Imagine the scene. 1969. The cigar-chomping record executive at Capitol Records barks an order at young Jimmy the copy boy. "I need you to draw up some fancy words for the jacket copy of the Joe South LP, Don't It Make You Want to Go Home?" "Right away, sir!" yelps Jimmy, his voice cracking. He takes the freshly-cut vinyl and places it on the turntable. His eyes widen. Jimmy begins to sweat and nash his teeth. He did really well with the Gerry & the Pacemakers copy, but this! He resharpens his pencil again and again. What IS this? Is it country soul or just soulful country? It's gospelly and hip but it's not quite hipster gospel. It sounds like Roy Orbison and Fat Elvis ate peyote together in the desert and formed a single man wearing a Renaissance tunic and then Andrew Lloyd Weber showed up with some lost sheet music for Jesus Christ Superstar. Nearly at wit's end, Jimmy observes from his eighth-story window two hippies prancing down the street with moony grins on their faces, marveling at the sky as if they were born just minutes ago. And then, during side B, track 4, a song called "A Million Miles Away," it happens. Jimmy's pencil, almost on its own, begins to move. He has a vision. Yes! I've got it! That's it! (Wait a minute, did Carl the AOR guy put something in his Coca-Cola?)
"You probably know as much about Joe South as you know about Teddy Roosevelt, Billie Holiday or John Lennon. Or you should. But in case you don't, he's a very heavy talent; original, articulate, influential, important. Joe believes that today, popular music is much more than entertainment. More, even, than a mirror of our times. It has become steadily more important, until now it is probably the most profound and significant means of communication between people. The ideas it contains and communicates are the dominant force in the development of tomorrow. In fact popular music is making history. Literally. This is his viewpoint. What he does about it is write, arrange, produce and perform original material, not only brilliantly -- but more important -- with absolute honesty. His sound is down-home, Deep South, gospelly, hip; with a touch of Dylanesque, off-center, on-target, mind-blowing storytelling to the lyrics. He picks a series of exposed nerve endings and puts an electric finger on them, crisply and firmly like a man composing a simple melody on the piano. He makes you feel, think and blink. He is what he is; an Atlanta boy, 26-years-old, now and for real. Which is what makes this man great. If you don't yet know Joe South -- it's time. If you do -- you don't need anyone to tell you."
Scene II. The next morning:
Cigar-chomping record executive: By gum, Jimmy, you've done it. The kids are going to eat this shit up! I'm giving you a raise!
Jimmy: Gee! Thank you, sir! Thank you!
Clock Up on the Wall - Joe South
Children - Joe South
Listen closely to the psychedelic montage "A Million Miles Away." It includes a recording of an actual phone call Joe South makes trying to reach Richard Nixon at the White House. When he finally gets patched through to an aide, Joe tells him: "I'd like, if possible, to get a message to the President. Um, Joe South from Atlanta, Georgia. I don't want to be any bother or anything. I just want to speak for the hip community of Atlanta. We appreciate any and all the efforts that the President is putting forth at this time for peace in the world and thank you very much."
A Million Miles Away - Joe South
[Ed. Note: Bloggy rumors of Joe South's recent demise are karmically counteracted at Shot of Rhythm blog, where some early JS material is posted.]