Singer-songwriter Joe South, who performed hits in the late 1960s and early 1970s such as “Games People Play” and “Walk A Mile In My Shoes” and also penned songs including “Down in the Boondocks” for other artists, died Wednesday, his music publisher said. South was 72.
South, whose real name was Joseph Souter, died at his home in Buford, Ga., northeast of Atlanta, according to Marion Merck of the Hall County Coroner’s office. Merck said South died after having a heart attack.
“He’s one of the greatest songwriters of all time,” said Butch Lowery, president of the Lowery Group, which published South’s music. “His songs have touched so many lives. He’s such a wonderful guy and loved by many.”
South worked as a session guitar player on recordings of some of the biggest names of the 1960s – Aretha Franklin, Bob Dylan and Simon & Garfunkel, among others. But he had a string of hits of his own starting in the late 1960s that made his booming voice a familiar one on radio stations, with a style that some described as a mix of country and soul.
He is perhaps best known for the song “Games People Play,” which reached No. 12 on the Billboard charts in 1969 and won him two Grammys for Best Contemporary Song and Song of the Year. The opening lines evoked the message songs of the era: “Oh the games people play now, every night and every day now, never meaning what they say now, never saying what they mean.”
The song, which was released on South’s debut album “Introspect,” spoke against hate, hypocrisy and inhumanity.
He also had hits with “Walk A Mile In My Shoes” and “Don’t It Make You Want to Go Home,” and wrote the Grammy-nominated “(I Never Promised You a) Rose Garden” for country singer Lynn Anderson.
Earlier, South’s song “Down in the Boondocks” was a 1965 hit for singer Billy Joe Royal. He performed on Aretha Franklin’s “Chain of Fools,” as well as on Bob Dylan’s 1966 classic “Blonde on Blonde,” a triumphant mix of rock, blues and folk that Rolling Stone magazine ranked No. 9 on its greatest-ever albums list. The magazine credits “expert local sessionmen” with helping to create “an almost contradictory magnificence: a tightly wound tension around Dylan’s quicksilver language and incisive singing.”
According to billboard.com, South also backed up Eddy Arnold, Marty Robbins and Wilson Pickett.
But his music career was struck by tragedy when his brother, Tommy Souter, committed suicide in 1971. A biography of South on billboard.com says he moved to Maui and retired from recording for a time starting in the mid-’70s, and that his career was complicated by a rough-around-the-edges personality. South’s last album was “Classic Masters” in 2002.
According to South’s website, he was born in Atlanta on Feb. 28, 1940. As a child he was interested in technology and developed his own radio station with a one-mile transmission area.
In 1958, South recorded his debut single, a novelty song called, “The Purple People Eater Meets the Witch Doctor.”
South was an inductee in the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame and the Georgia Music Hall of Fame.