This Dave Marsh description of Joe South has stuck with me for more than twenty years: “He played [guitar] like a country boy who’d gotten his first instrument as a Christmas present when he was eleven years old, which he was and did.” But I remember him best as a songwriter, starting with “Untie Me,” the Tams’ first hit, fifty (!) years ago. All of Billy Joe Royal’s best pop/rock tunes in other words, almost everything before the execrable “Cherry Hill Park” were Joe South creations, starting with class-warfare favorite “Down in the Boondocks” and peaking (on the same LP, yet) with “I’ve Got to Be Somebody,” which contains the following verse:
But then one day she came my way
And I heard a voice within me say
Don’t let her get away
Whatever you do
But I never thought
That this could be
That she would ever
Look at me seriously
Almost everything even remotely romantic I’ve ever written, said or done is informed by those very words.
Still, what people will remember Joe South for is his single “Games People Play,” or perhaps the alternate take released as an LP track. It’s worth it, especially for the line “And furthermore, to hell with hate!” Marsh again: “You think that wasn’t a big deal coming from a Southerner in 1969?” I was there. I know.
That big heart of Joe’s gave out Wednesday at his home in Buford, Georgia. He was 72.