Born Joseph Alfred Souter, 28 February 1940, Atlanta, Georgia
Joe South was one of the musicians spawned by Atlanta's active rock 'n' roll underground. Others included Jerry Reed and Ray Stevens. By his teens Joe was proficient on guitar and was playing in Pete Drake's country band. He was fascinated by technology and studied electronics at Southern Technical Institute for a while, but dropped out to become a full-time musician.
The most important man on the 1950s Atlanta music scene was deejay / publisher / producer Bill Lowery (1924-2004), who founded the NRC label in 1958. The first two releases on NRC were Paul Peek's "Sweet Skinny Jenny" (featuring South and Reed on guitar) and "I'm Snowed", a self-penned rocker by Joe South. Lowery then came across the Big Bopper's song "The Purple People Eater Meets the Witch Doctor". At the time, the Bopper's version was only available on the small D label, so Lowery rush-released a version on NRC by Joe South. The record caught on from Texas to the Carolinas and peaked at # 47 in Billboard, but was quickly overtaken when the Big Bopper's version became available on Mercury Records (on the flip of "Chantilly Lace"). NRC released five more singles by South, but they failed to sell in appreciable numbers. In 1961 - the year that NRC went bankrupt - South was recording for Fairlane Records and scored with a cover of the Bobby Edwards hit "You're the Reason" (# 87). By that time South was a deejay in Atlanta who was becoming known in the area for his songwriting. Gene Vincent had recorded two of his songs in October 1958, "I Might Have Known" and "Gone Gone Gone". South's "Untie Me" became the first hit for the Tams (# 60 pop, # 12 R&B) in 1962.
Joe spent a large part of the 1960s as a session guitarist, both in Nashville and Muscle Shoals. Among his important sessions were those for Simon and Garfunkel ("Sounds of Silence" LP), Bob Dylan ("Blonde On Blonde" double album) and Aretha Franklin ("Chain Of Fools"). By 1965 he was working with Billy Joe Royal as a producer / songwriter and scored six Top 100 hits, among which "Down In the Boondocks" (# 9), "I Knew You When" (# 14) and "Hush" (# 52, 1967). When "Hush" was covered by Deep Purple in 1968, it became an even bigger hit (# 4). In 1968 Joe signed with Capitol Records, beginning a productive three- year association with the label. "Games People Play" was a # 12 hit in early 1969 and probably South's most famous song, having been covered by numerous artists, including Jerry Lee Lewis and Bill Haley. It won a Grammy for Song of the Year in 1969. "Don't It Want To Make You Go Home" was a hit for both South himself (# 41, 1969) and Brook Benton (# 45, 1970). "Walk A Mile In My Shoes" peaked at # 12 (1970), like "Games People Play", and was covered by Elvis Presley.
In 1971, two of Joe's compositions went to # 3 on the pop charts : "Rose Garden" by Lynn Anderson and "Yo-Yo" by the Osmonds (first recorded by Billy Joe Royal in 1966). 1971 was also the year of South's final chart entry as a singer ("Fool Me", # 78).
The 1971 suicide of his brother, Tommy, drove South into a deep depression. Tommy had been his backing band's drummer and accompanied Joe not only in live performances but also on recording sessions which South produced for other artists. Joe never fully recovered from this tragedy. He made a half-hearted comeback in 1975 with the "Midnight Rainbows" LP, but retired from recording and performing soon afterwards and battled a drug addiction. In 1994 he performed in a London concert showcasing American southern performers. Since then he has recorded sporadically.
South has been inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame and the Georgia Music Hall of Fame. He has become a mystery man and a recluse of sorts. There is much speculation regarding his current activities, but little actual knowledge.
- More info : http://www.georgiaencyclopedia.org/nge/Article.jsp?id=h-1708
- Acknowledgements : Lee Cotten, Rob Finnis, Wikipedia, Joel Whitburn.
Dik, June 2012
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