“rose garden” – joe south (1968)


For the last year, I’ve been taking guitar classes at the Old Town School of Folk Music in Chicago.  I’m fairly pleased with my progress.  I have managed to go through the entire core program of classes which involved learning chords and developing different strumming techniques.  At times, it would be difficult especially when learning barre chords.  However, I have enjoyed it all the same.

People have asked me why I chose to learn guitar when I had never played an instrument previously in my life.  Most of the questions pertain to what I expect to get from the experience or what I am going to do with my skills.  I get asked if I’m going to form a band or perform at open mics.  My answer is quite simple: none of the above.

I’ve always wanted to learn an instrument.  Now that I am in my late 20s, I really have no ambition of becoming a musical performer and trying to make it in the music industry.  I’m sure when I was younger, I would’ve loved all of that and I still get those rock and roll fantasies in my head from time to time.  But I don’t have any ambitions to get on the stage.  For me, learning guitar has been a more private and personal journey.  I see it as a great hobby for me to keep up with in my home.  They say it gets harder to learn new skills the older you get, but I actively fight against that.  I never want to stop learning and I never want to stop trying new things.  A year ago, I picked up something new and stuck with it.  That’s a personal victory I enjoy.

I love music and love learning about it.  And learning guitar was another step in that process.  It has also given me a new perspective on less popular and well-known artists.  In my music collection, you’ll find obscure artists and records.  I enjoy the novelty of a part of a small group privy to such artists.  However, learning an instrument has also allowed me to appreciate more well-known artists that somehow stayed under the radar; an artist who is both famous and not famous.

Joe South is certainly one of those musicians I would call a not-so-famous-but-famous musician.  He is most famous for penning “Rose Garden” in 1968.  Not even his version is the most famous version, but he is still moderately well-known for that song.  And rightfully so.  It is a well-written and beautiful song about the realities of love.  It is certainly one of my favorites.

Beyond that, the rest of South’s career isn’t as recognized.  He released multiple albums and a few dozen singles over his career, though many artists more famously covered his songs.  He also had a stellar career as a sideman for many iconic albums including Bob Dylan’s Blonde On Blonde¸ Aretha Franklin’s Lady Soul, and Simon & Garfunkel’s Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme.  However, sidemen don’t get the respect of recognition they deserve in helping to craft amazing songs.

South had a respectable career including winning some Grammys and being inducted in the Songwriting Hall of Fame, but he still manages to be an amazing country artist that gets overshadowed.  “Rose Garden” is his quintessential masterpiece.  Kicking off a drum beat in the same vein as “Be My Baby” by the Ronnettes, guitars and castanets come in with a moving yet reserved rhythm.  South’s vocals are solid on this track with a wide range of emotion conveyed in his voice.  There are moments of yearning and pleading to his lover, but there is also a lot of hard truth with slight hints of anger as if South could walk away from his love at any second.  It is not just of the best country songs ever written, but one of the best ever.

I do think it is a shame his career wasn’t bigger because it certainly deserved to be.  Or maybe he was someone who enjoyed their privacy and staying out of the limelight.  There’s nothing wrong with that.  In fact, I respect that decision.  I’ve grown to really appreciate artists whose careers were impactful, but not immediately known in the public consciousness.  Joe South had more of a career than I ever will, and that is fine by me.  I’m perfectly fine continuing to learn my craft and never have to get on the stage and prove it to anyone.


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