Hit Songwriter Bios—J.D. Souther

by Jack Hayford, DurangoSong.com

When I was living in the South Bay area of Los Angeles in the early '80s, I was playing music in local clubs and working at a 7-11 store in Manhattan Beach to make ends meet. Working at the store with me was a terrific singer/songwriter by the name of Tom Kell. Tom's idol was J.D. Souther and we talked about J.D.'s music a lot. During that period, somehow Tom got a demo tape of his music into the hands of Souther. J.D. called him! Tom was FREAKED OUT with excitement. A friendship between Tom and J.D. ensued and through him, Tom got to meet more of his idols, Warren Zevon and Kenny Edwards to name just a couple. (Years later I was invited to one of Tom's shows and Kenny was playing with Tom at that time.)

A few years went by. I had left L.A. and moved back to my native New England and was producing a concert series. Tom and I spoke and I asked if he thought J.D. would like to come do a show. Tom said Souther rarely played out but he would ask. Well, ask he did and J.D. said "sure." So, in the summer of 1986, J.D. Souther and Tom Kell came and performed at the beautiful and historic Majestic Theatre in Conway, New Hampshire. It was the highlight of my summer and one of the best times of my life: hanging out with my old buddy Tom and getting to meet and talk music with the legendary J.D. Souther.

Souther and I were reacquainted some ten years later at the Durango Songwriters Expo, at which J.D. has appeared twice (once he came unannounced with his friend and hit songwriter Rodney Crowell). Veterans of the Expo will tell you that hearing J.D. Souther perform "Best of My Love," with 200 plus songwriters hanging on, and singing, every word, was a hair-raising and truly unforgettable moment at the Expo.

Below is the lowdown on "songwriter's songwriter," J.D. Souther.

Jack Hayford and Danny DelRossi

Jack Hayford with WMWV's Danny DelRossi (1986)

JD Souther Home By Dawn

From the Warner Bros. Records Press Release for Home By Dawn:

J.D. [John David] Souther was born in Detroit but raised as a Texan from an early age after his family moved to Amarillo. J.D.'s father, himself a singer, owned a music store selling band instruments. Throughout high school and later at Amarillo College, J.D. fronted the obligatory string of garage bands, including J.D. And The Senders. "We were a three-piece band playing some kind of hillbilly R&B," he recalls. "I sang lead and played drums. It was very schizo."

In 1968, he left college and headed for Los Angeles to pursue an ever-elusive shot at the "big time." The band of the moment was The Kitchen Cinq which succeeded in cutting an album before disintegrating. By that time, however, J.D. had left. "I'd been playing drums and a little sax up until then," he recounts. "That changed when my Dad bought me a Gibson/Dove."

True to form, something actually did happen. J.D. met another fledgling singer/songwriter by the name of Glenn Frey. Souther and Frey joined forces, called themselves Longbranch Pennywhistle and began playing regularly on hoot nights at Hollywood's Troubadour. J.D. remembers it as an exciting, promising time. "We met all kinds of people," he says. "Jackson Browne, Ned Doheny, Don Henley, Warren Zevon. We all hung around together."

David Geffen at that time was putting together Asylum Records, building a roster from his group of starving artists—musicians who, in time, would forge the best sounds of a decade. "A lot of us lived in cottages in a court off Highland Ave.," J.D. continues. "It was around that time that I first met Linda." It was also about the time that Longbranch Pennywhisle was put to rest. Frey went off to form The Eagles with Don Henley while J.D. continued to write, working closely with Ronstadt. He contributed three songs to her landmark, Don't Look Now album, which he also produced. In 1971 he released his first solo album, John David Souther, toured extensively in support of the LP and continued his work with Ronstadt.

In 1973, David Geffen approached J.D. to form a new band with former members of Poco and The Flying Burrito Brothers. The result was Souther Hillman Fury, a trio whose supergroup potential never jelled [sic] despite the release of two superbly crafted albums, The Souther Hillman Fury Band and Trouble In Paradise. It was a frustrating period for J.D. and one in which a backlog of increasingly assured and characteristically incisive songs developed. "I collected all the things I wanted to do in the band but couldn't," J.D. confides. The cream of this material eventually surfaced on his second effort Black Rose, a remarkable LP that featured a startling array of guest artists from jazz bassist Stanley Clarke to the late, great Lowell George.

An intense period of pure and simple songwriting followed—a time when the best of J.D's tunes appeared on other people's albums. Songs like "Prisoner In Disguise," and "Simple Dream," marked the perfecting of a powerful and acutely personal talent, and it was a mark of that talent that some of the best artists recording at the time discovered so much in his music. "Linda and the guys in the Eagles really pushed me to write," he reveals. "I owe a lot to them. I knew I should go on, that I should develop myself as an artist, but I had a really good thing going. My songs were being sung by the best around."

In 1980, however, J.D. returned to solo recording, this time with spectacular results. You're Only Lonely, the title track to the album released that year, was a smash hit, the most substantial commercial success in his career to date. Yet J.D. was in no hurry to "exploit" his new-found recognition. After cutting the smash duet, "Her Town Too," with James Taylor on Dad Loves His Work, he began work on the follow-up to You're Only Lonely. "I started working on it in '81," he explains, "but I didn't like the way it was going. I stopped, took a hard look at my direction and started all over again." In the process, he changed labels and employed the talents of David Malloy, a canny Nashville producer who has contributed much to the hard, rollicking edge of artists like Eddie Rabbitt."


Editors note: Souther went on to record Home By Dawn but little else as a solo performer since. The Dixie Chicks had a hit with a cover of one of his songs from Home By Dawn, the beautiful ballad, "I'll Take Care of You," released on their break-through album, Wide Open Spaces.

Souther has also quietly built a successful acting career, appearing in numerous films and television shows, notably, My Girl 2 (1994), Postcards from the Edge (1990), and as a semi-regular ("Ted") on the 1989-1990 hit TV show, thirtysomething.

Joel Whitburn's Billboard Charts

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