Nashville is a hotbed of music, of all genres. It seems only fitting that one of its residents is brilliant singer/songwriter JD Souther. It’s also fitting that this “architect” of the Southern California country-rock sound is now appearing on ABC’s Nashville as kingmaker Watty White.
The last time we spoke with Mr. Souther was in 2010, but recently he took some time out of his busy schedule to catch up with quadrust.com.
Examiner: Congratulations on your role on Nashville. How did you land it?
JD Souther: Well, I read for it, but I’d found out about it when I was in New York City. I’d performed at Lincoln Center and went out to dinner with a few folks who told me about the show. I got a copy of the script and loved it. Knew I wanted to read for the role of Watty White.
Examiner: Is Watty modeled after a real person?
JD: He’s an amalgam of a few people. He’s a little bit Harlan Howard, a little Cowboy Jack Clement…and a little T Bone Burnett, who’s always been really good at spotting talent.
Examiner: Will you be performing on the show?
JD: Not sure yet, but hope so.
Examiner: What kind of hours are you putting in?
JD: Oh, it varies since it’s an ensemble cast. Sometimes I’ll have an 18 hour day, then another day might do 2 to 3 scenes in 6 or 7 hours.
Examiner: Do you think the show accurately captures what’s going on in Nashville?
JD: Oh, yes, it definitely does. The power of network television is amazing. I’ve been performing for years, but have been seen on only a few episodes of this show and people spot me in public now all the time. They say, “Hey, aren’t you on Nashville?” Most locals seem to really appreciate how authentic the show is.
Examiner: Do you like that kind of attention?
JD: I’m not wild about it, but I appreciate it. I’d be foolish not to. Only someone who feels unduly entitled would find recognition offensive.
Examiner: How does acting differ for you from singing/songwriting?
JD: Well, I’ve been acting since I was a sophomore in high school. This is my third tv series and I’ve done seven movies, so acting isn’t new for me.(chuckles) I’ve been singing and writing songs only a little longer than acting. I really enjoy both. You know, I had given myself a sort of early retirement when I left the scene in 1985. All of the people in my family worked until they dropped, including my father. I decided to take a little time to enjoy life. I traveled, built my dream house, rescued a few dogs. My return to music, and acting, was deliberate, part of my musical arc.
Examiner: What do you think your music shares about you?
JD: I like to think I show only as much as I want to. I’m actually showing more than I think I am. That’s the real me out there.
Examiner: Do you have any gigs coming up?
JD: Yeah, I’m performing a corporate gig on Nov. 6 in Los Angeles. We all still have to do those! (laughs) Doing NPR’s Mountain Stage, as well as a weekend of shows in Texas and a performance on the East Coast.
Examiner: And you recently released Midnight in Tokyo?
JD: Yes, that’s an interesting set of music that I sat on for about a year and half. It’s cool, dark…like a soundtrack to a 40’s/50s detective movie. Probably the most fun I’ve had performing.
Examiner: Do you have a routine when you write?
JD: I wish I did. I haven’t had a routine for 40 years. I tend to procrastinate, but I do whatever works. I’ll write something down, go back to it later, write some more. I like having someone to co-write with, because that gets things finished in a quicker fashion.
Examiner: Are you currently working on any songs?
JD: Yes, I’m going to be going to L.A. soon to write with Burt Bacharach and Arthur Hamilton. That’ll give you an idea about what I’m working on, can’t tell you any more than that. (chuckles)
Examiner: How does it feel to be nominated for the 2013 Songwriters Hall of Fame?
JD: I’m tickled.
Examiner: When will you find out if you’ve been inducted?
JD: Oh, sometime next year. Voting is until December 15. Tonight I’m going to the ASCAP Country Music Awards. Should be interesting. Think it’s set up something like the Golden Globe, with dinner during the presentations. Lyle Lovett’s receiving the Creative Voice Award, Bob McGill is getting the Golden Note.
Examiner: You received the Golden Note a couple of years ago, right?
JD: I did indeed.
Examiner: Who would you like to see nominated who hasn’t been?
JD: Hmmm, I’d have to say Jim Harden. He had a very short but powerful career. He wrote a dozen songs that have been recorded over and over again. He added a lot of flavor to his finger picking, too.
Examiner: What do you do on your down time?
JD: Well, haven’t had much of that lately, but I love the movies. When I lived in Los Angeles, I used to live in the Hollywood Hills, behind Grauman’s Theater, and I’d always hit the matinees.
Examiner: What’s your favorite genre of film?
JD: I subscribe to what Duke Ellington said about music, “There are two kinds of music. Good music, and the other kind.” I think the same applies to film.
JD Souther certainly falls into the first category. With compelling universal lyrics about love and life and a voice like an audible rainbow, he has a golden spot in the annals of music history. It will be interesting to see what the next page of this consummate troubadour’s songbook holds.