Remembering the Swamp Fox

Tony Joe White ca. 1970

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 and STB founder Ric Stewart after an interview at the Warfield Theater in 2002.

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.

 

Community Partnership

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.

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Jontavious Willis in Blues Center Interview #1 remastered

Jontavious Willis at Summerstage in Central Park

The Georgian blues phenom sits down for the inaugural Blues Center interview. In this expanded edition Jontavious talks about his mentor Taj Mahal, going down to Louisiana to get a mojo hand and Fats Domino’s update to “Junker’s Blues” with “The Fat Man.” Newly added concert footage from his appearances in New York City add to this mess o’ blues. Oh, and he can play county blues like a much older bluesman.

The Blues Continues – Octogenarians Mayall, Rush and Guy Steal the Show

The 2018 New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival is now in the books. This time around the blues tent was the place to be! Grammy winner Bobby Rush also stood out in the interview stage jamming with his producer Scott Billington on blues harp). John Mayall, the dean of British blues, regained his dueling lead guitar format with Carolyn Wonderland. And not to be left out Buddy Guy sizzled on guitar, as he took his case directly to the audience (see photo).

 

Bobby Rush at the 2018 New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival
John Mayall at the 2018 New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival
The 2018 New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival
Buddy Guy at the 2018 New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival
Buddy takes the axe down the aisle. Blasting blues licks through the crowd

Peter Case – Blues Center Interview #9

Peter plays and talks thru his years with the Plimsouls and the Nerves in BCI #9 with Ric Stewart. We detail his solo debut on Geffen with T-Bone Burnett producing. He recounts Elvis Costello playing him “Pair of Brown Eyes,” inspiring a Byrds-like electric folk re-cut with Roger McGuinn, Van Dyne Parks, Jim Keltner and T-Bone backing him. “Old Blue Car” gets a revamp and a 1996 version of “Walk in the Woods” provides the backdrop for an awesome encounter with Bruce Springsteen.

Janiva Magness – Blues Center Interview #8

Janiva Magness traces her career and New Orleans inspirations in the Blues Center interview with Ric Stewart. She gets started as an engineer, then a background singer for soulman Herman Jones. Later she cuts three attention grabbing releases for Alligator. She talks country and blues sources Hank Williams, Patsy Cline, Tex Ritter and Leroy Carr & Scrapper Blackwell. With powerful stage performances of “Long As I Can See The Light” “Moth to a Flame” and more.

Billy Vera – Blues Center Interview #7

Billy discusses New Orleans recordings at Specialty Records by Art Rupe with Lloyd Price, Little Richard, Larry Williams and their effect American teens and DJ Alan Freed. John Lennon and the Beatles took note covering Larry Williams tracks “Bony Maronie,” “Dizzy Miss Lizzy,” “Slowdown” and “Bad Boy.” Billy also talks about writing songs for Rick Nelson, Dolly Parton and Robert Plant. Billy won a Grammy for one of his 300+ liner notes. He has stayed busy in Hollywood, but grew up in the soul scene of Harlem’s Apollo Theater. Find out why Jerry Wexler signs Led Zeppelin and subscribe to catch the whole series!