Friday, September 7, 2012



By Doc Lawrence

FLOWERY BRANCH, GA-He was pure Georgia. As authentic as Blue Ridge mountain spring water and red clay. Like two other native sons, Ray Charles and Johnny Mercer, Joe South will forever be an important part of the state’s cultural DNA. Beyond his many hit records, songwriter, singer and virtuoso guitarist Joe South, backed greats like Aretha Franklin, Bob Dylan and Simon and Garfunkel. Joe South died a few days ago in this Northeast Georgia town with the pretty name.

Joe South penned many songs, almost all mega-hits. My memories of him began during childhood when my nextdoor neighbor, a studio musician named Charlie Broome, had a bunch of guys and one girl over on Saturday nights to jam. I sat in the living room with Jerry Reed, Ray Stevens, Ric Carty, Carole Joyner and a very young Joe South and for about four hours was in paradise.

Stevens and Reed moved to Nashville and well-deserved fame. Cartey and Ms. Joyner composed what would become the number one hit on the planet, “Young Love.” Joe South stayed around Atlanta where he was born and where most of his songs were recorded. The hits were chartbusters that earned Grammy awards. They are as alive today as they were during the 60’s. I hear “I Never Promised You a Rose Garden” performed by younger generation artists regularly, confirming the majesty of powerful words and melody. I stumbled on the great Kelly Hogan’s version of Joe’s masterpiece, “The Greatest Love,” and it sounded like it just came from the mind of a budding genius.

There is a Lexus television ad that incorporates a version of South’s hit song “Hush,” recorded by Deep Purple. I hope they paid him well because the song, not the visual, made the ad effective. Go to an oldies show or one featuring “Beach Music.” The Tams, also from Atlanta, are still around performing at these events, and many of Joe South’s songs were written for them, particularly “Untie Me.”

A member of the Georgia Music Hall of Fame and the Songwriters Hall of Fame, South should also be inducted into both the Rock and Roll and Country Music Hall of Fame. Listen to Aretha’s “Chain of Fools,” and there’s Joe on the guitar. He could make his guitar sound like a Sitar and it’s showcased on “Games People Play,” recorded before George Harrison introduced the instrument on Beatles’ recordings.

I was in England on an extended stay and stopped by a pub that had music on the weekends. Everything they played was from the American South: Elvis, Gene Vincent, Johnny Cash, Wanda Jackson and Carl Perkins. A young woman sang Joe South’s remembrance of his Georgia childhood, “Don’t It Make You Want To Go Home.” I knew I was terribly homesick and three days later was flying over the Atlantic, headed home to Atlanta.

“Oh, the whippoorwill roosts on the telephone pole
And the Georgia sun goes down
Well, it's been a long, long time
But I'm glad to say that I am
Goin' back to my home town
All God's children get weary when they roam
Don't it make you want to go home?”


NOTE: Join me on a journey through Alabama:

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