Singer-songwriter Joe South, who wrote the 1971 country-pop hit “(I Never Promised You a) Rose Garden” for Lynn Anderson, died Wednesday of a heart attack at his home in Flowery Branch, Ga. He was 72.
South had a big hit of his own with 1969’s lush “Games People Play,” which won Grammy Awards for best contemporary song and song of the year. The tune, purportedly inspired by psychiatrist Eric Berne’s 1964 book about the “games” human beings play in interacting with one another, reached No. 12 on Billboard’s Hot 100. He just missed the Top 10 again the following year with another socially provocative song, “Walk a Mile in My Shoes.”
South also was an in-demand session player. He served as the guitarist on Tommy Roe’s “Sheila,” which reached No. 1 in 1962; on Aretha Franklin’s Grammy-winning 1967 smash “Chain of Fools”; and on Bob Dylan’s legendary 1966 album “Blonde on Blonde.” (Some also credit South for the electric guitar that was added to Simon & Garfunkel’s “The Sounds of Silence.”)
Earlier in his career, South backed such artists as Ray Stevens, Jerry Reed, Eddy Arnold, Wilson Pickett and Marty Robbins.
Born Joseph Souter in Atlanta on Feb. 28, 1940, South had his first success in July 1958 by covering the novelty song “The Purple People Eater Meets the Witch Doctor,” which was written by J. P. Richardson Jr., aka The Big Bopper, who died in the Buddy Holly plane crash in Iowa in 1959. A year later, South wrote two songs that would be recorded by Gene Vincent, “I Might Have Known” and “Gone Gone Gone.”
South’s compositions also included “Birds of a Feather,” which was a No. 23 pop hit for Paul Revere & the Raiders in 1971; “Don’t It Make You Want to Go Home,” covered by Brook Benton with the Dixie Flyers; and “Hush,” the first hit for Deep Purple. “Walk a Mile in My Shoes” was covered by Elvis Presley and Bryan Ferry.
“(I Never Promised You a) Rose Garden” was a smash in 16 countries and translated into many languages, and Anderson also picked up a Grammy for her vocal. The song has been covered by Martina McBride, Loretta Lynn, Glen Campbell and k.d. lang, among others.
South also wrote the country hits “How Can I Unlove You” and “Fool Me” for Anderson.
South, who was inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1979, retreated from the music business after his brother’s suicide in 1971. He briefly returned with an album in 1975 but retired from recording and performing soon afterward.