JD Souther: In a good and happy place

2012 Stagecoach: California's Country Music Festival - Day 2
JD Souther will dig into his deep catalog of songs for two North Texas appearances. He’ll be in Linden at Music City Texas on June 10 and at The Texan Theater in Greenville on June 12. (Photo by Frazer Harrison/Getty Images for Stagecoach)

JD Souther’s life is running in greased grooves these days.

His latest record, “Tenderness,” released in 2015, got rave reviews, helping him sell out shows across the country.

He’s recently re-released several of his albums, giving a whole new generation the chance to get familiar with his deep catalog of songs.

He’s recovered nicely from the divorce that prompted most of the songs from “Tenderness.”

Souther and his “sweetie” just returned from a blissful trip up the California coast, and he’s about to kick off a four-date Texas Tour, including shows at Music City Texas in Linden (June 10) and at The Texan Theater in Greenville (June 12).

He also has dates at the Kessler in Oak Cliff and a gig in his hometown of Amarillo.

“It’s good to be back home,” he said during a phone interview from his farm near Nashville. “But it was good to be away. We’d both been jammed with work for the last month. We kept telling each other we deserved it. It was a blissful, blissful time. It was the most romantic trip and we took what I think is one of the most beautiful coastline drives.”

Souther is no stranger to romance. In fact, he’s built a songwriters hall of fame career around it.

In addition to his own love songs (“Only Lonely” “Faithless Love,” “White Rhythm and Blues”), Souther wrote or co-wrote many of The Eagles’ big hits, including “New Kid in Town,” “Heartache Tonight,” and “Best of My Love.”

He and the late Glenn Frye shared an apartment in Los Angeles when they were starting out. Their downstairs neighbor was Jackson Browne. Souther and Linda Ronstadt were a couple and they remain close friends.

Souther made a stop in Los Angeles during his recent swing through California to perform “Faithless Love” and induct Ronstadt into the Grammy Legends Hall of Fame.

JD and Linda 2-4-16
JD Souther and Linda Ronstadt were a couple in the beginning of their careers and remain close friends today.

“I got to say some nice things about her and give her a trophy,” he explained. “It was a great night.”

Souther grew up surrounded by music.

“My grandmother was an opera singer and my dad was in big bands,” he noted. “I was playing in orchestras and listening to my dad’s music, which was Sinatra, Sinatra, Sinatra.”

When he moved to Los Angeles, he was a drummer and a sax player, but a new kind of music caught his attention.

“People were picking up acoustic guitars and writing and singing their own songs,” he explained. “I never thought of myself as a singer at all, but I started doing that.”

When he looks back at the re-issued albums, he definitely sees a pattern of growth.

“I think the first album [‘John David Souther’ – 1972] is actually, in retrospect, pretty stunning, considering how little I knew about it,” he confessed. “‘Black Rose’ [1976] is really complicated and dense and a lot of mature symphonic arrangements.”

With “Home by Dawn,” [1984] Souther said he set out to make a rockabilly record.

“Then, by the time I got to playing with the jazz band and I made ‘If The World Was You,’ [2008] ‘Natural History’ [2011] and ‘Midnight in Tokyo,’ [2012] I had a pretty good idea of where I was going next.”

Souther said “It took something really difficult happening” to bring all the tunes together on “Tenderness.”

“Except for two of the songs, they were all written before I recorded them that year,” he said.

For the upcoming dates in Texas, Souther is leaving his trio behind so audiences can experience a truly intimate evening with the troubadour.

“It’ll be just me, a bunch of guitars and a piano,” he said. “I feel like we have to cover the older ground a little more thoroughly this year. It’ll be a longer show, paced a little slower. We’ll have a chance to rediscover some stuff from the old albums.”

After all, the space between the notes is critical.

“The first person I ever heard say that was Miles Davis when I was a little kid,” he explained. “Miles was not a technically fantastic trumpet player like some of the other guys of his time, but his music was just ground-breaking and amazing.”

If he was to be stranded on a desert island, Souther said the one record he would take with him would be Davis’ “Kind of Blue.”

“I think that and Glen Gould’s first record of the Goldberg Variations of the Bach are the two best albums ever made,” he stated.

Souther is looking forward to singing songs people have been asking for.

“I see them in the merchandise line,” he noted. “I hear them say, ‘I wish he had played Kite Woman or White Rhythm and Blues.’ We’ll get a chance to do some of those now.”

Souther is hoping the upcoming tour will gain momentum like the “Tenderness” tour enjoyed.

“Word kinda’ travels ahead of you sometimes,” he said. “The longer we were out, the more shows ahead of us sold out quickly. Once we get out on the road people start to talk and get a little digital conversation about what the evening is like. It will be interesting to see what happens this time.”

Souther is adjusting to the loss of Frey and another close friend and mentor, author Jim Harrison (“Legends of the Fall”), whom Souther calls “the greatest American novelist and poet of my lifetime.”

“Jim taught me most of what I know about writing,” Souther stated. “He had a rich full life. He was an incredibly rugged outdoorsman who could write in a woman’s voice and be believable and tender.”

Frey Souther
JD Souther and Glenn Frey were roommates in Los Angeles. Jackson Browne lived in an apartment below them. Frye died in January.

Losing Frey, his friend and song writing partner, has been tough.

“Linda called me the day after he died,” he said. “She said, ‘It’s a different world now.’”

Souther says it’s strange to look back on their lives together.

“You’ve got to remember that when he and I started, we were just puppies,” he recalled. “We had no money. We had one car between us. We were living with our girlfriends. We just started to get pretty decent at our jobs at about the same time. Then I met Jackson and we got to be tight. He and Glenn got to be tight. We met Don [Henley] later. There was [Warren] Zevon, Linda, Bonnie [Raitt]. Our whole little group began to coalesce. I can’t help but think about Glenn as this enormous arc, from going from this guy who was desperate to learn more and ambitious and a little insecure about his writing to being the leader of the biggest band in American history. It’s a pretty amazing thing.”

While his personal life is now settled and sweet, Souther’s got to make some adjustments when he sits down to create songs for a new record.

“I have no idea what I’m going to do about writing this time,” he confessed. “I usually wait for the dark feelings. I guess I’m going to have to write happy songs.”

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Tickets for an evening with JD Souther at Music City Texas in Linden on Friday, June 10, are $35. His shows sell out, so call soon.Call 903-756-9934 between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. Monday through Friday or visit musiccitytexas.org for more information.

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Tickets for the Sunday, June 12 show at The Texan Theater in Greenville are $194.85 and include parking, an open bar, appetizers, a three-course meal and the show. Call 903-259-6360 for reservations or visit www.texanexperience.com for more details.

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Congratulations to Pam Swanner for winning an overnight stay at The Captain’s Castle in Jefferson and two tickets to the Linden show.

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