Most folks I talk to have never heard of J.D. Souther, so I try to start the story by saying he was a writer on many of the biggest Eagles’ hits — “Best of My Love,” “New Kid in Town,” “Heartache Tonight,” and “Sad Cafe,” and some of the songs Linda Ronstadt had on her albums — “Faithless Love” and “Black Roses and White Rhythm and Blues,” and he had his own hit with “You’re Only Lonely” in about 1979.
I finally got to see J.D. Souther play a concert. Being known as a songwriter, he really hasn’t been a big performer through the years. It has only been in recent years that I even was aware that he was playing shows. That is, except for the ONE TIME I heard he was playing and it broke my heart to miss it.
That show was Farm Aid II at the racetrack in Manor in the late 1980s. My friends and I made the trip down from Dallas to participate in a big outdoor Willie show, but the main reason we really wanted to come was to see J.D. Souther. It was a very bad morning as we inched our way through unbelievable traffic trying to get to the show. As we finally pulled into a parking spot on the big parking field, my roommate opened the car door — right into the side of a pickup truck pulling in. The door was usable, but crumpled. I said, “Let’s not let this ruin our day, let’s just go on in to the concert.” We grab our cooler and head to the line to get in. They were checking coolers carefully and not allowing glass in, so my friends and I immediately began drinking the glass bottle wine coolers we had brought so they would not go to waste. The line inched along. I had a radio with me because the entire day was to be broadcast. [Now I wonder what Austin radio station did that?] I think the music was supposed to start at 10 a.m. or so and it was only 8:30 or 9 a.m. as we stood in line. I got the radio tuned in as we waited and we were enjoying the song playing… until I realized it was John David Souther. All we’d gone through and he was the first on stage and we could only hear him on the radio. It broke our hearts. That along with the car door, the heat, the bad sound system inside the racetrack, etc., led us to abandon the show before mid-afternoon and go back to our motel, lay by the pool, and listen to it all on the radio. That was the last I ever heard about him performing until he came to Austin last year at Threadgill’s and now last week at St. David’s Church.
My love of J.D. Souther started when I worked at the radio station KBUY in Amarillo. We played music from his first 2 solo albums (I have one now, but the other is long out of print) and from 2 albums by the Souther/Hillman/Furay band. I was very aware at the time that he was from Amarillo. He was born in Michigan, but came to Amarillo as a child and grew up there, quitting school before finishing Tascosa High School. He would have been in the class of 1964. It seemed like everyone knew J.D.’s father who worked at the Hastings Books and Records in Western Plaza and there were always rumors that Linda Ronstadt would sometimes stop in to see his dad. J.D. and Linda were an item at one time.
Just because I hadn’t seen him perform did not mean I hadn’t met J.D. Souther. One year I was home for Christmas in the late 1980s and my friends and I went to the Sheraton Hotel bar on Christmas Eve to see a friend’s band play. There at the bar was J.D. Souther, home for Christmas. I had a moment to say hello to him and say how much I loved his songs.
And not only is J.D. a singer and writer, he is an actor, too. I remember seeing a movie in the 80s in Amarillo (the one with Richard Dreyfuss as a firefighter that dies and comes back as a ghost?) and hearing the song “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes” and thinking, “Hey, that’s familiar,” and then they swing to the band and there was J.D. singing and acting! Later he was on the TV show 30-Something, too.
This year I finally got to see him perform a little bit at Ray Benson’s birthday party, too. He came on stage and did 3 songs with Asleep at the Wheel, including Route 66, with special emphasis on “my hometown Amarillo.”
Finally, last week, the stars aligned so that I could see J.D. Souther do a whole show. And Mark went with me, too, which made it so much better. It was at St. David’s Bethel Hall, which is a great place for music, with beautiful acoustics and nice speakers. The seats (wooden chairs) got a little hard after a few hours, but still a wonderful room.
A local woman, Erin Ivey, opened the show and she had a beautiful voice and a good command of the room with a simple performance with just her and her guitar.
Finally, J.D. came out and had his guitars on stage and his piano player from Nashville, Chris Walters, sat down at the grand piano.
He told a few stories to go with some of the songs, but it was mainly the songs that were interesting. Some from his new album, many of the old ones, the four Eagles songs I named, and his hit “You’re Only Lonely.” He did “Bye Bye Blackbird” and some forays off into jazzy songs. He has a unique voice and he still has great control over it. I really enjoyed watching the piano player perform. Our seats were on the front row, maybe 12 feet behind him. The entire show was very intimate. There could not have been over 75 people there. And I bet not a one was under 40 and very few under 50. But the fans that were there were ardent and (mostly) good listeners. Yes, I had a background vocalist singing harmonies too near me, but I’m going to focus on the positives.
I probably would have chickened out on going to this show alone if Mark hadn’t gone, so I am grateful to him for going and I’m glad he enjoyed it, too. It makes me want to dig out all my old Eagles and Souther and Souther/Hillman/Furay band albums and CDs and relive the great years I was playing his music every night.