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Tuesday 19 November 2019

Joe South

Singer-songwriter whose tunes were covered by artists as diverse as Elvis, Lynn Anderson and Deep Purple

JOE South, who has died aged 72, was a successful singer-songwriter in the Seventies, when he made the transition from country to pop, and had an international hit in 1971 with (I Never Promised You A) Rose Garden, recorded by Lynn Anderson. Although Rose Garden was firmly rooted in the commercial mainstream, South's background lay in country and Western music as he had worked as a session musician in Nashville, Tennessee.

In 1962 he wrote and produced Untie Me for the American soul group The Tams, which did well in the R&B charts, and convinced him to concentrate on developing his songwriting talents.

He was born Joseph Alfred Souter on February 28, 1940, in Atlanta, Georgia. His father gave him his first guitar when he was 11 and within a year Joe was appearing on WGST, an Atlanta radio station.

As a child he was interested in technology and developed his own radio station with a transmission radius of a mile, which he stowed aboard his father's car to avoid detection by the regulatory authorities.

In 1957, aged 17, he joined the band led by Pete Drake, who played pedal steel guitar, and wrote a couple of songs for Gene Vincent, one of which, Gone, Gone, Gone, was included on Vincent's 1963 album The Crazy Beat Of Gene Vincent.

In the late Fifties, having changed his professional name to Joe South, he recorded a few solo singles of his own, among them the novelty Purple People Eater Meets The Witch Doctor, which was a minor hit in 1958.

Sitting in as a session man, South worked with such country artists as Eddy Arnold and Marty Robbins, and was a backing musician on recordings by Bob Dylan (featuring on Blonde On Blonde, Dylan's 1966 album) and Aretha Franklin (on her 1968 album Chain Of Fools).

He reportedly played electric guitar on Simon and Garfunkel's second album Sounds of Silence (1966), but this has since been disputed.

As a songwriter, South followed his success with Untie Me with hits like Down In The Boondocks for Billy Joe Royal in 1965, and Hush, a track featured by Deep Purple on their debut album Shades Of Deep Purple in 1968. Eventually, he started recording his own material.

His first album, Introspect (1968), failed to make an initial impact, but when other artists started to cover the track Games People Play, a song about hate, hypocrisy and inhumanity, it was reissued under that title in 1969.

South's own version, released as a single the same year, went gold, and won two Grammy awards for Best Contemporary Song and Song of the Year. The original album also won a gold disc.

After his follow-up album Don't It Make You Want To Go Home in 1969, South's third, So The Seeds Are Growing, included Walk A Mile In My Shoes, which reached No 12 in the American charts in 1970, and which Elvis Presley subsequently featured in concert appearances.

The following year saw Joe South's biggest song-writing hit, when the American country star Lynn Anderson released (I Never Promised You A) Rose Garden, which climbed to No 3. That song was also nominated for a Grammy.

But when success led to exhaustion, South took an extended break in Hawaii, and for a time he lived in the jungles of Maui.

He also used the time to recover from an extended bout of depression, following the suicide in 1971 of his brother, Tommy, also a musician, and a drummer in his back- ing band.

He returned to mainland America to record a new album, Midnight Rainbows, in 1975.

His last album was Classic Masters in 2002. For the first time in many years, he released a new song, Oprah Cried, in 2009.

Joe South's first marriage ended in divorce, and his second wife died in the late Nineties. A son survives him. He died on September 5 .

Sunday Independent

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