Never sung; has never been heard
Waiting for the perfect word
She lost her will to fly
So shut up now, don’t be blue
If you were me and I was you
We still wouldn’t know what to do
But I would come
Excerpt from “Horses in Blue” by JD Souther
He’s the only guy in history who could have been an Eagle but didn’t want to. As he said at the time, “The Eagles will do very well without me.”
David Geffen, who signed the group, disagreed. “But you’re still going to write with them, aren’t you?” He asked. “Sure,” replied JD Souther, shaping the life of his dreams – he could write hits with the Eagles but didn’t have to go on tour. Instead, he could stay home and write songs for himself and with his girlfriend, Linda Ronstadt.
“Difficult choice,” he said dryly.
Souther has become one of the greatest pop collaborators of all time. With Don Henley and Glenn Frey, he wrote several of the Eagles’ greatest hits (including “Best of My Love”, “Heartache Tonight” and “New Kid in Town”, as well as “How Long”, which he wrote. by himself) . Souther has also written many songs that Linda Ronstadt has recorded, including great duets such as “Hearts Against the Wind”. With his mate James Taylor, he co-wrote and performed as a duet on their wonderful hit, “Her Town Too”. Other great singers, such as Jackson Browne and Bonnie Raitt, have recorded his songs.
He’s also written classics for himself, including his biggest and his own iconic standard, “Only The Lonely”. But then it contained multitudes, as it still does, unknown to many of its fans. His genius for writing songs was not limited to country-rock. Although he grew up mainly in Amarillo, Texas, it was never country music that started its fire. It wasn’t rock, folk or blues either. It was jazz. Although he accidentally became one of the world’s most beloved and beloved songwriters, his dream was to play the drums behind a killer jazz band.
You can talk about it but the love still grows
If the wishes were horses in blue
I would be trampled in your dreams
“What could I do?” i’m still in love
I’m so in love with you
No matter the genre, for Souther it was always the melody that mattered the most. Her grandmother, an opera singer, introduced her to many of the world’s most timeless melodies. “Nessun dorma”, the famous dramatic aria by Giacomo Puccini from the opera Turandot, was the first song he ever learned to sing. Not exactly kid’s stuff.
His father, a big band singer, raised him with a healthy diet of timeless standards, forever shaping his melodious soul with “complete saturation” in the songs of Cole Porter, George Gershwin, Johnny Mercer and the other writers – legendary composers of standards.
Even though he loved and played rock’n’roll, he never supplanted his first love: timeless melodic standards. He always yearned for a return to the legendary age of melody. But rather than wait for a new era to begin, he got to work. In 2015, he had composed some of his greatest songs, all of them richly melodic like those songs of yesteryear. They became Tenderness.
It wasn’t easy to do, but he persisted. âYou’ve been to the well so many times,â he said, âthat it’s getting harder and harder to get anything out of it. The water level continues to drop a little. So you go further.
Deeper. Instead of staying in the slums, he took Miles Davis’ advice to heart: âPlay something you don’t know.
Produced by Larry Klein, Tenderness was cut with Souther’s dream group of genius jazz players, with arrangements by the great Billy Childs. With their support, he discovered this place in a song that so many people decry are inaccessible in modern times. It is the intersection of poetic and poetic human stories imbued with a musical spirit that elevates song far beyond words into a timeless realm. These are songs from the deep soul of a romantic with a tender heart and sophisticated, the very kind of songs that people complain that no one writes anymore. Tenderness is one of the most beautifully poignant song cycles to emerge in decades, and couldn’t have come at a better time. This is where our conversation began.
American singer-songwriter: “Tenderness” is a masterpiece – congratulations. Such incredible writing. “Horses In Blue”, in particular, is simply stunning.
JD SOUTH: Thank you! It’s a pretty abstract job. These days it is heartwarming to hear melodies like these.
I couldn’t have done it without Larry Klein. He is wonderful. He flew here [to Nashville] two to three times. He mostly sat on my living room floor, shuffled the lyrics pages and listened. We discussed what might work well with it. He’s a very, very insightful musician.
Also, he agrees with my theory about music, the thing that I live by, that you should never be comfortable. You should always try something new and play something you’ve never tried before. I think if you are serious about it you can get better as you get older. Miles said, “You have to play long, man, so you can play like yourself.”
LIKE: Does this also apply to songwriting?
JD: For me it is. I think if you keep playing something over and over again, being comfortable gets in the way of a lot of musicians. You never want to be too comfortable.
Joni [Mitchell] said something about it years ago. When she was criticized for changing her music so much. She said, âIf I didn’t, I would be criticized for it, for staying the same. And if I change it, I get criticized for changing. So I do what makes me happy.
AS: It’s a challenge for all songwriters / artists, don’t you think? The industry never encourages you to do something different. And if you do and it doesn’t sell well, it discourages others from trying it.
JD: It’s hard. Very often these albums don’t sell either. This Laura Nyro song album that Billy [Childs] got a Grammy for, almost broke the bank at Sony Masterworks. This is one of the reasons Tenderness did not do very well. Because they kept making things that didn’t sell, but that were wonderful.
AS: That’s why writing these songs is heroic. It takes some courage to do it now, despite the industry’s discouragement.
JD: Well, the music will be there anyway. Whether the audience likes it or not. What to judge in everyone else is what you project when you have ideas and whether you feel fulfilled at the end of the day. You might always wake up in the morning and want to do something different. Because it comes in waves. You don’t play every day. You don’t write every day. But you probably should. Do you know what they say about inspiration that is always striking when the pencil is in your hand? It is probably true. If you are busy writing all the time, someday you will get something good.
We must also accept mistakes. That’s another thing Miles said. âThere are no wrong notes. It is the note you play after that note that determines whether it was wrong or not. What you play after can do it well.
AS: Did you write these songs on the piano? Or can you write melodies like these on the guitar?
JD: You can take this melody out of an empty room! But, yes, some of them are on the guitar. I can play all those adult jazz chords on an acoustic guitar.
I thought of the album as a soundtrack. It was like I was making a movie that I couldn’t afford to shoot. So I just made the soundtrack.
LIKE: You are unique in being someone who can write great songs on your own and a beloved collaborator.
JD: For me, the biggest advantage of writing with someone else is that it ends sooner. You always push yourself to do a little better. And there’s also a little implied criticism that comes and goes. You want to push the other person towards the best they have. Because your name will be there too.
So I think that’s one of the reasons Henley, Frey, and I wrote together as well as we could. And we were friends, and also really whole believers in the spirit of collaboration. Almost brothers. But we were very competitive with each other. Intensely so. Almost nasty.
Usually, we decided that flattery would get us absolutely nowhere.
Let me put it this way: these are sort of the three levels of response: The first is that if it wasn’t good, nobody said anything. Just dead silence.
If you said something that was damn good, but not the greatest, one of us would say, “I think we can fit it in.”
And if something was really right, Glenn would say, âThese kids are going to love this. And we were 23 at the time. Calling an audience “children” was quite presumptuous. Glenn was the big critic – he would give a peace sign with both hands.
LIKE: Would all three of you contribute equally?
JD: For the majority. Glenn had the best rock & roll sensibility; Henley had the best blues sensitivity; I had the best jazz sensitivity. Don and I are both avid readers. We never stop reading. And Glenn is just one of the most fast-paced human beings I’ve ever met. It’s rock and roll from the Midwest.
AS: Why didn’t you join the Eagles?
JD: Because I am a bad team player. Geffen wanted me in the group. We actually rehearsed a set and played it for him. I remember watching the scene thinking, “Dude, this is a awful lots of singers and acoustic guitarists all in the same group. I felt, “I am not needed here.” And I don’t really like being told what to do anyway.
AS: Did you make the right decision? Have you ever regretted it?
AS: Has writing good songs always been easy for you?
JD: No. It has never been easy. There are no rules in songwriting except writing a good song. People mostly know the most famous. But between these were hundreds that were not good.
[Songwriting] is more of a journey, really, than a job. We must dive into the unknown. you go through complex songwriting phases, then you turn around and look for simplicity. It’s an adventure, but it’s real. It’s an adventure of heart and soul, and when it truly resonates with other people, it’s the ultimate. This is the dream. And dreams, you know, sometimes they come true.
Main Photo by Jeremy Cowart