Exclusive: Watch John Hiatt and Jerry Douglas Play “Mississippi Phone Booth”Photo by Patrick Sheehan Music News John Hiatt and Jerry Douglas
John Hiatt and Jerry Douglas stood on the shoulders of giants in Nashville’s historic RCA Studio B. With long, prolific music careers under each of their belts, it was easy to tap into the magic of the studio for the pair’s collaboration on the forthcoming album Leftover Feelings, out May 21. The music video for track “Mississippi Phone Booth” finds Hiatt performing with The Jerry Douglas Band at the Cannery Ballroom in Nashville (and not Studio B, for some reason), and premieres exclusively with Paste today.
Hiatt and Douglas have known each other for years, but Leftover Feelings is the first time the duo have recorded music together. While the pandemic slowed things down, as they originally planned to work on an album in April 2020, the shutdown afforded them a rare opportunity. They had four days uninterrupted in a studio so full of history, the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum would typically occupy the room leading tours, pointing out to fans the “X” that marks precisely where Elvis Presley stood to sing “Blue Christmas.”
In conversations with Paste, both artists affirmed that the influence of these legends, also including the Everly Brothers and Waylon Jennings, can be felt throughout the recording process. “The whole time you’re there, when you’re not playing, you’re thinking about who has been in that room and played,” said Douglas. “All these great music producers and musicians walked in and out through that room, and it was their playhouse.”
“The room’s just got a feel to it,” added Hiatt. “My mind started pedaling back to when I was a little boy hearing ‘Blue Christmas’ every Christmas and ‘Love Me Tender,’ and all of the great songs recorded there just kinda blew my mind.”
The space remains nearly identical to how it was originally built, and its specific quality is felt throughout Leftover Feelings, an album sonically in its own league thanks to the winning combination of Hiatt’s stellar vocals and lyricism, and Douglas’ thoughtful and innovative instrumentals. The two’s strengths work so well together, it’s unsurprising to hear Douglas and Hiatt call making the album “a breeze” and “the most fun I’ve had in a studio in a long time,” respectively.
The blues-infused “Mississippi Phone Booth” describes a call for help at the end of a bender. Hiatt said of the song:
I maintain that I write fiction, but my stories are based on life experiences, or the experiences of people I know, or things I’ve read about and so on. And this one in particular chronicles my last sort of run with trying to make alcohol and drugs work successfully in my life, I’ll just put it that way!
It was the beginning of the character’s redemption I would say. Broken and redeemed is sort of the cycle, the human cycle. We get broken and we get redeemed somehow, by some kind of grace, and the song’s kind of about that. And of course, talking about a phone booth, I thought the young folks would get a kick out of that!
On the production side, Douglas elaborated on how he brings the feel for what the lyrics describe into the rest of the song’s sound:
My wife’s from Mississippi, so I’ve spent a fair part of my time in the last few years being in Mississippi. And it’s slow, and you learn to move like a sloth in Mississippi because it’s so hot!
I have a mental picture of exactly where he was standing in that phone booth, calling and just begging somebody, at least for the operator to stay on the line long enough for him to talk to somebody. It sounded like a miserable situation. But I try to bring…real life to what was there, to do what I could do to swamp it out a little bit.
Watch Hiatt and The Jerry Douglas Band perform “Mississippi Phone Booth” below, and keep scrolling to see their respective Paste Studio sessions. You can preorder Leftover Feelings here.