By Chip Chandler — Digital Content Producer
One of the most iconic songwriters in America got his start at Amarillo College — and he's coming back home for a special performance.
JD Souther was one of the architects of the Southern California sound in the 1970s, working closely with The Eagles, Linda Ronstadt and others.
Now, Souther has been chosen as Amarillo College's 2017 Distinguished Alumnus Award Winner. In celebration, he'll perform at 7 p.m. Oct. 26 in the AC Concert Hall Theatre.
Tickets are $25 and available at the AC Foundation Office in the College Union Building or by phone at 806-371-5107. Proceeds will benefit the AC Music Department.
Souther also will conduct a free songwriting masterclass at 2 p.m. Oct. 26 in the theater.
Souther came from a musical background: His father, John, was a big band singer who later opened a music store (Texas Musical Instruments) in Amarillo. The younger Souther began playing in orchestra at Alice Landregin in fourth grade, playing a handmade violin that belonged to his paternal grandmother. Already a jazz fan, he switched to clarinet the next year, then took up drums at Tascosa High School. (Music continues to run in the family: Sister Susan was a choir director and is an accompanist. Niece Ariel is a private voice instructor. And niece Maggie Burt and nephews Sam and Ben Smeaton, along with brothers-in-law Mike Burt and Tony Smeaton, all are popular Amarillo musicians.)
After graduation, Souther attended Amarillo College ("I still have my bumper sticker that says 'I got my start at Amarillo College'," he told me in a 2016 interview), then dropped out to travel to California with a handful of other Amarillo musicians in a band called The Kitchen Cinq. The band had signed with singer and producer Lee Hazelwood, though they never made it to the big time.
Souther, though, did. He met Glenn Frey, a transplant from Detroit (where Souther was born before the family moved to Texas), and formed a duo, Longbranch Pennywhistle, which started gigging at hootenanny nights at the storied Troubadour in Hollywood, where the likes of James Taylor, Jackson Browne, Rick Nelson, Joni Mitchell, Carole King and Laura Nyro were regulars.
"We didn't have any other place to go. We didn't have any money," Souther said. "Glenn had a beat-up car. I had a motorcycle. ... We were there for a year. It was our university."
He also met Ronstadt, who he began dating for a while before later co-producing her album Don't Cry Now and writing such hits as "Faithless Love."
"Linda was already great. When she was 10, she was a better singer than most people are at their peak. And when Glenn and I were struggling to write anything that made sense, Jackson (Browne) was much further down the road."
She hired Frey and Texas native Don Henley for her backup band for a 1971 tour, giving them the impetus to start The Eagles, which would go on to become one of the most popular bands of the 20th century. Souther penned several hits for them, including "New Kid in Town," "Heartache Tonight," "Victim of Love" and "Best of My Love."
Souther launched a solo career with a self-titled 1972 album and its acclaimed 1976 follow-up, Black Rose. (Both have been reissued this year by Omnivore Records, along with 1984's Home by Dawn.) In 1979, he scored his biggest solo hit, "You're Only Lonely," from the album of the same name.
He was named to the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2013.
"I started playing music in fourth grade, and lo these many years later, to be in what I used to call the great American songbook — I'm old enough (at 70) to be part of it. To be in the Songwriters Hall of Fame, to have a song on the top-selling album of the 20th century (The Eagles: Their Greatest Hits 1971-1975) — it sets me back," Souther said. "I've just always played music. It is work, but I consider it a way of life."
Souther also was featured on an episode of Live Here, available to view here.