Joe South, 1940-2012

I was only nine years old when I started collecting 45 RPM singles and listening to the top forty on KISD in Sioux Falls, South Dakota (1230 AM on the dial).

One memory I have is making pop corn and playing records on my old monophonic phonograph with Kathy Keys, our babysitter.  I have no clue where Kathy is now, but I still remember at age ten we wrote down the lyrics of “Walk a Mile in My Shoes” by Joe South, one of my early records.   It remains one of my favorites of all time.   Later, my mom bought a “Best of Joe South” album because she wanted the song “Games People Play.”   However, she preferred the cover version by (I think) Glen Campbell so she gave me the album.  I soon had the lyrics of every song memorized and to this day he remains one of my favorites.

Joe South didn’t have a prolific career.   He wrote a number of songs that others turned into hits, and won a grammy for his still relevant “Games People Play.”   In 1971 the suicide of his brother put him into a state of depression, and though he released some material in the 70s he never got back into the groove.

Almost everyone has heard some of his songs, even if performed by others:  Down in the Boondocks, Games People Play, Hush, Children, I Knew you When, Don’t it Make You Wanna Go Home, Shelter, and the country classic by Lynn Anderson, “Rose Garden.”

His music mixed a kind of down home common sense folk appeal with a deep spirituality.   I honestly have never heard any other singer or song writer capture that mix so perfectly.   Here’s a good quality clip of his Grammy winning hit, “Games People Play” (song of the year in 1969):

And I’ll end this post with the lyrics of my favorite Joe South song, “Walk a Mile in My Shoes.”  Do yourself a favor, find a way to get some Joe South music and listen!

Lyrics of “Walk a Mile in My Shoes” by Joe South (1970)

If I could be you
And you could be me
For just one hour
If we could find a way
To get inside
Each other’s mind, mmm
If you could see you
Through your eyes
Instead of your ego
I believe you’d be
Surprised to see
That you’d been blind, mmm

Walk a mile in my shoes
Walk a mile in my shoes
Hey, before you abuse, criticize and accuse
Walk a mile in my shoes

Now your whole world
You see around you
Is just a reflection
And the law of karma
Says you’re gonna reap
Just what you sow, yes you will
So unless
You’ve lived a life of
Total perfection
You’d better be careful
Of every stone
That you should throw, yeah

And yet we spend the day
Throwing stones
At one another
‘Cause I don’t think
Or wear my hair
The same way you do, mmm
Well I may be
Common people
But I’m your brother
And when you strike out
And try to hurt me
It’s a-hurtin’ you, lord have mercy

Walk a mile in my shoes
Walk a mile in my shoes
Hey, before you abuse, criticize and accuse
Walk a mile in my shoes

There are people
On reservations
And out in the ghettos
And brother there
But for the grace of God
Go you and I, yeah, yeah
If I only
Had the wings
of a little angel
Don’t you know I’d fly
To the top of the mountain
and then I’d cry

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  1. #1 by Larry Beck on September 6, 2012 - 18:23

    South conveyed thoughtful lyrics in his music that described with great clarity what was going on during this transitional period of the late 60’s and early 70’s. Joe may not be but his music will be with us always.

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