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The Return of Joe South

Composer of '60s hit `Games People Play' reappears on music scene. POP MUSIC: INTERVIEW

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JOE SOUTH. You say the name doesn't quite ring a bell? Well, how about ``Games People Play''? That song was the anthem of 1969 - the double Grammy Award winner from South's groundbreaking album ``Introspect.'' With a guitar, a sympathetic band (The Believers), a great warm, rich voice, some memorable melodies, and lyrics that zeroed right in on every personal and universal foible you could think of, Joe South's music became a kind of mental blueprint for a lot of soul-searchers in the late '60s and early '70s. Then he virtually disappeared.

I remember back in 1970, a fellow jazz lover said to me, ``You've gotta hear this album by some guy from Atlanta named Joe South.'' What? Atlanta? Country music? Are you kidding? (No self-respecting be-bopper ever listened to country.)

But I bought the album (after all, the guy who recommended it was a jazzer, too!) and found out that even though it had elements of country, rock, and even '60s psychedelia, you really couldn't slap a label on it.

At the time, I didn't know that Joe South had also written and produced great AM radio hits like ``Untie Me,'' by the Tams, and ``Down in the Boondocks,'' by Billy Joe Royal. He played guitar on Aretha Franklin's ``Chain of Fools'' and Bob Dylan's ``Blonde on Blonde.'' Country singer Lynn Anderson had a huge hit on his ``Rose Garden,'' and Deep Purple's first US hit was South's ``Hush.''

Well, I've been lugging ``Introspect'' around with me ever since those days, listening to it off and on, and always wondering - whatever happened to Joe South?

A few weeks ago I heard that Rhino Records was announcing a ``Joe South revival.'' Sure enough, Rhino had released a ``Best of Joe South'' collection (Rhino R2 70994, CD and cassette) containing almost all the songs from ``Introspect,'' plus several songs from other albums. And the fact that his songs have recently been recorded by contemporary artists k.d. lang, the Georgia Satellites, and even Milli Vanilli (!) was a good sign something's been cooking in Georgia.

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