THE SIXTH EAGLE.
You might not know J.D Souther. Of all the the classic 1970’s singer songwriter crowd (dubbed the Canyon Crowd by Barney Hoskins in his stellar book; Hotel California: Singer-songwriters and Cocaine Cowboys in the LA Canyons) his is most pivotal story, but also the one that got away.
J.D Souther was dubbed the ‘Sixth Eagle’. He co-wrote a number of the Eagles biggest hits, from Hotel California’s ‘New Kid In Town’ to On The Border’s ‘Best Of My Love’ and ‘Heartache Tonight’. (Souther’s relationship with Glen Frey in particular dated back to the early 70’s with their band Longbranch Pennywhistle) Linda Ronstadt had a huge hit with ‘Faithless Love’ and ‘Simple Man Simple Dream’. He went out with everyone from Ronstadt to Joni Mitchell and was part of the (unholy) trinity of Souther Hillman Furay (Hillman had been in the Byrds and the Flying Burrito Brothers and Furay in The Buffalo Springfield & Poco). So to say he got around was an understatement.
In between this flitting around Laurel Canyon royalty he happened to make three solo albums of his own in the 70’s. John David Souther (1972), You’re Only Lonely (1979) and my personal fave Black Rose (1976). Black Rose was produced by Peter Asher, the man behind the desk of James Taylor’s run of mega success in the early 70’s. The backing cast is a who’s who of 1970’s L.A. Crosby, Frey, Henley, every single top notch session player in the City, it also had the backing of Aslyum Records – David Geffens label. So you would think all the pieces were there for a mega seller. However it tanked. How come
I always think that J.D Souther albums share one common theme that Eagles albums don’t. They sound authentic. John David Souther sounds like an album made by a musician who understood the true heart of Country Rock. Even though Black Rose sounds more polished than it’s predecessor, it still sounds authentic. His voice still has a howling at the moon quality. It’s not as smooth as The Eagles harmonies, and the sense of beneath the smooth veneer was a true outlaw musician (as opposed to just playing one) prepared to play by his own rules. Now I love The Eagles, it might not be the most fashionable thing to like in the world, but they wrote awesome songs, and they evoke my personal love of L.A, but read anything about the Eagles (or go and see them live) and you know they played the game. They wanted the stardom, the drugs and the women more than anyone else. They weren’t really part of the singer songwriter crowd, because they never really wrote about themselves. That is the crucial difference. This clash of philosophies is the reason why Black Rose works better than any of Souther’s albums. It’s the grown up, more personal Hotel California, unafraid to take risks, to be outwardly confessional. (Simple Man, Simple Dream is a pretty good example of that) It shares the production qualities of Hotel California, but none of the shallowness. It’s no surprise that when you listen to Hotel California, the stand-out confessional track is New Kid In Town, Souther’s sole contribution to the album.
Black Rose itself has many highlights, beyond the obvious hits like Faithless Love. The title track and closing shot of the album is where Souther hits the mark. A defeated, dark lyric counteracts the gorgeous harmonies that surround the chorus and the great slide and lead guitar work that punctuate the song throughout. It’s a great send off, and out of a stellar underrated album, is the standout track. The Eagles would have killed for it.
The album itself is available on Itunes and all the usual places, a re-issue with some extra tracks would be welcome as ever, but I would also recommend tracking down a copy on ebay, as this is the sort of album that demands being heard on vinyl.
Here’s J.D doin’ Doolin Dalton on the Old Grey Whistle Test in 1973