Ft. Worth’s music scene from the blues perspective:
“No, because it was a different time. Back then, Muddy Waters was still alive. Those old guys got to have one last hurrah. But I see blues continuing on. Every now and then, someone will come on the scene and give it a shot in the arm. You’ve got guys like Joe Bonamassa and Gary Clark Jr., who are showing blues to a new generation, mixing it up in different ways. Of course, in the blues scene, you get the hardcore fans for whom nothing’s going to do except the old scratchy records, but there are more contemporary people who want to hear newer stuff.”
Soul songwriting legend Dan Penn laying down “Memphis Women and Chicken” at Chickie Wah Wah. The elder statesman of white soul has contributed numerous standards such as “Dark End of the Street,” “You Left the Water Running” and “I’m Your Puppet.” In this intimate show, with a tune-hungry audience crowding the stage, the master made every note count.
Tony Joe White burst onto the national music scene in 1969 with “Polk Salad Annie,” a top 10 hit inspired by Bobby Gentry’s “Ode to Billie Joe,” drawing on his real life experiences in rural Louisiana. Over the course of an uncompromising six decade career, Tony Joe kept it down home in both minimal bluesy recordings and gutsy live performances on guitar/harmonica and whomper stomper – his name for a Gibson distortion pedal.
His 1967 composition “Rainy Night in Georgia” was included on his second album Continued in 1969 only at his wife’s behest. Six weeks later, Atlantic Records super producer Jerry Wexler shipped White a new rendition by Brook Benton. As White put it in an interview with STB founder Ric Stewart in 2002, “It was like hearing the perfect voice sing those words back to me. I must have played it a 50 times in a row…” It shot to #1 in the R&B chart and #4 on the Pop chart in 1970 and Tony Joe was suddenly on top of the business.
Tony Joe White went on to record 16 studio records in a career packed with one great song after another. On September 28, 2018, White released Bad Mouthin’ (his first all-blues album) on Yep Rock Records, just a one month before his demise at age 75 from a heart attack. The Oak Grove, LA native’s songs were often picked for covers by musical luminaries such as Tina Turner, Joe Cocker and Elvis Presley. Presley cut three Tony Joe White tracks and the two bonded. White related that Elvis would sometimes find him during sessions at Stax asking how to play some ‘bluesy licks.’ “He’d probably forget them in 10 minutes, but I’d show him anyway.” As the King was reinventing his sound in the early 1970’s, his stage shows featured “Polk Salad Annie” replete with Kung Fu stage moves.
White’s “Willie and Laura Mae Jones,” from 1969 album Black And White, was covered by Dusty Springfield on her definitive work, Dusty In Memphis. His appearance duetting on Johnny Cash’s TV show in 1970 was loose, full of laughs and captured the Man in Black’s appreciation for the Swamp Fox. For a moment, everyone wanted to be Tony Joe!
The respect from on high was to continue albeit after decades of a low profile solo career. On his long-awaited final release Chuck Berry covered Tony Joe’s “3/4 Time (Enchiladas).” The rock and roll pioneer described Tony Joe White to Rolling Stone in 2017 as “vastly underrated,” especially such songs as “Polk Salad Annie,” “Rainy Night in Georgia,” and “The Train I’m On.”
With the top talent offering such effusive praise, imitation and admiration, it’s inevitable that more fans will connect with White’s brand of authenticity. Quite possibly the greatest songwriter that not everyone knows, Tony Joe White’s unfiltered take on swamp rock and funky country blues already stands the test of time.
Thanks once again to the New Orleans Jazz Festival & Foundation, Inc for a community partnership grant that will help build the archives of oral histories. These archives are part of the budding exclusive content collection serviced by Save the Blues and the Blues Center, a future interactive museum in downtown New Orleans.
Catch glimpses of the Blues Center in the interview series with founder Ric Stewart at bluescenters.com.