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Joe South

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  • Singer and guitarist Joe South was also a prolific songwriter, and his works include "Down in the Boondocks" and "(I Never Promised You A) Rose Garden."

    Singer and guitarist Joe South was also a prolific songwriter, and his works include "Down in the Boondocks" and "(I Never Promised You A) Rose Garden." Credit: Bill Lowery Music

Singer, songwriter and guitarist Joe South penned million-selling hits for other artists, played guitar on historic recording sessions for Aretha Franklin and Bob Dylan and earned a Grammy for his single "Games People Play." Born in Atlanta in 1940, Joseph Souter received a guitar from his father when he was 11 and quickly mastered it. As a teenager, he began performing regularly on the "Georgia Jubilee" radio show hosted by Bill Lowery, which led to collaborations with other Atlanta-based musicians including Ray Stevens and Jerry Reed.

South was signed to Lowery’s publishing company and record label, and at only 18 years old, the young musician scored his first hit with a novelty cover of “The Purple People Eater Meets the Witch Doctor.” The following year, Gene Vincent recorded two of his songs. In addition to performing and writing, South backed up many of the Lowery stable of artists on guitar including Tommy Roe, Billy Joe Royal and Freddy Weller. Those artists and others eagerly recorded his songs, and Royal alone had hits with South’s "Down in the Boondocks," "Yo Yo," "I Knew You When" and "Hush." In 1968, South’s solo album debut, "Introspect," was released on Capitol Records and included "Games People Play" and "(I Never Promised You A) Rose Garden," which Lynn Anderson heard, recorded and took to the top of the charts. In 1971, however, South was dealt a blow when his brother and drummer, Tommy, committed suicide. The devastating loss was a turning point in his life and the singer quickly disappeared from the spotlight into a life of seclusion. Though he would occasionally step back out to record or perform over the next four decades, South never regained the momentum that was once there. He passed away in his at home in Buford in 2012 at the age of 72.