South penned hits like “(I Never Promised You A) Rose Garden,” “Games People Play,” “These Are Not My People,” and “Don’t It Make You Want To Go Home,” and he played guitar on numerous legendary sessions including those that produced Aretha Franklin’s “Chain of Fools” and Bob Dylan’s Blonde on Blonde.
If you know Joe South’s name, it’s likely you spent a fair amount of time listening to AM radio in the late 1960s and ’70s (or you are a fan of that era’s music). That’s when songs of his like “Rose Garden,” “Games People Play,” and the beautiful, reflective “Don’t It Make You Want To Go Home” were hot properties, both in versions by Joe himself and by other artists.
In particular, the version of “Rose Garden” by country singer Lynn Anderson was a worldwide smash on both country and pop charts. (Martina McBride covered “Rose Garden” as well on her 2005 album Timeless.) It was a somewhat brighter version from that South had recorded himself a couple years earlier.) It won Anderson a GRAMMY in 1971, and two more for Joe South. Anderson recorded additional South songs as well, including “How Can I Unlove You” and “Fool Me.”
South himself charted with songs such as “Don’t It Make You Want To Go Home,” “Walk A Mile In My Shoes,” and especially “Games People Play,” another timeless classic that also won him two GRAMMY awards.
A native of Georgia, South’s music blended country, soul, pop, and rock to create a sound that was at once thoughtful (just check out the lyrics to “Games People Play”), Southern-rooted (he did, after all, change his last name from “Souter” to “South”), and radio friendly.
South’s songs have been covered countless times, including by such country artists as Dolly Parton, Don Williams, Martina McBride, Hank Williams, Jr., Waylon Jennings, Norma Jean, Elvis Presley, and Jerry Lee Lewis.
South became reclusive in the mid-1970s, stopped releasing music, and stepped almost entirely out of the spotlight. He was, though, inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1979. He was also inducted into the Georgia Music Hall of Fame.
– Kurt Wolff, CBS Local