JD Souther: Pioneer of the SoCal Sound

Be still my heart: JD Souther and Jackson Browne during the SoCal hey-dey!

While researching this story, I stumbled upon this quote: JD Souther is considered “a principal architect of the Southern California sound”. Exactly!

Jackson Browne, Linda Ronstadt, Glenn Frey, Don Henley, Crosby, Stills, and Nash — all are virtually household names. While JD Souther has earned accolades, awards, and chart topping songs, he seems to fall just short of his cohorts in terms of fame. Which is a shame. Or maybe a blessing.

Take a listen to long-time favorites with fresh ears to hear JD Souther’s influence on some popular tunes. I’ve thrown in a couple of solo JD Souther performances, too.

New Kid in Town” has always been my favorite Eagles song. Not as twangy as some of their other songs; rather, it has that distinct relaxed drag of the So Cal sound.

JD Souther wrote the chorus but struggled with where to take the rest of it lyrically. A year later he sat down with Glenn Frey and Don Henley to revisit it. Voila — a hit was made! In fact, it won the Grammy in 1977 for “Best Vocal Arrangement for Two or More Voices”.

This pierces one of my musical sweet spots: juxtaposition. The harmonies are deceptively exquisite, while the song is filled with an undercurrent of melancholy.

This live take from the Eagles’ peak is an exceptional find. Every vocal and instrumentation choice is perfection. Not one misstep!

I love both of these “Town” songs immensely. I only recently made the realization that there is a reason why my ear hears a connection to this pair of songs: JD Souther.

He’s the common denominator. And it’s his input, his influence, his stamp that draws me to these specific songs.

A few years ago I heard “Her Town Too” while driving on a 15-hour roadtrip back home to North Florida. Of course I was familiar with it, but it became more significant to me during that roadtrip: it was just days before my divorce was final. The lyrics resonated broadly even if not directly.

Unsurprisingly a beautiful duet, gorgeous vocals, and that hefty dose of melancholy are in my wheelhouse. But add in the timeliness of the lyrics, the ending of a relationship…well, its beautiful pain and truth resonate in a fresh way.

Of course, it’s a worthy song regardless of the year, ones age, or the listener’s relationship status!

“Blues outside my door…”

Geez, 1979 was an AMAZING year in music! Let’s add “Last in Love” to the list of fantastic tunes from that timeframe.

These lyrics and melody are so sad! And SO good! Never trite or overly wrought, but filled with sincerity and vulnerability.

In typical JD Souther style, the delivery is pretty, pensive, and reflective. He manages to avoid bitterness and anger. A beautiful and over-looked song.

Disclosure: I wasn’t going to include JD’s biggest solo hit, “You’re Only Lonely”, but I ended up listening to it while writing tonight. And here it is!

It hits so many of my Bonnie boxes: lyrics about loneliness, beautiful harmonies, and beloved accompanying musicians (like Jackson Browne). But that’s not why I ultimately included it. It’s the piano that compelled me to add this one after all.

In my mind there are two stand-outs here: the vocal and the piano playing. Pianist, Don Grolnik, does a masterful job.

A lovely song throughout, but the back half takes it to a truly special place. Roy Orbison’s influence is apparent and most welcome!

Oh, this performance of “New Kid in Town” is charming! The guitar-work incorporates a South-of-the-Border vibe that gives it a more romantic flavor than the Eagles’ cut.

JD Souther’s voice is extraordinary: soothing, lovely, and beautifully raw. I find him an equal to Glenn Frey — and that’s saying A LOT!

Glenn’s vocal delivery captures the bitterness of the lyrics while JD leans towards a softer approach. JD’s filled with wistfulness but never crosses over into the edge that Glenn’s interpretation does.

JD Souther was a frequent collaborator with Glenn Frey and Don Henley. He hung out and wrote with ALL the greats from the SoCal late 60s/70s movement.

Much of the music from that era has his mark on it. JD Souther is one of the main reasons why I and SO many others adore that easy, relaxed, authentic sound.

He helped craft that distinct sound, one of my personal favorites of all musical genres. The SoCal sound of the late 60s/70s: Talented singer/songwriters and great collaborations wrapped up in a beautiful orange sunset over the Pacific Ocean. As magical and relevant then as it is today.

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Bonnie Barton

Bonnie Barton

Queen of mixtapes. Lover of music, travel, and fashion. Authentic sharer of life lessons and dating foibles.