Making Music: JD Souther
Best known for hits with the Eagles and Linda Ronstadt...and now acting.
Acclaimed musician JD Souther will be performing at the Ridgefield Playhouse on Saturday, June 20. We had the opportunity to correspond with him about his legendary music and acting career.
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You’ve written hits with and for some of the biggest names in rock, from the Eagles, to Linda Ronstadt, to Brian Wilson. How different was it working with each of them?
That would fill a book. Everyone who writes (a very private profession) has to be willing to open up when the juices are flowing and the standards seem compatible.
What does it take to write a great song?
You’re a wealth of provocative but unanswerable questions. If any of us could articulate that clearly, every writer I know would spin out a gem for breakfast every morning. Let’s just say you can feel a difference in pace and depth when it’s really on. You must be able to change speeds on the fly.
You’ve also performed in a number of bands, including Longbranch Pennywhistle, the Souther Hillman Furay Band, as well as solo. Do you find yourself more at home on stage or writing music?
They are two completely different jobs. I love both.
You had your own big hit with "You're Only Lonely" in 1979 and then seemed to back away from the business, why?
Well, first of all, I released a record Home By Dawn in 1984 that was well reviewed (even made Time magazine) and several of the songs were covered by other artists (including I’ll Take Care Of You by the Dixie Chicks on their 13 million selling album Wide Open Spaces). Also, I co-wrote three songs on my friend Don Henley’s The End Of The Innocence album: The Heart Of The Matter, Little Tin God, and If Dirt Were Dollars.
Then I just took a break. I built my dream house, adopted a couple of dogs that needed homes, fell in love, travelled a lot, got in a lot of time skiing (including the wondrous Mount Hutt in New Zealand), spent some time camping in Colorado, worked a cattle round up, swam a mile every morning, had my parents out to LA to visit a few times (I had built a great little guest suite for them in the new house), wrote poetry, read a lot…..I don’t remember being bored
Is there someone in particular who influenced your music?
I’m sure I’ve been influenced by every note I’ve ever heard but mostly probably by my father and my college music theory and composition teacher Evan Tonsing.
Perhaps an unfair questions, but what are the songs that you’ve written or performed that you would count among your favorites?
Yup. unanswerable because it changes all the time. Right now it’s Come What May and Dance Real Slow from my new album Tenderness on Sony Music Masterworks. And I’m always partial to Faithless Love because Linda Ronstadt made such a definitive record of it and there have been too many covers to count since then, most of them beautiful. The little tune that keeps on giving.
You’re one of the pioneers of Southern California country-rock and you're also very involved in jazz. What appeals to you about these different genres?
Duke Ellington once said; “There are only two types of music: good music and….the other kind. I prefer good music”. I’m with the Duke on this one.
You’re career acting in TV and movies spans nearly 4 decades. Currently you play Watty White in the smash TV hit Nashville. How did that part come about?
I was having dinner with friends in New York including Callie Khourie and T Bone Burnett. Callie said she was working on something about country music that would shoot in Nashville. A few months later, I read it, loved it, and she hired me. Great fun to do.
Who is Watty based on and how well does the show depict the music industry?
Watty is based on an amalgam of characters; some in Callie’s head, some in mine, some grabbed out of thin air. We gave him a history (He’s from near Bakersfield, CA; a small station DJ who grew up on Buck Owens and Merle Haggard) and pushed the start button. I’m not so involved now in the day to day music industry in Nashville (nor was I anywhere) so I couldn’t say for certain how accurate it is but who cares, it sure is fun to watch and the music is good.
You’ve received Grammy Nominations, in addition to winning Academy of Country Music Awards, American Music Awards and you were recently inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame. What can people expect from JD Souther next?
If I knew that; I’d tell you…..maybe.
I’m still laboring over a book of short stories. We’ll see.
How would you describe your newest album?
Cinematic….probably film noir. It feels like LA very late on a rainy night. Far and away my favourite and best realized one so far and certainly the most direct and truthful singing in my career. Full of secrets.
Shhhh……just listen and you can hear them.
Thanks for asking.