[Updated] Acclaimed Songwriter Joe South Passes


Visitation is scheduled for tomorrow, Fri., Sept. 7 from 6 – 9 p.m., followed by the funeral on Sat., Sept. 8 at 11:30 a.m.

All services will be at H.M. Patterson & Son-Oglethorpe Hill Chapel, 4550 Peachtree Road NE, Atlanta, GA 30319. Reach them at (404) 261-3510.

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Songwriter Joe South, who penned the classics “(I Never Promised You A) Rose Garden” and “Down in the Boondocks,” died today (9/5) at age 70. His career included time as a hit artist, songwriter, producer and sideman. He was inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame and the Georgia Music Hall of Fame. Recently he had been in failing health.

Born Joseph Souter in Atlanta on Feb. 28, 1942, he got his start in the music business at age 12 with a radio show on Atlanta’s WYST. Local music publisher and radio vet Bill Lowery helped guide his career. South was eventually hired as a staff writer and musician by Atlanta’s National Recording Corporation, where he met and played with NRC artists Ray Stevens and Jerry Reed.

In 1962 South wrote and produced his first charttopper, The Tams’ “Untie Me.” He wrote and produced Billy Joe Royal’s soon-to-be-classic “Down In The Boondocks.” Royal also recorded South’s “Old Bridges Burn Slow,” “I Knew You When,” and “Yo-Yo,” which was also covered by the Osmonds. South’s career as a producer included work with Royal, as well as Sandy Posey, and Friend and Lover.

As an artist, South won Grammys in 1969 for Best Contemporary Song and Song of the Year for “The Games People Play,” released on his Introspect LP (Capitol). He followed that success with the hits “Walk A Mile In My Shoes” and “Don’t It Make You Want To Go Home.”

Joe South (right) and longtime publisher Bill Lowry celebrate the success of “(I Never Promised You A) Rose Garden” at the 1971 BMI Pop Awards.

Perhaps his greatest professional achievement came with the international success of Lynn Anderson’s recording of “(I Never Promised You A) Rose Garden.” It earned Grammy nominations for him in 1970, and secured a win for Anderson for Best Country Vocal Performance. South would go on to pen more hits for Anderson, such as “How Can I Unlove You” and “Fool Me.”

But the warm glow of triumph was shadowed by a personal loss. In 1971, his brother Tommy, who also played on many sessions South produced, committed suicide. In the aftermath, South retreated to Hawaii.

South was also a prominent sideman, playing guitar on Aretha Franklin’s “Chain of Fools,” Tommy Roe’s “Sheila,” Bob Dylan’s Blonde on Blonde and albums by Eddy Arnold and Marty Robbins. He recorded with Simon & Garfunkel, and there is some debate about whether or not he played on their landmark hit “The Sounds of Silence.”

South’s other hits as a songwriter include “Hush,” recorded by Deep Purple and Kula Shaker; Gene Vincent’s “I Might Have Known” and “Gone Gone Gone;” and songs for Dizzy Gillespie and Jerry Lee Lewis.


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Sarah Skates has worked in the music business for more than a decade and is a longtime contributor to MusicRow.

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