Lyle Lovett: ‘You don’t think about hitting a home run. You only think about hitting wood on the ball’

Lyle Lovett and John Hiatt will perform at Wichita’s Orpheum Theater on Sunday, October 9.

Singer-songwriters remain in a class by themselves, drawing on a diverse range of music that spans jazz, swing, blues, country, and folk.

Hiatt’s career dates back to the early 1970s, when he began recording for the Epic label and racked up a string of covers of his songs that eventually ranged from BB King to Bonnie Raitt to Three Dog Night to Buddy Guy.

Lovett’s output since the 1980s has garnered consistent critical acclaim and has moved across a variety of genres that defy easy description.

Originally scheduled to hit the road together in early 2020, the pair’s tour finally kicks off this week and continues through the fall, with Wichita being one of the first stops on the jaunt.

Hiatt’s latest recording is “Leftover Feelings” with Jerry Douglas, while Lovett released “12 of June” earlier this year.

Lovett recently spoke with KMUW from his tour bus, where he also stopped to change his guitar strings before the start of the tour in Springfield, Missouri.

Interview Highlights

I wanted to offer my condolences on the passing of Loretta Lynn.

Thanks. He wasn’t close to Loretta, but he was close enough to her to experience how kind he was to her. When he received the Kennedy Center Honor from her several years ago, I was part of the tribute to her. She was so sweet with everything. I was in Fort Worth one time and she was playing at Billy Bob’s, and she invited me to the show and she took me onstage with her and took my wife and I on her bus with her daughters. We got the full Loretta Lynn experience. She was just sweet, sweet, sweet.

On a side note, I have been involved in off-road motorcycle racing all my life and at his home in Hurricane Mills, Tennessee, he had a motocross track and there is a big national amateur motocross championship every year at his house. There’s all these kids riding these dirt bikes and all they know about Loretta Lynn is this big race track. Her presence on this earth was far-reaching. I hate that he’s gone.

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How did you come to know the music of John Hiatt?

I first heard John Hiatt on stage on the 31stSt. January 1981. John and his band, his rhythm section, were playing as Ry Cooder’s band for the “Borderline” album tour. I went to see it at the Paramount Theater in Austin. Ry kept releasing John’s solos and introducing him during the show, so his name stuck with me, so I looked him up after that; I looked up his records.

When I started going to Nashville in 1984, by that time John had moved back to Nashville and I saw that he was playing in Nashville. It turned out that he was doing a residency at a place on Music Row called the Music Row Showplace, I think. He played every week, every Wednesday and Thursday night. He played for six or eight weeks straight, and I went to as many shows as I could. He was just playing solo, and he just loved it.

We were at the same event on and off between then and when we started doing shows together in 1989. That was thanks to Bill Ivey of the Country Music Foundation. He invited John and me, along with Guy Clark and Joe Ely, to a full show for the Marlboro Country Music Festival in New York. We did that in 1989. Then the four of us would get together more often and go on tour. We did that until around 2008 when Guy Clark got a little sick and couldn’t tour like we did. After that, John and I started playing, just the two of us.

We have known each other for a long time, we have worked together for a long time; We’ve been friends. We were meant to tour together in 2020, and we couldn’t. So I’m particularly excited to meet him today and see him again.

How much did you become a student of his writing? There are these qualities in his songs that are undeniable and nobody does them like him.

Hiatt’s approach is different on each song. Some songs he will convey with poetry or puns. He sometimes makes himself understood simply by the rhythm of the song. John Hiatt is an amazing guitar player and he has a lot of rhythm. He can create a beat, just him and his feet and his guitar and you just can’t sit still.

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I guess part of it is that these shows go back to when they both played songwriter nights. Find out what the other person is working on, that kind of thing.

Exactly. There is no way to act that is not fun. But each configuration you make can be different from the others. This show is an opportunity for us to play our songs the way we first wrote them, when you’re sitting on your couch or on the edge of your bed and imagining what an arrangement would look like while thinking of words and chords. progressions, when all of that is more on your mind than anywhere else. That’s the way we play on this show. Occasionally I sing with John, and he sings with me and plays guitar with me, but it’s very casual and it doesn’t work. It’s what would happen if they were sitting at home playing with each other. It is very similar to that.

When you’re acting, do you have any sense of, “Maybe this is a kid’s first show and maybe he’s just learning how to write songs, and he’s getting some wisdom from what I do?”

Oh my God. I can’t imagine. It’s a real compliment. You can’t really think about the impact you’re having or how people might receive what you’re doing. I’m just trying to think about… oh God… [laughs], “What could play?” “What could I play in response to something John does? How is this going to go? I really don’t know, and I’m just hoping to survive my own songs and help with John’s. I just want him to feel good. That is all. What you do and how it affects other people takes care of itself. That’s not something you have to consider. You don’t think about hitting a home run. You only think about hitting wood on the ball.

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