My Life with Dogs: JD SOUTHER

By Cameron Woo, January 2016
JD Souther with Doc and Jake

JD Souther with Doc and Jake

Souther (second from left) and Jackson Browne (second from right) singing with the Eagles in the early 1970s.

Souther (second from left) and Jackson Browne (second from right) singing with the Eagles in the early 1970s.

JD Souther is a card-carrying member of the Songwriters Hall of Fame, inducted in 2013. Instrumental in shaping the sound that became known as country-rock in the 1970s, he has also contributed to the American songbook by penning such classics as “Best of My Love” and “Heartache Tonight” (both for the Eagles) and “Faithless Love” recorded by Linda Ronstadt.

Never one to rest on his laurels, the singer-songwriter continues to compose memorable songs from his Nashville home. As a performer, he recently toured in support of a new album, Tenderness (Sony), and can be seen in the recurring role of producer Watty White on television’s Nashville.

Despite his busy schedule, there’s nothing Souther would rather do than hang out with his dogs. The Bark caught up recently with John David and talked … you guessed it … dogs.

What is it that you like about dogs?

I like everything about dogs. I love their society, their immediacy, their ability to make anything an adventure. Dogs don’t miss an opportunity to have fun, to find out, to live. I also love the way they feel and smell. If I have to go to a party at the house of someone I don’t know, I look for the dog, or dogs. That’s where you’ll find me: hanging out with the dogs. No dogs, and I usually leave early.

Tell us about your dogs.

I have two loonies we affectionately call the Bruise Brothers, named thus for their incredible rough-and-tumble play, though they are, in fact, 50-pound lap dogs and would abandon their
fields and pond for a human lap any time. They are brothers—Hound and Pit mix possibly—and all boy, noisy, joyous and curious about everything.

When we brought them home from the two angels who had found them by the roadside in terrible shape and nursed them back to health, I had a beautiful Irish wife and a six-year-old girl. We built this farmhouse so that the girls would want to be here and not someplace else. It worked very well, but that meant that as the Bruise Bros grew, they were gently coerced to suffer every whim of an imaginative young female community, including but not limited to: shoes, hats, tee shirts, ties, capes, dresses, jewelry, sunglasses and sometimes various combinations of halters and leads that were only necessary for the little girls’ rich imaginations of them as horses.

For all this girlish invasion of their masculine nature, the brothers were as delighted as could be for the attention, and ne’er a growl was ever heard.

It was announced that the Eagles are being honored by the Kennedy Center next year — as a major contributor to their songbook … congratulations. Were there any dogs hanging out with you folks in those early days of Southern California music making?  

The honor is well deserved, congratulations to the guys. They certainly have added considerable wealth to the repertoire. The fact is, we were all almost on the move all the time in those early days. The only dogs in our little gang of musicians I can recall with any clarity are two. One was a small white dog that Glenn (Frey) and Janie, his first wife, had named Teeny Turner. She sounded bigger and who could blame her.

Also, Linda (Ronstandt) had two magnificent Huskies or something like them, when she lived in Brentwood. I was fond of one named Molly who voiced her objections to Linda leaving town by eating the couches, a form of protest with which I was to become later familiar on my dogs Murphy and Babe’s first day alone in the house, where they reduced a couch, daybed and several expensive cushions to a carpet of feathers and fluff. I opened the door to a first floor of shredded bedding and found two black dogs resting comfortably, one with feathers still clinging to his snout looking as innocent as possible. Smiling.

Have you ever written dog-centered songs, or lyrics?

I’ve written three songs about dogs, one for each of the Hollywood Hills dogs and one for the Tennessee Brown Hounds. Their place in my musical process is the same as it is in my life: a reminder to (a) not take myself too seriously and (b) pay attention!

How about dog stories—have any good ones to share?

Here’s one that may give you a sense of the humor and boldness that I find irresistible in canines.

As we were building the Dog Ranch, I leased a beautiful Robert Byrd house on Hollywood Boulevard just west of Laurel Canyon so I could be on-site [in nearby Nichols Canyon] every day during construction. The back yard was small, so most days, the black dogs came to work with me. We were, after all, building our dream house.

On the few days when they were left behind and outside, escaping from the yard behind the Byrd house became a game, and a fairly regular source of amusement for Babe. I kept adding fencing and difficulty, including, finally, a spiky pile of lawn chairs at the only conceivable escape route. Alas, she seemed to rise to every challenge, which included (eventually): pulling the lawn chairs down and scattering them, pulling the fence over, scrambling up a near-vertical dirt hillside, jumping on to the second story of the house, down to the first-story roof, then down to the top of the carport, and finally onto the top of whichever vehicle was closest before landing on the lawn. 

I often came home to find Murphy, who was not quite tall enough to run the obstacle course, barking hysterically from behind the garden gate and Babe sitting serenely on the front porch, waiting for dinner. Smiling.

We hear that you’re a good friend to Best Friends Animal Society; how did you get involved?

I met Francis and Silva Battista in the late ’80s just as Babe was convincing me to slow down a bit and enjoy my lucky life. I loved what they were doing at Best Friends. Then I went up for a visit and met most of the founders and staff, wondrous folk who I am hoping will someday swap me a nifty little retirement perch in one of the most beautiful places on earth for considerable publishing interest and some
 “light housekeeping” (a phrase that another dear friend and animal-rescue champion uses to refer to mucking out the stalls on her ranch).

We’ve taken dogs to the Sanctuary together, I loaned them an SUV/ambulance one year in their early days, played a show recently for the donors at Discovery Weekend, give what I can, talk about them every chance I get
and will try to fit in a trip this year while the snow is on the ground in Angel Canyon.

They have been salvation for thousands of animals, a fair number of them human, and are methodically helping to create no-kill cities wherever possible. When we would lose one, we used to say (to console ourselves), “Well, maybe you can’t save them all.” Wrong! Now our logo proudly challenges everyone: “Save Them All!” The entire community at Best Friends Animal Society is a model of selfless stewardship and joy. Why wouldn’t 
it be? You know what animals do? They give. 

Do you think there’s a reason so many musicians have special connections with dogs?

Maybe musicians, painters, writers, all artists need more time away from conversation and the clanging immediacy of modern life. I think people need quite a bit of it for sanity. Dogs—in fact, most animals I have met—are content to simply live. Just be here. One of my most treasured animal friends is a horse I’ve known for 20 years, but don’t ride. We just … I don’t know. We just hang out.

Children? Animals? They’re our very best things, I think.

We are animals, after all, and when we discriminate against any one, we are diminished. 

What do you do these days when you hang out with dogs?

Nothing. Anything. Whatever they want to do usually turns out to be a good idea for all of us. Thanks for asking me to be in your wonderful magazine, which I own all the way back to your big format first issue!

Cameron Woo is The Bark's co-founder and publisher.