Click photo to enlarge
Songwriters Hall of Fame inductee J.D. Souther, known for his role as Watty White in ABC-TV's "Nashville" and his songs for the Eagles, will perform at the Egyptian Theatre this weekend. (Photo courtesy of the Egyptian Theatre)
Songwriter J.D. Souther, who is currently known for his role as Watty White in ABC TV's "Nashville," has penned hits for many artists including the Eagles, Linda Ronstadt, James Taylor, the Dixie Chicks and Kenny Rogers.

Souther said he knew from an early age that he wanted to do something in the music business.

"I've been a musician since I was in fourth grade and really had no plan B," Souther said during a telephone interview from his farm outside of Nashville, Tenn. "The only other thing that really interested me was race-car driving and there wasn't a great entry point for open-wheel racing in the little town in Texas I grew up in.

"I mean, there was a dirt track and a drag strip, but there wasn't any small series that was open," he said with a laugh. "In actuality, I think I took the marginally safer choice of the two."

the time Souther got to seventh grade, jazz drumming took over his life.

"My parents endured 10 years of thunder before I got out of the house," he said giggling. "When I moved to California, my intention was to be a jazz drummer."

That changed when he arrived in Los Angeles in the mid-1960s and got involved with soon-to-be pioneers of the Southern California sound of the 1970s.

"That sound was pretty much in its infancy when I got there," Souther said. "I mean, everyone was aware of the Byrds, Bob Dylan, Phil Ochs and the early folk scene, and Glenn Frey, of the Eagles, who was my first songwriting partner out there, was really aware of the Flying Burrito Brothers, Poco and the countrified Byrds."

But it was Linda Ronstadt who introduced Souther to folk and country music.

"I started dating her and she had a vast musical vocabulary and collection of records," he said. "We listened to music constantly and, out of my collection, we played Ray Charles, Frank Sinatra, Miles Davis, Lee Morgan and John Coltrane, but she introduced me to the Louvin Brothers, the Stanley Brothers, Jim & Jesse and the Carter Family, all the real roots of country music."

Souther, who will perform at the Egyptian Theatre Friday, Aug. 23, and Saturday, Aug. 24, said the singer-songwriter genre wasn't what he had in mind when he wanted to become a professional musician.

But he laid his drumsticks down and decided to pick up the guitar and attempted to write some songs.

"I didn't know the guitar that well, so that made it that I couldn't write songs that were harmonically as elaborate as what I started doing later," he said. "I knew a little piano, but we didn't have one because we were all broke, starving musicians.

"I had a Triumph motorcycle and a guitar, which was basically all my stash, because you couldn't ride and carry around a piano," he said cheerfully.

After a few months of Souther's "plucking around," people began taking notice of his songs.

"I thought, 'Hey, this is an easy job,' but it took another hundred bad songs for me to get another good one," he said dryly.

Souther wrote songs in the style that fit the times and his surroundings.

"I was surrounded by people who played that kind of music — Linda, Glenn, Jackson Browne, the great and underrated Judee Sill, who died too young, Warren Zevon, and later Don Henley," he said. "Glenn, who was my roommate for a while, just hacked away at the guitar and we tried to learn stuff together.

"We wanted to add some other players, but we couldn't afford to pay them, so it was just the two of us who did things," he said. "We eventually got a brilliant bass and piano player named David Jackson, who played with us for the remainder of the time when Glenn and I were together."

Jackson wanted more players, so Souther recruited Henley and Bernie Leadon and Randy Meisner, who would end up being the Stone Poneys.

"Randy took off with that band as a backup for Linda, but I wanted to work on my own songwriting craft," Souther said. "Jackson Brown and I had rented houses across from each other and were very much into just songwriting at the time."

Souther said when he writes songs, he doesn't usually have a certain artist in mind, but he writes with the goal of making the song last.

"For example, the song 'I'll Take Care of You,' which was first recorded by Kenny Rogers in 1981, was originally written on piano," he said. "It's a beautiful version, and very Kenny Rogers."

Souther recorded the song on his own as an acoustic version and the Dixie Chicks cut it with a three-part harmony for the "Wide Open Spaces" album in 1998.

"I recorded it again two years ago for an album called 'Natural History,' which is a collection of some the big hits I wrote, but played in a more stripped-down arrangement with an elaborate harmonic structure," Souther said. "So, that song's been around, but to its credit, it sounds at home in all of those styles."

Another song, "Faithless Love," was recorded in 1974 by Ronstadt and was made into a hit in Hong Kong by a singer named Sam Hui, and released in India by a singer named Najma, Souther said.

"The Modern Folk Quartet did a four-part harmony version of it, which is insane, and Glen Campbell had a country hit with it in the 1980s," he said. "Bernadette Peters did a magnificent version of it and Allison Krauss sang it this year.

Souther said he doesn't care how his song is remade and has been surprised along the way.

"I can't be critical of anyone, because once it leaves my house, it's on its own," he said. "I put hours and hours into it to make it work the way I heard it, and I've done all I can. So, if someone wants to adjust it to make it work for them, that's fine with me."

This past June, Souther's hard work paid off and he was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame.

He was getting ready to shoot a scene for "Nashville" when fellow songwriter Paul Williams called.

"I told him I was about to walk into a shot and I said, 'I only have a minute' and he said, 'Don't make any plans for June 13. You're in the Songwriters Hall of Fame,'" Souther said. "I said, 'Call me back in 30 minutes and say that again.'"

Souther was stoked.

"That's a pretty cool thing," he said. "Then I started thinking about all the ones who aren't in it, and it sunk in that once you're in as a member, you get to vote for other inductees. So, I'm already lobbying for some of my other favorite writers in the next ballot."

Singer and songwriter J.D. Souther will perform at the Egyptian Theatre, 328 Main St., on Friday, Aug. 23, and Saturday, Aug. 24, at 8 p.m. Tickets range from $29 to $50 and are available by visiting www.parkcityshows.com.