Tony Joe White (July 23, 1943 - October 24, 2018) was a highly acclaimed swamp rock singer-songwriter and guitarist with distinctive low, growling vocals who became famous during the late 1960s. He is best known for the gritty and evocative "Polk Salad Annie" (1969), a funky Cajun-influenced ballad that tells the story of a tough and resilient girl from the rural South whose family is so poor that she has to gather pokeweed for their dinner every night.
Born in Goodwill, Louisiana, White grew up on a cotton farm as the youngest of seven children and first began performing at school dances. After graduating from high school, he performed in nightclubs in Texas and Louisiana and also began writing songs. In 1967, he relocated to Nashville and signed with Monument Records where he recorded several albums covering not only his own brand of rock (for which he became known as the Swamp Fox) but also pop, country, R&B, and blue-eyed soul. White's debut album, "Black And White," which features "Polk Salad Annie" and other self-penned songs, also includes covers of various pop and R&B standards.
Tony Joe White debuted on the Pop/Rock charts in 1969 with "Polk Salad Annie," which became a Top 10 hit and was later covered by Elvis Presley, Tom Jones, and many other artists. This smash was followed by "Roosevelt And Ira Lee (Night Of The Mossacin)" (1969), "Save Your Sugar For Me" (1970), and several other minor hits through 1980 that include "I Get Off On It," his final Pop/Rock charts entry. White re-emerged on the Country charts during the early 1980s with several hits that include "Mama Don't Let Your Cowboys Grow Up To Be Babies" (1980), a parody of Waylon Jennings' "Mammas Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Cowboys."
A prolific songwriter, White also penned many hit songs for other artists and had his greatest success with "Rainy Night In Georgia," an R&B/soul standard made famous by Brook Benton in 1970. Other White-penned hit songs include Dusty Springfield's "Willie And Laura Mae Jones" (1969), Elvis Presley's "For Ol' Times Sake" (1973) and "I've Got A Thing About You Baby" (1974), and John Anderson's "Mississippi Moon" (1995), a Top 20 hit on the Country charts that White co-wrote with Carson Whitsett. In addition to playing the guitar and harmonica on Tina Turner's 1989 album, "Foreign Affair," which topped the U.K. Albums Chart, he wrote the title track along with three other songs, "You Know Who (Is Doing You Know What)," "Undercover Agent For The Blues" (co-written with his wife, Leann White), and "Steamy Windows," the latter of which became a top hit in the U.S. and many countries worldwide. Tina Turner later had another White-penned hit in 1996 with "On Silent Wings" (from the album, "Wildest Dreams").
Over his long career, Tony Joe White toured widely with such top acts as Joe Cocker, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Waylon Jennings, Sly & The Family Stone, and Steppenwolf and amassed a large and loyal following in Australia and several European countries. He continued performing and recording through most of the 2010s and released his final album ("Bad Mouthin'") in late 2018.
- For more info about Tony Joe White's life and career, visit tonyjoewhite.com.
- White discusses the inspiration behind the characters in his songs and other topics in an interview with Piers Beagley on elvisinfonet.com (ca. 2003).
- The New York Times remembers Swamp rock great Tony Joe White.
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Tony Joe White
- Polk Salad Annie 1969
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