May 21, 2009

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The reintroduction of JD
JD Souther brings songs from his new album to the Tupelo
By Katie Beth Ryan music@hippopress.com

To the masses, he’s known by his two initials, but JD Souther’s friends are more likely to call him by his formal name of John David.

 “I always thought it was Jackson [Browne],” Souther surmises about the origin of the nickname, “and he swears it wasn’t him. I didn’t like being called John, and I’d insist on both names, and it just got to be a pain in the ass until people started calling me JD and it just stuck.”

Other listeners these days may not know Souther by name, but by the legacy of songs he’s written for other performers, namely The Eagles (“Best of My Love,” “New Kid in Town”), Linda Ronstadt and Bonnie Raitt. But Souther enjoyed a successful solo career in his own right, releasing four albums between 1972 and 1984, before taking a quarter century-long hiatus from recording his own material to pursue options as far-ranging as writing on his farm outside of Nashville and portraying a home-wrecking environmentalist on thirtysomething.

Just last fall, he released If The World Was You, his first album of new material since the mid-’80s. But it isn’t as though he’s been sitting idle as a songwriter. He’ll play the Tupelo Music Hall in Londonderry on Wednesday, May 27, at 8 p.m.

 “I’m always writing, but on a trip to Cuba in late ’98, I began writing a song called ‘Rain,’ which is kind of the centerpiece of this record,” he says. “It took a few years for me to collect a number of songs and structures and lines and poetry to go with it, around that. By 2001, when I moved here, I had a clear picture of what kind of record I wanted to make.”

Souther says the influences on If The World Was You vary from the songs penned by fellow Texans Buddy Holly and Roy Orbison to the cool jazz sounds of Miles Davis and John Coltrane. Growing up in Amarillo gave him ready access to the rockabilly songs that later gave birth to what many have termed the country-rock movement, largely engineered by musicians like Souther and Richie Furay and groups like Poco. Yet over time, Souther says he’s identified less and less with that genre, though he considers it to be “a touchstone” in his musical evolution.

 “That period of time was really the first batch of good songs that I had,” he says. “I read things where we’re compared to this or that. Somebody wrote a piece about me, comparing me an architect of Southern California country-rock sound. I was flattered but it’s pretty funny. Out of the six or seven of us that are usually affiliated with that, only one person is from southern California.”

But Souther’s work with The Eagles — part of country-rock fusion — has stood the test of time in an industry where long-running musical relationships aren’t the norm. He once played in a folk duo with Eagles guitarist Glenn Frey, and his songs started showing up on the group’s long string of multi-platinum albums in the mid-to-late ’70s. Thirty years later, The Eagles used Souther’s 35-year-old “How Long” as the first single from Long Road Out of Eden, the group’s first album of new material in almost three decades.

 “Partnerships are like marriage. To survive, you gotta go through a lot of rough times,” he says. “You know, I’m thrilled. No matter how it happens, having an Eagles hit is a beautiful thing. There’s no question about that. They always made brilliant records of whatever I wrote… they’re just the guys you want singing your songs, because they make great records.”

It took him two decades to get back into the studio for his own work, but Souther is already looking “two albums ahead” to what he says is a revitalization of a project he started after 1979’s “You’re Only Lonely.”

 “I’ve been really fortunate in that some great artists that record here have cut my songs. You can only consider it a wonderful event when George Strait or the Dixie Chicks or Diamond Rio or Tricia Yearwood cuts your song. It’s fantastic.”


JD Souther
Where: Tupelo Music Hall, 2 Young Road in Londonderry
When: Wednesday, May 27, 8 p.m.
How much: $30 at www.tupelohall.com
For more info: To hear tracks from Souther’s new CD, If The World Was You, visit www.jdsouther.net.