If you ask John David where he's from, he may say without hesitation; "I'm from Amarillo." But depending on who's asking, he may shrug and say: "I'm from everywhere, I guess." He would be mostly right either way.
He was born in Detroit when his father, John Souther, was crooning in front of the big bands of his day, under a stage name, Johnny Warren. His mother hated the fact that "Johnny Warren" wasn't home and so, the singing father stepped halfway out of road life by going to work for MCA as an agent: fascinating for a curious five year old John David, who met The Three Sounds, The Mills Brothers, other jazz greats, and the legendary Victor Borge, who once acted as babysitter for the lucky son. Eventually the family relocated first to Wellington, Dallas, and then to Amarillo, Texas. John David would stay until he left Amarillo College and headed west to Los Angeles.
After an off and on couple of years spent between carpentry (during suspended semesters at school) and music theory, Souther hit the road with a rival band from Texas and immediately felt at home in LA. Cut to 1969 and The Troubadour.
It was during that time that Glen and John David made Longbranch/Pennywhistle, with Jimmy Bowen's new label, Amos Records. The band included Ry Cooder, Jim Gordon, Cajun fiddler Doug Kershaw and James Burton.
By 1971, Souther had, in his words, "stepped into himself," with a solo deal that gave him the venue he had been seeking. Jackson Browne had taken him to David Geffen's house to audition for Geffen's new label, Asylum Records: "I played David two of my best but probably not most radio friendly pieces and he just said; 'OK. Go make a record.' I couldn't believe it." The record, John David Souther (Asylum Records 1971), was a critical success and established John David Souther as a songwriter who had definitely arrived.
But the record did not reveal a hit single. Geffen had an idea. He told Souther he could speed things up by putting Chris Hillman (Byrds, Flying Burrito Bros), Richie Furay (Buffalo Springfield, Poco) and Souther together in front of great session players, including drummer Jim Gordon (Traffic, Derek and the Dominoes, Delaney & Bonnie.) This new idea of Geffen's was intriguing and the hastily assembled band headed to Colorado to rehearse a first album, The Souther/Hillman/Furay Band (Asylum Records, 1972). SHF had one hit single and a promising first year of touring; but internal personality differences made real cohesion difficult.The band couldn't last, and it didn't. The appropriately named Trouble In Paradise (Elektra/Asylum, 1973) was finished in better shape than it deserved, but there was no band there to tour. John David Souther was back on his own, which is probably where he was meant to be all along.
On his own, but certainly not alone, his songwriting flourished. By 1976, Eagles had huge hits with his music, Linda Ronstadt had made breathtaking recordings of his songs, some of them duets with him.
On the creative side, Peter Asher, a long time friend offered encouragement, expertise, and a steady hand on the wheel. Asher produced Black Rose(Asylum/Elektra, 1976), a solo record which would bring Souther back from the disappointment of the SHF Band and into focus as an independent artist.
But it would be 1979 before Souther registered his first really massive hit as a solo artist: "You're Only Lonely" from the LP You're Only Lonely (Sony/Columbia, 1979). The track hit #1 at Adult Contemporary radio that year and rose as high as #7 on the Billboard Top 100. At the same time; "Heartache Tonight" the Eagles smash single co-written by Souther, Henley, Frey, and Bob Seger topped the charts.The album from which it came, The Long Run(Elektra/Asylum, 1979), included two more Henley/Frey/Souther songs as well.
Two years later, the duet recording of James Taylor and Souther of their song "Her Town, Too" (Souther/Taylor/Wachtel), was such a big a hit in the U.S. and Japan that it gave Peter Asher the idea to produce an enormously successful stadium concert tour in Japan, billed as The California Live In Japan: James Taylor, Linda Ronstadt, JD Souther, and Ronin (led by Waddy Wachtel). No matter that none of the artists were originally from California---the label had stuck. "The California Sound? Fine," recalls Souther.
Another moniker had also attached itself by this time. John David Souther had become JD Souther. "It started with me turning in songs as JD Souther in '71. I had seen the J.S. Bach music, first in books and then at The British Museum and as there was no higher music for me to aspire to. I adopted the abbreviation."
The 1980s saw only one Souther album released: Home By Dawn (Warner Bros., 1984) produced by David Malloy, and recorded in Nashville, TN. Despite its critical acclaim and being included in one of Time magazines "Best of..." lists, the album did not produce a hit single or anticipated sales. Nonetheless, Jim Malloy, legendary producer/writer/publisher on Music Row told JD a year later, after the next new wave of country had exploded, "You were about 15 minutes ahead of your time." Indeed, one of the album's standout cuts, "I'll Take Care of You" appears on the Platinum breakout album that sold over 12 million copies of the Dixie Chicks, Wide Open Spaces(Sony/Columbia, 1998.)
By 1990 Souther has forsaken the high life, built his dream home in the Hollywood Hills, adopted two dogs that would anchor him for over a decade, and sworn to "take care of myself, my love, and the black dogs... and not watch too much TV." The "golden decade" or "the missing years" (thank you, Warren Zevon) --- 12 years, in fact --- were mostly spent on this lush property and traveling. "It was Paradise. Life was as peaceful as I had known it since I was a child in Wellington, Texas, but I knew I would have to go back to work sometime.".
In 2008 Souther began to assemble a small group of jazz musicians to realize his next dream. They released If The World Was You (Slow Curve, 2008) a standalone set of original musical stories that crosses new territory but still tears at familiar places in the heart. The Tennesseanmusic editor called it "either the jazziest singer songwriter record of our time or the most literate and lyrically sophisticated new jazz record on the market." In 2010, JD released Rain: Live at the Belcourt Theatre (Slow Curve, 2010). It was recorded live to a sold out crowd.
In 2011 Souther accepted an offer, from Chuck Mitchell at eOne Music, to revisit some of his most popular songs, including some hits that Souther had never recorded himself. Produced by Fred Mollin, the result was Natural History (eOne Music, 2011) featuring revelatory, stripped down, and haunting performances, including "Best Of My Love," "Sad Café," "New Kid in Town," "Faithless Love," and "Prisoner In Disguise." Jazz Times Magazine had high praise for the work; "Souther proves his work holds up as well as Dylan's or Simon's or Lennon/McCartney's." His second eOne release, Midnight In Tokyo (eOne Music, 2012), is a late set in Japan with the trio joined by his pal and favorite sax man, Jeff Coffin. Cool as jazz, indeed, but something more: an unexpected creative evolution by a master songwriter and singular vocal stylist.
A major career accolade was received in 2013, as JD was inducted into the Songwriters Hall Of Fame. He also appeared in the ABC-TV hit drama Nashville, in the recurring role of Zen-like producer/guru Watty White. Shortly thereafter, JD Souther signed a new recording contract with Sony Music Masterworks division, now led by his old friend, Chuck Mitchell.
This brings us to the new album, Tenderness. Produced by Larry Klein, an instant fellow traveler (Joni Mitchell, Rodney Crowell, Norah Jones, Melody Gardot, and Herbie Hancock) the new album continues Souther's new paths in sound and style; but at the same time, it's unlike anything he has previously recorded.
Overall, the album finds Souther stretching musically, balancing his pop and jazz sensibilities, paying particular homage to his earliest influences, the geniuses of the 20thCentury Great American Songbook.
"JD Souther's latest release "Tenderness" and reissues of his "John David Souther" solo debut album, "Black Rose", and "Home By Dawn", are available everywhere." *Please note that John David Souther is professionally known as JD Souther (not J.D. Souther).