Souther is probably better known as a songwriter rather than an artist in his own right. He co-wrote some of The Eagles best known songs including ‘Best of My Love’, ‘Heartache Tonight’, and ‘New Kid in Town’. As a performer he was part of the Souther-Hillman-Furay Band, put together at the suggestion of David Geffen to try and replicate the success of The Eagles.
Despite being a little lost in the flurry of albums that Asylum Records released in the early 70s his eponymous debut solo release is an album that deserves another look. The cast list includes producer Fred Catero, guitarists Ned Doheny and Glenn Frey, ex Burrito Brother Gib Guilbeau on fiddle and CSNY drummer John Barbata. All the songs were Souther originals, and several were plucked off it by other artists including the inevitable Eagles and Bonnie Raitt.
The album starts with a very Eagles feeling song, ‘The Fast One’. It’s slightly a surprise that Souther’s famous friends didn’t record it as it feels tailor made for them. The album heads into more country-based territory after that with ‘Jesus in ¾ Time’
‘Time’ is a fine bluesy ballad with an unusual instrumental section that sounds like slide guitar with the phase pedal turned up to 11. ‘Some People Call It Music’ is another high point of the album, with an epic feel that makes it seem larger and longer than it’s 3 minutes. ‘White Wing’ again plays with the guitar effects. The Little Walter style harmonica and some liberties taken with vocal harmonies make this the most individual sounding song here.
‘How Long’, was covered on ‘Long Road Out of Eden’ and became a grammy winning hit in 2007. The original is a less sanitised than the Eagles’ version, and much the better for that. ‘Out to Sea’ sounds like it had some ideas recycled for Eagles material later on, but that may just be the presence of Frey on vocals. The album closes with the brief ‘Lullaby’.
On the 2018 reissue an alternate version of ‘Kite Woman’ and 6 demos were added to the original album. The early version of ‘Jesus in ¾ Time’ with just guitar and fiddle throws a new light on the song. The slightly shaky version of ‘Silver Blue’ which ended up on Linda Ronstadt’s ‘Prisoner in Disguise’ album is interesting, and ‘One In The Middle’ shows that Souther was more than able to hold his own as a solo acoustic performer.
Producer Fred Catero had just come off working on Santana’s ‘Abraxas‘ and while musically that album and ‘John David Souther’ are miles apart, they share a crispness to the production that benefits Souther’s work.
The Eagles have been mentioned a lot in this review, and the comparisons are inescapable. Comparing Souther’s album with the first from the band he nearly joined, he turned in the better more consistent record. Having allegedly “thought the band already had enough guitarists & singers” and stepped away, Souther must have had wistful thoughts when they added Joe Walsh in 1975. But with this fine album and a flourishing songwriting career that won’t have lasted too long.
Great spotlight Tim. I loved it then, 1972, and I love it still.
JD is a great and successful songwriter as you point out and his limited recorded output includes some real gems. Although I’m not so fond of his more recent jazz-influenced stuff even those albums contain some good tracks, but this first album is strong from start to finish.
With reference to covers by his famous friends, as well as the Eagles ‘How Long’, ‘The Fast One’ was covered by Linda Ronstadt and ‘Run Like a Thief’ by Bonnie Raitt.
From what I’ve learned of him, JD was never a band man and indeed didn’t seem to over-exert himself musically at all. Obviously he had a very healthy income from his royalties and he had an acting career too, perhaps most notably in TV’s ‘Thirtysomething’.
Whilst generally written-off as an artificial construct that didn’t work the two SHF Band albums are also worthy of reassessment and perhaps it’s JD who made the strongest contribution.
For people who like this album also see ‘Black Rose’, You’re Only Lonely’ and ‘Home by Dawn’. It’s all a matter of taste I know but I think he has a very evocative and effective vocal style.
SHF made a decent album with some strong songs never really caught the CSNY hype but a good album, JD’s best album is ‘Black Rose’ with Crosby, Andrew Gold, Frey, Henley and many other West Coasters.