Thursday, October 1, 2009
My JD Souther Story
"I love early morning rains and late nights alone with my favorite intoxicant. A few of those songs that never fail to touch my soul." -Kodac Harrison
MY INTERVIEW WITH J.D. SOUTHER
Ladies and gentlemen, my J. D. Souther appreciation began with his songwriting. It's how a good song is born and so begins my adventure. After becoming exposed to his great songwriting, I sought out to learn about this man who had written so many great songs that have become a part of our collective musical memory and experiences: "Only Lonely," "Best of My Love," "New Kid in Town," and "Heartache Tonight" to name a few. He had a total of four great albums of his own before releasing his fifth record, his first effort in 24 years.
I have hosted a radio program since my 22nd birthday. I only interview people I believe in. I play what music I like. I look at myself as a regular fella with an intense admiration for great artists. We have heard from listeners all around the world, people from all walks of life. We even sometimes hear from people who barely speak English. They are all there to hear the great music. I've been honored and humbled to interview the likes of my favorite all-time artist Fats Domino, as well as other legends like Michael McDonald, Woody Allen, Harry Connick, Maya Angelou, David Letterman's CBS Orchestra, Little Feat, Paul McCartney's entire band and many others. Any self-respecting rock 'n roll documentarian would jump to interview someone that pens songs like J. D. Souther does. A couple of years ago, I wrote a note to a journalist who had written an article on Mr. Souther. I asked what my chances were. I was informed an interview would be unlikely, as Souther prefers to let the songs speak for him...but, good luck! Researching his history only made me want to do the interview more.
Like J. D. Souther, I have great respect for people who master their instruments. I had interviewed his pianist, Chris Walters, who is a great composer as well. On two occasions, I interviewed Souther's bassist Jim Mayer, who is also a member of Jimmy Buffett's Coral Reefer Band (J. D. Souther has co-written two songs with Buffett.) Jim has been a great inspiration and source of motivation to me as a person. I knew the histories of the other members of J.D.'s band also. Those guys are the cats!
Chris Walters and Jim Mayer were talking to me after a show. They had just performed a Christmas concert with Jim's brother Peter Mayer. Chris Walters said to me, "You know who you should interview? J. D. Souther!" Jim agreed with him. I had heard Souther was releasing a brand new album. I tried to contain my excitement.
I had listened to his new album "If the World Was You," and was thoroughly infatuated with the melodies. I obviously listen to a ton of records, and this one truly shined. I remember telling my listeners it was the best album I had heard that year. I focused my ears on it, listening to all of the tracks repeatedly. Cuban rhythms, great lyrics, beautiful horn parts, and the band--Jeff Coffin! Bela Fleck! What a record! After waiting some time, I decided to write to J. D. Souther's representatives. They told me he was accepting my interview invitation and it would be held at the venue in Decatur, Georgia. J. D. Souther would be performing solo. I was politely, but firmly informed to keep the interview under 15 minutes. I got there bringing along a good friend of mine. As it turned out, due to complications that happen to any musician while on the road, Souther was not there. A few minutes later I was on the phone with his road manager who asked me if I would consider coming to the Ritz-Carlton to do the interview. No problem. I will always associate the Ritz with so many of my favorite musical memories. (Note to readers: You really must see Cameron Crowe's film "Almost Famous." Nothing says rock 'n roll like room service.)
I arrived and waited in the lobby. Mr. Souther walked over to me and greeted me really warmly. I was prepared to be professional and respectfully take my 15 minutes. He said, "Well, let's eat first! Are you guys hungry?" Over an hour later we were enjoying a leisurely dinner, with no official or recorded "interview" in sight. I was in awe by so many of his stories. He casually talked about his life, travels and the people he knew and had worked with. Names of the greats like his old roommates, Glenn Frey and Jackson Browne (Jackson Browne!) rolled off of his tongue while he recalled interesting tidbits. Humor, wit and charm permeated his conversation. As we ate our fish, I decided it was time to start the interview. It wasn't what you would call a formal interview. We were still eating while it was recording. I have struggled to find the right word to describe J. D. The one that seems to best describe him is "cool." After our dinner, J. D. said he would be hungry later and wanted to know if we wanted to hit the town in Buckhead and get sushi after the concert. I smiled to myself when remembering the 15 minutes I had been granted. J. D. Souther is as down-to-earth as you can imagine.
Down-to-earth as he is, make no mistake about it. J. D. Souther is a star. The show was great. J. D. Souther performed his songs on guitar and piano. Earlier, we discussed our mutual love for old songs and he decided he would work one in for me. The man at the venue said it may have been the most packed he had ever seen the room and believe me I have seen that place packed! I couldn't find a seat and stood the entire show. Nobody left until the very end. After the concert, J. D. Souther walked over to me and said, "You guys should come up to Nashville to see me perform with the entire band. It's going to be a good one." Then he said, "I assume you have a record player. I want to give you something before you go. You have to listen to the record the right way." He had a lot of people to talk to, so I did my best to be low key. I like to stay out of the way. Believe me; it is key to gaining respect from an entertainer. J. D. is such a gentleman; he didn't want to give me the record in front of anyone, so he waited. He has a lot of class. As we drove away, I remember how happy I felt about the whole evening--the concert, meeting him, the interview. Then my phone rang and it was his road manager. He said "How far away are you? Turn around! J. D. forgot to give you the vinyl!" I certainly hadn't forgotten, but didn't want to remind him because I'm sensitive about asking for things. It really impressed me how thoughtful he was. He gave me the wax after signing the cover.
When my business partner Jeff Pike and I listened to the recorded interview, we decided we were glad this was the way the interview was done. It was honest. We liked hearing us enjoy our dinner and the subtle imperfections on the recording. It was real. I remember talking to his former publicist Laurie who gushed about how happy she was that I got to interview him, and how excited she was to hear the radio special. This would be the first of many such comments I would hear from those who love his music (and him.) After the show was broadcast, the listeners thought it was honest too, but my adventure wasn't over. I accepted his invitation to go to Nashville, Tennessee. This may seem strange, but one of the best parts was talking to J.D.'s fans that were in line in front of the Belcourt. Everyone was so enthusiastic. There was energy as the people waited for the doors to open. I remember a lady who questioned me on my origin. Then she told me, "I love J. D. Souther." It made me remember why I have the show and what makes it fun. It was really cool to see people who were true music fans. (By the way, thank you lady for calling me "cute.")
I got to see J. D. Souther performing with his band: Rod McGaha on trumpet, Jeff Coffin on saxophone, Jim Mayer on bass, Chris Walters on piano and James White on drums are all fabulous musicians. Hearing his song "Rain" performed with his entire band burned the haunting melody into my mind. The memory of the performance of "Journey Down the Nile" is also vivid. It was a very unforgettable concert. I got to meet the band and give them and J. D. copies of the radio special in person. As we started to leave, J. D. reminded me of the sushi for the next time he would be in Atlanta.
I get asked a lot who my favorite interview has been. How can I ever pick just one? However, J. D. Souther will always be one I remember with fondness. Not just because he is a legend or because of his incredible songwriting, but because he is so...cool. I am pleased ASCAP is giving him the Golden Note Award. I don't really entirely understand what is going on with music right now, but it is reassuring to hear a truly great songwriter is being properly honored. He deserves the award. I am humbled to have met and interviewed him.
Congratulations to him!