John David Souther has been somewhat of a renaissance man since first appearing on the national scene in the 1960s. He's probably best known for his songwriting, and is a 2013 inductee of the Songwriters Hall of Fame. That's in part thanks to co-writing a number of hits by The Eagles, including the trio of Billboard No. 1s "Best of My Love, "Heartache Tonight" and "New Kid in Town." J.D. also had one monster hit of his own, "You're Only Lonely," a retro-rock breath of fresh air in the disco-hazed air of 1979.
Since the early '70s, Souther has released a handful of solo albums as well as a pair of discs with the Souther Hillman Furay Band, done session work and co-written songs with a long list of artists, and popped up in a few movies and recurring roles on television shows such as thirtysomething and the current hit Nashville. It's a more recent development that he's returned to recording albums, starting with 2008's If the World Was You. Souther is touring now too, and will stop in Madison for an early evening show at the Majestic Theatre on Saturday, September 7.
While Souther's recent recordings have incorporated some jazz sounds into the mix, he made his name as one of the architects of the California country-rock sound, originally built in the '60s by acts like The Byrds, Flying Burrito Brothers and Rick Nelson but wildly popularized in the '70s by The Eagles. Souther's recording career goes back farther than his 1972 solo debut and Eagles work, though. There are a few singles by his teenage garage band from Amarillo, Texas, lurking in the shadows of time (check out John David and the Cinders "No Not My Heart" if you can find it). And the groundwork for his Eagles work was laid by a fairly obscure LP that quietly emerged on Amos Records in late 1969 or early 1970: Longbranch/Pennywhistle, who was the duo of Souther and future Eagles member Glenn Frey.
There are tons of lost country-rock LPs from the time period (heck, Don Henley has one of his own on Amos, with a group called Shiloh), but Longbranch/Pennywhistle is one of the more interesting examples of the genre. In addition to the lure of early songs by Souther and Frey (who wrote all but a James Taylor cover) the duo are backed by "heavy helpers" James Burton, Ry Cooder, Buddy Emmons, James Gordon, Doug Kershaw, Larry Knechtel and Joe Osborne. That's one heck of a band, folks.
The songs are mostly amiable 'tonkers with a couple ballads thrown in for good measure, and feature lots of nice Souther-Frey harmonies. One of the guitarists is also laying down some fine fuzz guitar, likely in an attempt to emulate the sound of Sneaky Pete Kleinow's pedal steel on the Burritos records. Considering the pros involved, the album was likely recorded pretty quickly -- I swear someone says "good enough" as the rocker "Run Boy Run" is fading down! -- but never comes across as lackadaisical, a trait encountered often on country rock albums from the time.
It was a solid debut, and the label must have done at least a bit of promotion. Mine's a radio station copy, and Amos did release a pair of singles from the album to no avail. So far, despite the fact that there's certainly lots of Eagles fans who would purchase it, Longbranch/Pennywhistle has never been reissued. However, it is provided as a download by the fan site Glenn Frey Online! (Amos AAS 7007, 1969 or 1970)