When JD Souther decided in 1985 to put his solo career on the back burner, he had a few reasons running through his mind.
“Probably the foremost one was simply that I thought that the well was running a little dry as far as material was concerned,” Souther says. “Not that there weren’t plenty of songs in there — I was starting to bore myself to death.”
Nor did Souther want to fall into a rut of “playing to an existing fanbase, stylistically.”
“I didn’t feel and don’t [feel] that that is necessarily a healthy mindset for art,” he explains. “I don’t think you make the best art when you’re concerned with how people will buy it.”
So in the ensuing years, Souther mostly stayed close to his California home, working behind the scenes for and with other artists but not issuing any new albums under his own name.
In October, Souther finally ended his drought between studio albums with the release of If the World Was You.
“I may have waited a bit too long, some people would say,” Souther admits with a laugh. “Doing it every 20 years whether you need it or not might be a bit cavalier. But the fact is, I did need it, and when I went in to make this record, I never needed to do anything more in my whole life.”
It’s a life that’s been connected to and influenced by music from the start. John David Souther was born Nov. 2, 1945, in Detroit, where his father had hoped to resume his singing career after serving in the Army. The Souther family moved a few times before settling in Amarillo, Texas.
“The story goes that my father wanted to move to New York,” Souther recalls, “but my mother said, ‘No, that’s it. We’re not going any farther north or any colder.’ My mom didn’t like the north; she’s from a big, friendly Texas family. That’s where she wanted to be, so that’s where they went.”
When he was in the fourth grade, Souther took up the violin. That didn’t last very long.
“I believe at that school I had football practice before violin lessons, and I just got tired of having to defend my poor little violin and my poor little self,” he says.
As a small kid, Souther says he didn’t have the size for football, so he committed himself to music, moving on to the clarinet a year later.
“I knew if you could play clarinet, you could play tenor sax — same keys, same fingering,” he says. “And I was already listening to a lot of jazz and lot of rock ‘n’ roll, and a lot of the early rock ‘n’ roll records have tenor sax solos, so I was sort of aiming for that.”
Souther expanded his instrumental repertoire yet again when he began playing timpani, followed by a full drum kit, as a high school freshman.
It was while attending Amarillo College that Souther’s musical interests really intensified. He took piano as part of his studies and earned a few bucks playing drums with jazz groups at clubs and bars.
In 1968, Souther moved to California, and in short order, he was introduced to what would become two mainstays in his life: the guitar and Glenn Frey.
“Glenn wasn’t any better of a guitar player than me, but he brought a real love and knowledge of rhythm and blues music,” Souther says. “When we got together, it gave me a reason to fuse the poetry I had been writing with music.”
For several months, Souther and Frey listened to music, practiced, wrote songs and played “pass the hat” gigs.
Doug Weston, owner of the Troubadour in West Hollywood, saw them and offered them