The sparse stage at the Barns at Wolf Trap had just two guitars, a grand piano and a stand for a drink. But when J.D. Souther stepped in front of the three hundred plus people gathered in two onetime barns barn turned intimate theater, he only carried a small palm size notebook with cues to prompt whatever thought struck his fancy. But Souther is a man with a portfolio and brought over fifty years of stories and songs with him.
Souther has tried to have a solo career but hes become more well known for the songs that have been enormous hits for others. He was Glenn Frey’s partner in Longbranch/Pennywhistle and at one time was in the running to be one of the founding members of Eagles. But he’s more well known for his co-writes with them (“The Best Of My Love,” “New Kid In Town,” “Victim of Love” and “Heartache Tonight”). He was the former boyfriend of Linda Ronstadt who heard him playing piano in their home and took the nascent melody that became “Faithless Love” and put it on her landmark album Heart Like a Wheel. When Souther played it, he noted that it has now been covered twenty times.
On a night of storytelling, anecdotes and self-deprecating one liners, Souther lamented that despite having two credits on the Eagles Greatest Hits, the best selling album of all time, having his own hit single has been illusive. At one point when he emigrated to Nashville, Souther thought he had it with “I’ll Take Care of You.” But then the Dixie Chicks claimed it for Wide Open Spaces. Souther recalled opening the multi-platinum glass case display he received when it sold twelve million copies, another of his prizes as his assistant called it. A similar fate befell “The Last In Love,” which the late Nicolette Larson claimed before Souther could release it himself.
“I may have said no to a beautiful woman in my life,” Souther quipped, “but I don’t remember.”
Souther, dressed in a dapper gray suit, is no longer the long-haired singer-songwriter and ladies man of his youth. The man who Joni Mitchell once chided for having an enormous ego, is at 76, more statesman like and with his beard and occasional scowl, looks almost Lincolnesque.
Souther wears his musical heart on his sleeve. His mother was a soprano and his father was a big band singer. He grew up liking Ray Charles and Hank Williams and when he chose Fats Walker’s “Ain’t Misbehavin’,” he played it like a classical guitarist. Confessing drums are the only instrument he can play well, Souther seemed to like the challenge of playing live, frequently using the audience as a foil as he toiled through his catalogue, bantering and experimenting in real time as he picked out different keys and gave us a play by play color commentary.
Souther dropped the first names of friends throughout the night without needing to say their last ones. At one point he banged out the opening chord of Ronstadt’s “When Will I Be Loved” as if it was telepathically sent. Recalling how Mike Campbell sent a musical track to him, Souther said he and Henley viewed it as a songwriting challenge. With both going through divorces they came up with “The Heart of The Matter,” one of Henley’s most heartfelt and magnificent solo songs.
Souther also told everyone the story of how “How Long” became a hit for the Eagles more than forty years since it first appeared on his self-titled debut album. It turns out that Glenn Frey’s children discovered it on an old European television show on YouTube. Assuming it was an old Eagles hit, they pressed further and brought it to the attention of the band which rediscovered it and made it new.
Early in the night Souther related his shows are getting longer and taxing the audience who are of “a certain age.” On this night, Souther played for two hours straight. It wasn’t quite the marathon show that clocked in at 2:40 in Phoenix, but it was a night to remember with Souther digging deep into the past playing “You’re Only Lonely,” “Simple Man, Simple Dream,” “Silver Blue” and “Prisoner In Disguise.”
If you haven’t heard, Souther has been appearing on the radio a lot recently. He just guested on Chris Hillman’s “Burrito Stand” show on SiriusXM’s Bakersfield Beat channel. Souther has also appeared on the network’s Sinatra and Tom Perry channels. His chat with Hillman went so long that they ended up cutting them into multiple segments over successive weeks.
Souther closed the show as he led an audience sing-along of “The Best of My Love,” the Eagles first number one single he co-wrote with Don Henley and Glenn Frey. It was written a long time ago and Frey is no longer with us but there was, in the moment, a certain timelessness to it all.
Find tour dates and more information here: https://jdsouther.net
Enjoy our coverage of JD with the Eagles, here: New Book “Up Ahead In The Distance” Is History of Eagles As It Happened