Interview: JD Souther

Singer/songwriter JD Souther has given us some very memorable music over the years.

He had a solo hit in 1979 with “You’re Only Lonely”, and ten of his songs have been recorded by Linda Ronstadt including “Faithless Love”, “Simple Man, Simple Dream”, and “Prisoner in Disguise”.

Then there are his co-written songs: “Her Town Too” with which he sang with James Taylor, “Best of My Love”, “Heartache Tonight”, “Victim of Love”, and “New Kid in Town” as recorded by the Eagles, and Don Henley’s hit “The Heart of the Matter”.

This interview was for a preview article for for JD Souther’s 2/26/20 concert at the Lobero Theatre in Santa Barbara. It was done by email, with answers received on 2/21/20. (Jeremy Cowart photo)

Jeff Moehlis: What can people look forward to at your upcoming show in Santa Barbara?

JD Souther: Adult themes, partial nudity, some sexuality, the usual progressive liberal rhetoric.

JM: What do you remember about the first time you performed in Santa Barbara?

JDS: I played with Norman Greenbaum in 1968 at UCSB. We slept on a floor. Some things have changed since then.

JM: Listening to your most recent album Tenderness, I’m struck that your songwriting is still top-notch, and your voice still sounds amazing. What’s your secret?

JDS: No Lucky Strikes for thirty years. And I don’t have to scream in front of a line of amps anymore. You know, “sing softly and say something original”.

JM: What inspired you to move to California in the 1960’s, and was it how you expected it to be?

JDS: Women and drugs… and musical opportunities, of course. But truthfully absolutely nothing surprised me about LA. Loved it then; still do.

JM: How has your approach to songwriting evolved from those early years, up to your biggest solo hit “You’re Only Lonely”, and then up to the present?

JDS: Its always evolving. I never know where it’s going next, but it’s always surprising and I hope, honest.

JM: You’ve had a number of successful songs which were co-written with others. What makes someone a good songwriting collaborator?

JDS: Intelligence, honesty, courage, and obviously a large musical vocabulary helps. Also writing with people who read, really read, makes everything so much smoother. I hate being the English Lit teacher in the room.

JM: One of your co-written songs was “Heartache Tonight”, recorded by The Eagles. How did that song come together?

JDS: Oh my. Cute song. Glenn [Frey] and I started it at my house, Don Henley threw in and vastly improved it, and Bob Seger gave us the chorus. Fun to play. We needed a first single for The Long Run album. Got one.

JM: I really enjoyed the documentary Linda Ronstadt: The Sound of My Voice, which you appeared in. Do you think that it showed an accurate reflection of Linda?

JDS: Delightful, overdue, and much deserved. Fascinating woman and the greatest singer I’ve ever known. I love her and I loved the film.

JM: I had the pleasure of interviewing Linda Ronstadt four years ago, and she said that you are one of her favorite songwriters. That’s high praise, yes?

JDS: God, yes. It’s the highest. I think she recorded ten songs of mine. Certainly, changed my game for the better, obviously. She’s still the first person to hear whatever I’m doing. Her song sense is remarkable.

JM: You helped out on several albums by Warren Zevon. Any Warren Zevon stories that you’re willing to share?

JDS: Wait for the book. I’ve already written one story about us in Philadelphia trying to stay conscious enough to finish a song. We did: “Trouble Waiting To Happen”.

Warren wrote my favorite chorus in pop music for “Desperadoes Under The Eaves”: “…Don’t the trees look like crucified thieves?’ Try coming up with something on that level. I still am.

JM: What advice would you give to an aspiring musician?

JDS: Teach music. We’re in desperate need of great music teachers, especially music theory and composition. If you must play: practice. If you must write: don’t listen to the radio.

JM: Do you have any new songs or recordings in the works?

JDS: Shhhhhhh….of course.


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