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Joe South

Biography

Before disappearing into the jungles of Hawaii, Joe South was riding high on a string of hits and Grammy Awards. Then he took to heart a question he posed on "Don't It Make You Wanna Go Home," one of his best songs, and ditched the crapstorm of fame for a simpler life. Born Joseph Souter in Atlanta, Ga., in 1940, the singer first was employed as a session guitarist for Jerry Reed and Ray Stevens at the National Recording Corporation (NRC) studios in Atlanta. In the late 1960s and early '70s South was at his peak. He had major hits with "Walk A Mile In My Shoes," perhaps the greatest "f-you" song ever recorded, and the awesomely bitter "Games People Play." At the same time, other folks had hits with songs he had written: Deep Purple's "Hush," Lynn Anderson's "(I Never Promised You A) Rose Garden" and Billy Joe Royal's "Down In The Boondocks" were all huge radio hits. His music seamlessly merges country and Southern soul tradition with bright pop production, lyrically sketching out his prickly nature (which is legendary) by calling out the music business and the American people in general for their shallowness and self-centered behavior. They aren't nice songs, and despite pointed social commentary (even his love songs are often about class division), South sometimes comes off as more a misanthrope than a prophet. But it's this deeply embedded hostility that sets him apart as a performer. There just aren't a lot of songs on the radio with such open acrimony. As his fame grew, his distaste for the music business seemed to grow along with it and his live performances became erratic. Following the suicide of his brother Tommy (also his drummer) in 1975, South moved to Hawaii where he was rumored to be living in the jungle. He did make one comeback in the later '70s, but it's his early recordings with his sitar-like guitar sound and downcast lyrics that make his body of work a legacy for country, country soul and classic rock fans.
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