tour dates here.

Brad Auerbach has been a journalist and editor covering the media, entertainment, travel and technology scene for many years. He has written for Forbes, Time Out London, SPIN, Village Voice, LA Weekly and early in his career won a New York State College Journalism Award.