History has shown time and again that one person can influence their generation. But what if that same person not only influences society for that one generation, but multiple ones over the course of decades? Someone who may have the answer to that question is a man born in Detroit, raised in Texas, and credited as a principle architect of the southern California sound in the late 60’s & early 70’s. That is quite a pedigree for the man known as John David “JD” Souther.
If you don’t know the man, you probably know his music. If you’ve heard songs like “Heartache Tonight” or “Best Of My Love” sung by the Eagles, “Her Town Too” with James Taylor, or Linda Ronstadt’s “Faithless Love”, then you’ve had a small taste of JD Souther’s influence.
Born in the winter of 1945, the son of a touring big band crooner who transitioned to working for MCA records so he could get off the road and be closer to family, John David was surrounded by musical influences from an early age. Eventually the family moved to Wellington, then Dallas, and finally settled in Amarillo where he grew up and eventually attended Amarillo College, working part-time as a carpenter and musician as well. That was until the lure of the southern California music scene motivated him to head west.
Fast forward to 1969, you could find him playing Monday night open mic shows at The Troubadour as he honed his songwriting skills. Songwriters like Kris Kristofferson, Elton John, James Taylor, Carole King, Joni Mitchell, Neil Young, and Waylon Jennings came through the club during his time there, providing him with even more influences on those skills.
It was at The Troubadour he met and would become roommates and band mates with the late Glenn Frey. Their effort was a folk/country/rock band called Longbranch/Pennywhistle along with fellow musicians Ry Cooder, Jim Gordon, cajun fiddler Doug Kershaw and James Burton. It was also at The Troubadour he met future girlfriend (for a short time) and collaborator Linda Ronstadt, as well as a Texan called Don Henley.
Glen and John David’s band recorded one album in 1970 but it didn’t really ever get off the ground. Then in 1971, he was going solo and friend Jackson Browne arranged an audition for Souther with Asylum Records’ David Geffen, who greenlighted the self titled “John David Souther” which went on to become a critical success, cementing John David as a notable songwriter.
The 1970’s were a flurry of successes and failures, but all were part of the building blocks that would cement Souther as a major influence on the music scene. Teaming up with Chris Hillman of the Byrds, Richie Furay of Poco, and some studio musicians, they formed The Souther/Hillman/Furay Band, but internal struggles brought the band to a fairly quick demise after some limited success. By 1976, his friends Glenn Frey and Don Henley had formed the Eagles. And though he worked closely with them songwriting, he stayed out of the band realizing after one rehearsal that their sound worked best without him performing on stage. His collaboration with Frey and Henley would lead to such hits as “Best of My Love”, “Victim of Love”, “Heartache Tonight”, and “New Kid in Town”.
His first solo mainstream hit came in 1979 with “You’re Only Lonely” It went to #1 on the Adult Contemporary chart and rose to #7 on the Billboard Top 100. In 1981 he teamed up with James Taylor for “Her Town, Too”. He continued to collaborate with Henley and other artists, but as the 80’s rolled on, JD fell into the high life, and not the good kind. He refers to the 80’s as “the missing years” He only released one album in the entire decade, “Home By Dawn”, which was critically praised but a financial flop.
The 90’s found him forsaking the party for the privacy, leading a quiet life in a house he built in the Hollywood Hills that he shared with a couple of dogs. He traveled the world at times, other times he cruised the Pacific Coast Highway with his dogs. But he still worked cranking out songs recorded by artists like George Strait, Trisha Yearwood, The Dixie Chicks, and Brooks and Dunn.
But music isn’t all that drives JD Souther. The acting bug had bit him as well. He was a regular on the hit “30Something”, appeared in the movie “Postcards From The Edge”, and appeared in the first few seasons as Producer Watty White in the then ABC-TV hit drama “Nashville”.
At around the same time, in 2013, JD was inducted into the Songwriters Hall Of Fame, a major milestone in a wide ranging and influential career.
His latest album is entitled “Tenderness” and on it the listener finds Souther stretching musically, balancing a pop and jazz sound. Souther notes, “Now there are many ways to listen to music, and my intention is, as always, that each song tell its own story; however, Tenderness is very much designed as a set. I invite you to enjoy it this way.” And on Saturday evening, March 3rd at the Cultural Activities Center, this writer plans on doing just that.
On Tuesday, February 27, 2018, legendary artist JD Souther took a few minutes out of his busy schedule to sit and talk with CenTexFun’s Peter Christian about his music, his life, and his dogs. Here is the telephone interview in it’s entirety ….