This article includes a list of general references, but it lacks sufficient corresponding inline citations. Please help to improve this article by introducing more precise citations. (April 2009) (Learn how and when to remove this template message)
Joe South
South in 1970
South in 1970
Background information
Birth nameJoseph Alfred Souter
Born(1940-02-28)February 28, 1940
Atlanta, Georgia, U.S.
DiedSeptember 5, 2012(2012-09-05) (aged 72)
Buford, Georgia, U.S.
Occupation(s)Singer-songwriter, musician
Instrument(s)Vocals, guitar
Years active1958–2012

Joe South (born Joseph Alfred Souter; February 28, 1940 – September 5, 2012) was an American singer-songwriter, guitarist, and record producer. Best known for his songwriting, South won the Grammy Award for Song of the Year in 1970 for "Games People Play" and was again nominated for the award in 1972 for "Rose Garden".


South had met and was encouraged by Bill Lowery,[1] an Atlanta music publisher and radio personality. He began his recording career in Atlanta with the National Recording Corporation, where he served as staff guitarist along with other NRC artists Ray Stevens and Jerry Reed. South's earliest recordings have been re-released by NRC on CD. He soon returned to Nashville with The Manrando Group and then on to Charlie Wayne Felts Promotions. (Charlie Wayne Felts is the cousin of Rockabilly Hall of Fame Inductee and Grand Ole Opry Member, Narvel Felts.)

South had his first top 50 hit in July 1958 with a cover version of the b-side of The Big Bopper's hit single "Chantilly Lace", a novelty song called "The Purple People Eater Meets the Witch Doctor". Thereafter South would concentrate mainly on songwriting.

In 1959, South wrote two songs which were recorded by Gene Vincent: "I Might Have Known", which was on the album Sounds Like Gene Vincent (Capitol Records, 1959), and "Gone Gone Gone", which was included on the album The Crazy Beat of Gene Vincent (Capitol Records, 1963).

South was also a prominent sideman, playing guitar on Tommy Roe's "Sheila", bass guitar on Bob Dylan's Blonde on Blonde album, and the classic tremolo guitar intro on Aretha Franklin's "Chain of Fools".[2] South played electric guitar on Simon & Garfunkel's second album, Sounds of Silence, although Al Gorgoni and/or Vinnie Bell feature on the title track.

Billy Joe Royal recorded five South songs: "Down in the Boondocks" (also covered in 1969 by Penny DeHaven), "I Knew You When" (later a hit for Donny Osmond, and Linda Ronstadt), "Yo-Yo" (later a hit for The Osmonds), "Hush" (later a hit for Deep Purple, "Somebody's Image" with Russell Morris, and Kula Shaker), and "Rose Garden", a country and pop hit for singer Lynn Anderson (see below).

Responding to late 1960s issues, South's style changed radically, most evident in his biggest single, 1969's pungent, no-nonsense "Games People Play" (purportedly inspired by Eric Berne's book of the same name), a hit on both sides of the Atlantic. Accompanied by a lush string sound, an organ, and brass,[3] the production won the Grammy Award for Best Contemporary Song and the Grammy Award for Song of the Year. South followed up with "Birds of a Feather" (originally "Bubbled Under" at No. 106 on February 10–17, 1968, more successful as a cover by The Raiders that peaked on the Hot 100 at No. 23 on October 23–30, 1971) and two other soul-searchers, the back-to-nature "Don't It Make You Want to Go Home" (also covered eight months later by Brook Benton With The Dixie Flyers) and the socially provocative "Walk a Mile in My Shoes" (also covered by Elvis Presley in a Las Vegas era version, Jerry Lee Lewis, Bryan Ferry, and Coldcut).

South's most commercially successful composition was Lynn Anderson's 1970–1971 country–pop monster hit song "Rose Garden", which was a hit in 16 countries worldwide. Anderson won a Grammy Award for her vocals, and South earned two Grammy nominations for it, as Best Country Song and (general) Song of the Year. South wrote more hits for Anderson, such as "How Can I Unlove You" (Billboard Country No. 1) and "Fool Me" (Billboard Country No. 3). Freddy Weller, Jeannie C. Riley, and Penny DeHaven also had hits on the Billboard country chart with South songs. In addition, other artists who have recorded South-penned songs include Jerry Lee Lewis, Johnny Cash, Glen Campbell, Loretta Lynn, Carol Burnett, Andy Williams, Kitty Wells, Dottie West, Jim Nabors, Arlen Roth, Liz Anderson, The Georgia Satellites, Waylon Jennings, Dolly Parton, Ike & Tina Turner, Hank Williams Jr., James Taylor, the Tams, and k. d. lang, although most covered versions of South's best known songs.

Personal life

The 1971 suicide of South's brother, Tommy, resulted in Joe becoming clinically depressed.[4] Tommy South had been the drummer in Joe's backing band and accompanied Joe not only in live performances but also on recording sessions when he produced hits for other artists, including Royal, Sandy Posey, and Friend and Lover, including their number 10 Billboard hit song "Reach Out of the Darkness".[5] In an interview with Amy Duncan of Christian Science Monitor, South said, "I didn't see myself doing [drugs] for the kicks. I did it more or less to keep going, and to tap into inspiration. I equated the chemicals with the inspiration." South's drug use resulted in a surly attitude toward audiences, and he left Capitol after two more unsuccessful albums. South lived for a time in the 1970s on the Hawaiian island of Maui. He said, "I really kicked myself around for years... one of the main hang-ups was I just refused to forgive myself," he told Duncan. "You know, you can go through drug treatment centers, and it's not a permanent healing until it's a spiritual healing."

No information is available about South's first marriage, divorce or his first wife. In 1987, South married his second wife, Jan Tant. South said this marriage helped turn things around, and Tant's inspiration helped him return to writing songs and occasional appearances in public.

South fathered one child, son Craig South, who is a voice-over artist in Southern California.


South won two Grammy Awards, for Song of the Year and Best Contemporary Song, for the single "Games People Play", in 1969. South was inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1979 and became a member of the Georgia Music Hall of Fame in 1981.[6]

In 1988, a Dutch DJ, Jan Donkers, interviewed South for VPRO-radio. The radio show[7] that aired the interview also played four new songs by South, but a new record was not released.

On September 13, 2003, South performed during the Georgia Music Hall of Fame induction ceremony and played with Buddy Buie, James B. Cobb Jr., and Chips Moman.

South's final recording, "Oprah Cried", was made in 2009 and released as a bonus track on the 2010 re-release of the albums So the Seeds are Growing and A Look Inside on a CD collection combining both LPs for Australian label Raven Records.

South was inducted into the Musicians Hall of Fame and Museum in 2019.


South died at his home in Buford, Georgia, northeast of Atlanta, on September 5, 2012, of heart failure. He was 72 years old.[8] South and second wife Jan Tant, who died in 1999, are buried in Mount Harmony Memorial Gardens Cemetery, in Mableton (Cobb County), Georgia.



Year Album Chart Positions Label
US US Country AUS[9] CAN
1968 Introspect 117 Capitol
1969 Games People Play
Don't It Make You Want to Go Home? 60 39 10 36
1970 Greatest Hits 125 88
1971 Joe South 207
Joe South Story MGM
So the Seeds Are Growing Capitol
1972 A Look Inside
1975 Midnight Rainbows Island
1976 You're the Reason Gusto
1990 The Best of Joe South Rhino
1999 Retrospect: The Best of Joe South Koch
2001 Anthology: A Mirror of His Mind Raven
2002 Classic Masters Capitol


Year Single Chart Positions Album(s)
US Country US AC AUS[9] CAN CAN Country CAN AC
1958 "The Purple People Eater Meets the Witch Doctor" 47 singles only
1961 "You're the Reason" 87 16
1968 "Birds of a Feather" 106 Introspect
1969 "Games People Play" 12 7 Introspect, Games People Play
"Birds of a Feather" 96 Introspect
"Leaning on You" 104 69 single only
"Don't It Make You Want to Go Home" (with The Believers) 41 27 16 14 42 11 18 Don't It Make You Want to Go Home?
1970 "Walk a Mile in My Shoes" (with The Believers) 12 56 3 20 10 6 2
"Children" 51 32 41 33 31
"Why Does a Man Do What He Has to Do" 118 47 Joe South
1971 "Fool Me" 78


With Aretha Franklin

With Simon & Garfunkel

With Bob Dylan


  1. ^ "Joe South ~ The Official Site". Archived from the original on October 29, 2013. Retrieved October 26, 2013.
  2. ^ Gilliland, John (1969). "Show 52 – The Soul Reformation: Phase three, soul music at the summit. [Part 8] : UNT Digital Library" (audio). Pop Chronicles. University of North Texas Libraries.
  3. ^ Thom Hickey (February 1, 2016). "Bob Dylan, Aretha Franklin & Elvis all revered Joe South : Games People Play". The Immortal Jukebox. Retrieved June 19, 2019.
  4. ^ Wall, Jeff (March–April 2007). "Joe South: Down in the Boondocks". American Songwriter Magazine, the craft of music, heritage series. Archived from the original on October 29, 2013. Retrieved September 15, 2011.
  5. ^ Unterberger, Richie (2000). "Liner Notes for Friend & Lover's "Reach Out of the Darkness"". Retrieved December 11, 2017.
  6. ^ "Georgia Music Hall of Fame Inductees | Inductee Years Archive | 1981 Inductees". Archived from the original on January 24, 2013. Retrieved September 7, 2012.
  7. ^ "De Avonden -> Artikelen -> Jan Donkers' archief: Joe South (1988)". Archived from the original on March 19, 2012. Retrieved April 25, 2012.
  8. ^ "Joe South, who wrote Games People Play, dies aged 72". BBC News. September 7, 2012. Retrieved September 7, 2012.
  9. ^ a b Kent, David (1993). Australian Chart Book 1970–1992 (illustrated ed.). St Ives, N.S.W.: Australian Chart Book. p. 285. ISBN 0-646-11917-6.
  10. ^ Whitburn, Joel (2011). Top Pop Singles 1955–2010. Record Research, Inc. p. 837. ISBN 978-0-89820-188-8.