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.

Blues Center Trailer – Peter Case talks Bruce Springsteen

Introducing the Blues Center! Ric Stewart previews the channel and BCI #9 with Peter Case. Bruce Springsteen praised Peter Case’s work in Rolling Stone Magazine and took the time to meet him as he toured New Jersey. Ric interviewed Peter in 1996 and includes some of that footage to illustrate an hilarious story about meeting the Boss.

 

This video made possible in part by a Community Partnership grant from the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Foundation.

Mason Ruffner – Blues Center Interview #6

Mason drops by Pinecohn Studios to talk Bob Dylan, Daniel Lanois, Buddy Holly, Jimmy Page and Carlos Santana. He lays down some of his signature tremolo-stained blues riffs. Live footage from French Quarter Fest highlights an amazing biography of huge accomplishments. Mason discusses his band’s role on Dylan’s “Series of Dreams” and his ongoing collaboration with Carlos Santana. He tries to recollect shooting a music video on top of The World Trade Center in 1987.

This video made possible in part by a Community Partnership grant from the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Foundation.

Deacon John – Blues Center Interview #5

New Orleans R&B bandleader and session guitarist extraordinaire, Deacon John Moore, recounts the back story of Allen Toussaint and Chris Kenner’s “Land of 1,000 Dances” Deake shares a few laughs and some tasty slide guitar maneuvers.

This video made possible in part by a Community Partnership grant from the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Foundation.

Stanton Moore – Blues Center Interview #4

Stanton Moore drops by Pinecohn Studios to talk blues and how he joined the New Orleans Klezmer Allstars and Galactic. A very busy drummer, Stanton plays regularly with Charlie Hunter, Will Bernard and Tom Morello. Episode #4 features footage Ric Stewart shot in 1996 of Stanton with the Klezmers, a band he still joins! Rare candid moments of his Stanton Moore Trio are also included. Stanton talks about heavy metal, the source of his dynamic attack and great shows in BCI#4. Subscribe to the Blues Center YouTube Channel to catch all the interviews!

This video made possible in part by a Community Partnership grant from the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Foundation.