slug line / two bit monsters


1993 beat goes on records

CD. BGO CD 176
1 You used to kiss the girls 2:32 30 seconds preview
2 The negroes were dancing 2:43 30 seconds preview
3 Slug line 2:58 30 seconds preview
4 Madonna road 4:18 30 seconds preview
5 (No more) Dancing in the streets 2:21 30 seconds preview
6 Long night 5:17 30 seconds preview
7 The night that Kenny died 2:33 30 seconds preview
8 Radio girl 2:54 30 seconds preview
9 You're my love interest 3:14 30 seconds preview
10 Take off your uniform 4:06 30 seconds preview
11 Sharon's got a drugstore 2:11 30 seconds preview
12 Washable ink 3:15 30 seconds preview
13 Back to normal 3:18 30 seconds preview
14 Down in front 3:22 30 seconds preview
15 I spy 2:41 30 seconds preview
16 Pink bedroom 2:53 30 seconds preview
17 Good girl, bad world 3:14 30 seconds preview
18 Face the nation 3:07 30 seconds preview
19 Cop party 2:54 30 seconds preview
20 Back to the war 3:28 30 seconds preview
21 It hasn't happened yet 3:22 30 seconds preview
22 String pull job 4:02 30 seconds preview
23 New numbers 3:02 30 seconds preview

Total running time:



  • Remastered at Sound Recording Technology, Cambridge 1993.

Liner Notes

The name of John Hiatt is well known among thoae of diacrimination and taste who enjoy the work of the maverick, the artist who has failed to make the big time to the extent that he deserves, yet whose career must be followed because one day he's probably going to be huge. It's not just those with discrimination who admire Hiatt, but also the record business, because Hiart has been signed to a lot of big labels - Epic, MCA, Geffen, A&M, Warner Bros (although that was as a member of an over-democratic aupergroup of sorta). Despite such connections, he has never yet reached the Top 50 of the album charts on either side of the Atlantic, and while critically he has generally been regarded as both consistent and brilliant, the man on the Wimbledon omnibus has never heard of him - unless he reada songwriting credits on country albums', where the name of Hiatt is fairly common. He wrote the title track of Willie Nelson's acclaimed 1993 album, 'Across The Borderline', and a lot more great songs which have been stand­outs on albums by many notable country (and less often, folk or rock) names in the last few years. His purple period  in commercial terms as an artist was between 1987 and 1990, but to his fans, every John Hiatt album - there are about a dozen including those made as a member of Ry Cooder's band - Ia more than likely to include a little gem, or probably several.

As far as the perception of the general public is concerned, Hiatt is caught in the most vicious of circles - he doesn't get hits, so nobody writes about him, and because nobody writes about him, few know who he is or what he's capable of. It is to be hoped that this single CD containing two of Hiatt's original albums will not only delight Hiatt fans by saving them money, but may shame those unfortunates whose record collections are currently Hiatt-free zones into rectifying this omission.

'Slug Line' and 'Two Bit Monsters' were Hiatt's third and fourth albums, and were respectively released in 1979 and 1960, when he was signed to MCA Records. Had these albums been big sellers, he would doubtless have continued with that label, but they weren't so he next signed with the then recently launched Geffen label, for which he made three albums, 'All Of A Sudden' (1982), 'Riding With The King' (1983) and 'Warming Up To The Ice Age' (1985). Still not as successful in sales or chart terms as he deserved, Hiatt spent some time without a deal before Andrew Lauder, then running British independent label Demon, told him that he would release a new Hiatt album in Britain if one existed. The result was the staggering 'Bring The Family', which became his first US chart album in 1987 after it was released by A&M.

In the wake of its success, Geffen released a compilation album, 'Y'AII Caught?' which included a couple of tracks from each of the MCA albums as well as from the three Geffen collections, and was subtitled 'The Ones That Got Away 1979 - 1985'; obviously released in an attempt to recoup some of their losses on an artist who they were certain made excellent records which somehow failed to make commercial waves, it once again failed to chart in the US, and may not even have been released in the UK. Ry Cooder contributed a written tribute which included intemperate appreciation of ‘John Hiatt's great songs, his meat on the bone guitar playing and his fuel-injection voice. He's the real thing and I've met a few - but only a few".

Histt in some ways is rather an enigma, or perhaps mystery is a better word. He was born in Indianapolis, Indiana, in 1952, started playing the guitar at the age of II and joined local garage bands as a teenager - he told an American  writer that bath Joe Lynch and The Hangmen and The Four Fifths did quite well, but he might have been making it up (at least those names). His initial infuence was Elvis Presley, although he only heard Presley during the I 960s because his family were fans. The Beatles also captured the imagination of the adolescent Hiatt, who once said that after hearing Presley's 'I Don't Care If The Sun Don't Shine', he decided to play the guitar, working in groups of which he was the youngest member. This was no doubt where he first became exposed to black soul music, a love of which is clear not only in many of Hiatt's songs and recordings, but also in his cover version on 'Two Bit Monsters' of the 1966 soul hit by Jamo Thomas, 'I Spy (For The FBI)'.

In 1970, Hiatt left home to move to Nashville where he spent four years learning the craft of songwriting as a staff writer for Tree, a music publishing concern of some stature. He also made two albums, 'Hangin' Around The Observatory' and 'Overcoats' for Epic, released in 1974 and 1975 respectively, which apparently received minimal promotion or marketing, but were critical successes. Hiart later told an American writer: "I got the impression that Epic was just putting it ('Hangin' Round The Observatory') out to see if anyone would be interested in me. They didn't push it at a14 and I never toured or anything to promote it", That album contained Hiatt's own version of the first of his songs to be covered by a well known act, 'Sure As I'm Sitting Here', which in 1974 became Three Dog Night's last US Top 20 hit before their decline, but it didn't help his own albums, and following their inevitable commercial failure, he left Nashville  and  also  terminated  his relationship with Tree, working as a solo performer on the US folk circuit. Moving his base to California circa 1978, he met Denny Bruce, who managed Leo Kottke, and Bruce negotiated a record deal with MCA, which brings us to these two albums, released in 1979 and 1980. 'Slug Line' was at least partially made with session musicians, some of whom are well known, like the quartet of drummers, BJ. Wilson (Procol Harum), Bruce Gary (The Knack), Gerry Conway (Fairport family) and Thom Mooney (The Nazz). Most of the others who play on the album are less familiar names, and the band which Hiatt took on the road to promote the album included Steven T. (lead guitar, ex­Venus & The Razorblades, who maybe had something to do with Kim Fowley?) and bass player Howie Epstein, nowadays one of Tom Petty's Heartbreakers. Reviewers likened Hiatt to Elvis Costello (both as songwriter and vocalist), joe jackson, Roger Chapman (of Family), Loudon Wainwright, Graham Parker, Johnny Rivers (!), John Prine and Kevin Coyne, and the final track on the album, 'Washable Ink', was covered by The Neville Brothers. The album had 12 tracks (getting rarer in 1979) averaging three and a bit minutes. Three of the tracks, 'Washable Ink', 'Long Night' and 'Radio Girl', were supposedly the demos which got him the MCA deal. '(No More) Dancin' In The Street', a song bewailing the decay of music on the radio, was covered by Maria Muldaur - Hiatt called her version "a hatchet job". It's clearly a very fine album, but it's not hard to'see why it appealed more to critics than to the mainstream record buyer. After it failed to hit the commercial heights, Hiatt made a follow up, 'Two Bit Monsters', which fared no better, although once again, it is evidently a good piece of work. Hiatt this time co-produced the album with Denny Bruce, who had produced 'Slug Line' on his own, and the two most notable musicians involved were Howie Epstein (from the 'Slug Line' touring band - coincidentally, Epstein produced 'The Missing Years', the 1992 Grammy Award winning John Prine album, and Hiatt and Prine are often spoken of as similar) and keyboard player Shane Keister, who around the same time is believed to have been the featured piano player on a celebrated Joe Ely track, 'Fingernails' ("I keep my fingernoils tong so they click when I ploy the piono"). Apart from the previously mentioned 'I Spy (For The FBI)' (taken rather more slowly than the original), the other ten songs on the album were Hiatt originals, and the best known of them is probably 'Pink Bedroom', which Rosanne Cash covered on her 1986 album, 'Rhythm & Romance'. When the album broke no sales records, Hiart and MCA said their farewells. Following another year in the recording wilderness, Hiatt's fortunes improved  when  Ry  Cooder  was recommended to check out Hiatt's songs, and not only recorded several but also invited Hiatt to join his band as a second singer/guitarist. In that role, Hiatt recorded with Cooder on the latter's 1982 album, 'Borderline', and also appeared on the Cooder-supervised soundtrack of the feature film, 'The Border', before he signed to Geffen, for whom he made the three albums mentioned above. It was once again back to the drawing board circa 1986.

Ry Cooder came back into the story for the brilliant 'Bring The Family' album, completing a backing group also featuring celebrated drummer Jim Keltner and Nick Lowe on bass. The album's significant success on both critical and commercial levels resulted in Hiatt joining A&M, who had licensed 'Bring The Family' and subsequently signed him exclusively. 'Slow Turning' in 1988 became his first US Top 100 album, and in 1990, 'Stolen Moments' peaked not far outside the US Top SO. Both were produced by noted British studio legend Glyn Johns.

Hiatt was poised to finally go into orbit commercially, but what seems in retrospect to have been a rather unfortunate episode may have lost him much of the advantage so painstakingly accumulated over the previous 15 years, when the quartet which had recorded 'Bring The Family' (Hiatt, Cooder, Lowe and Keitner) decided to form a group known as Little Village, whose first album and tour were generally regarded as disappointing (although the album made the Top 100 of the US chart). The problem seemed to be that where 'Bring The Family' had been Hiatt's album, on which he naturally called the shots, Little Village was too democratic for its own good. We await with impatient interest Histt's next solo album whenever it emerges. . . In the meantime, if you've got this far, you should find this maximum length CD containing 23 tracks and including 'Slug Line' and 'Two Bit Monsters' in their entirety, a bargain, a revelation, or both.

John Tobler 1993