Joe South made quite the impression. In a 1969 Rolling Stone interview, Bob Dylan was asked his opinion of Joe South’s recordings. “I love his records,” he responded. Dylan was particularly impressed with South’s guitar work. “Um-hmm, Dylan said, “I’ve always enjoyed his guitar playing. Ever since I heard him.” That opinion is shared by many. In fact, millions have heard South’s guitar playing on Dylan’s “Stuck Inside Of Mobile With The Memphis Blues Again,” a highlight from his ’66 Blonde On Blonde album. In the liner notes of the soundtrack to “No Direction Home,” Al Kooper wrote that South played the “soul guitar” on the track. Dylan was very pleased with South’s contribution. “Boy, Dylan said, “he just……played so pretty.”
The next year Joe South would gain wider notice as he played his Danelectro Guitar Sitar on Aretha Franklin’s “Chain Of Fools.” The song climbed to number 2 on the U.S. pop charts in January ’68. South used the same guitar on his first hit single, “Games People Play,” released later that year. “Games People Play” first appeared on his debut album, the critically acclaimed but commercially dormant Introspect. Given the album’s slow sales, Capitol Records quickly deleted it, only to find egg on its corporate face as “Games People Play” became an international hit. The single made it to number 12 on the U.S. pop charts and fans wanted it on an album. Avoiding further embarrassment, Capitol included it on a new Joe South LP, entitled, Games People Play.
The quickly-assembled album included “Birds Of A Feather” and “These Are Not My People,” which had also appeared on “Introspect.” Other tracks featured were South’s versions of his own compositions that were hits for such artists as Billy Joe Royal (“Down In The Boondocks” and “I Knew You When”), Deep Purple (“Hush”) and The Tams (“Untie Me”). The revived songs didn’t address social concerns as did the title track or future works such as “Walk A Mile In My Shoes,” but they did probe conflicts in personal relationships.
The strongest of the songs Joe South resurrected was “Untie Me.” South had written it in ’62 for The Tams. “Untie Me” made it to number 12 that year on the U.S. R&B charts but peaked only at 60 on the pop charts. The Tams’ version was worthy of the pop world’s attention. It’s an understated recording with smooth and thoughtfully delivered vocals. It holds up very well 47 years on.
The song’s message is simple enough. The protagonist believes his woman may have found someone else. She regards him as a bore and no longer worthy of her attention. Yet she won’t let him go. He wants to be free and rebuild his life.
On his rendition of “Untie Me,” South turns it up a notch or two. His vocal is rich and enlivened by some vigorous back-up singers pushing him on. The horns are vibrant and punchy. The rhythm section is solid. Standing out, though, are the chiming notes of South’s guitar. He squeezes the song’s dynamic melody for all its worth. There’s a resonant luster in this recording. South’s playing drives a strong-willed and tuneful production. At times in the song, he has everything going at once, with the voices and instruments all vying to dominate the sound. But he creates a perfect blend. “Untie Me” is a splendid work. It’s soulful with a touch of righteous indignation thrown in for good measure. Joe South could certainly state his case.