Joe South, the Grammy-winning singer, songwriter and session musician who penned such hits as “Games People Play” and “(I Never Promised You a) Rose Garden,” died Wednesday in Buford, Ga. He was 72.
A veteran of celebrated session bands in Atlanta, Nashville and Muscle Shoals, South’s successes throughout the 1960s and early ’70s were considerable, especially as a songwriter, though his career as a solo artist was rather short-lived.
Born Joseph Alfred Souter in Atlanta, South experienced his first taste of notoriety when he wrote novelty tune “The Purple People Eater Meets the Witch Doctor” in 1958, followed by two songs for rockabilly star Gene Vincent. Later on in the 1960s, South’s stints as a sideman saw him cut guitar parts for classic albums like Aretha Franklin’s “Lady Soul” and Bob Dylan’s “Blonde on Blonde,” while Billy Joe Royal’s recording of his song “Down in the Boondocks” reached No. 8 on the national charts in 1967. Another of his compositions for Royal, “Hush,” became the breakout hit for then-nascent British heavy metal act Deep Purple in 1968.
South’s ambitions as a solo artist finally hit paydirt the next year with the Capitol Records release of debut LP “Introspect,” featuring single “Games People Play,” which reached No. 12 on the singles chart and won South Grammys for song of the year and best contemporary song.
While he never surpassed that mark as a performer, “Walk a Mile in My Shoes” fared quite well in 1970, and was later memorably covered by both Elvis Presley and Brian Ferry. The South-penned “Rose Garden” became a monster hit for singer Lynn Anderson that same year, topping the Billboard Country chart for five straight weeks and reaching No. 3 on the singles chart.
After a hiatus and several more LPs, South permanently retired from music in the mid-1970s. He was inducted into the Nashville Hall of Fame in 1979, and the Georgia Music Hall of Fame in 2003.
(The Associated Press contributed to this report.)