Tony Joe White

Overview

photograph of Tony Joe White

Tony Joe White (Oak Grove, Louisiana, July 23, 1943 - October 24, 2018) was an American swamp rock singer-songwriter and guitarist, best known for his 1969 hit "Polk Salad Annie" and for "Rainy Night in Georgia", which he wrote but was first made popular by Brook Benton in 1970. He also wrote "Steamy Windows" and "Undercover Agent for the Blues", both hits for Tina Turner in 1989; those two songs came by way of Turner's producer at the time, Mark Knopfler, who is a friend of White. "Polk Salad Annie" was also recorded by Elvis Presley and Tom Jones.

Tony Joe White was the youngest of seven children who grew up on a cotton farm near Oak Grove, Louisiana. He first began performing music at school dances, and after graduating from high school he performed in night clubs in Texas and Louisiana.

In 1967, White signed with Monument Records, which operated from a recording studio in the Nashville suburb of Hendersonville, Tennessee, and produced a variety of sounds, including rock and roll, country and western, and rhythm and blues. Billy Swan was his producer.

Over the next three years, White released four singles with no commercial success in the U.S., although "Soul Francisco" was a hit in France. "Polk Salad Annie" had been released for nine months and written off as a failure by his record label, when it finally entered the U.S. charts in July 1969. It climbed to the Top Ten by early August, and eventually reached No. 8, becoming White's biggest hit.

White's first album, 1969's Black and White, was recorded with Muscle Shoals/Nashville musicians David Briggs, Norbert Putnam, and Jerry Carrigan, and featured "Willie and Laura Mae Jones" and "Polk Salad Annie", along with a cover of Jimmy Webb's "Wichita Lineman". "Willie and Laura Mae Jones" was covered by Dusty Springfield on her album Dusty in Memphis also recorded in 1969.

Three more singles quickly followed, all minor hits, and White toured with Steppenwolf, Anne Murray, Sly & the Family Stone, Creedence Clearwater Revival and other major rock acts of the 1970s, playing in France, Germany, Belgium, Sweden and England.

In 1973, White appeared in the film Catch My Soul, a rock-opera adaption of Shakespeare's Othello. White played and sang four and composed seven songs for the musical.

In late September 1973, White was recruited by record producer Huey Meaux to sit in on the legendary Memphis sessions that became Jerry Lee Lewis's landmark Southern Roots album.[citation needed] By all accounts,[citation needed] these sessions were a three-day, around-the-clock party, which not only reunited the original MGs (Steve Cropper, Donald "Duck" Dunn and Al Jackson, Jr. of Booker T. and the MGs fame) for the first time in three years, but also featured Carl Perkins, Mark Lindsay (of Paul Revere & the Raiders), and Wayne Jackson plus The Memphis Horns.

1980s
From 1976 to 1983, White released three more albums, each on a different label. Trying to combine his own swamp-rock sound with the popular disco music at the time, the results were not met with success and White gave up his career as a singer and concentrated on writing songs.

1990s comeback
In 1989, White produced one non-single track on Tina Turner's Foreign Affair album, the rest of the album was produced by Dan Hartman. Playing a variety of instruments on the album, he also wrote four songs,[2] including the title song and the hit single "Steamy Windows". As a result of this he became managed by Roger Davies, who was Turner's manager at the time, and he obtained a new contract with Polydor.

The resulting album, 1991's Closer to the Truth, was a commercial success[citation needed] and put White back in the spotlight. He released two more albums for Polydor; The Path of a Decent Groove and Lake Placid Blues which was co-produced by Roger Davies.

In the 1990s, White toured Germany and France with Joe Cocker and Eric Clapton, and in 1992 he played the Montreux Festival.

In 1996, Tina Turner released the song "On Silent Wings" written by White.

2000s
In 2000, Hip-O Records released One Hot July in the U.S., giving White his first new major-label domestic release in 17 years. The critically acclaimed The Beginning appeared on Swamp Records in 2001, followed by Heroines, featuring several duets with female vocalists including Jessi Colter, Shelby Lynne, Emmylou Harris, Lucinda Williams, and Michelle White, on Sanctuary in 2004, and a live Austin City Limits concert, Live from Austin, TX, on New West Records in 2006. In 2004, White was the featured guest artist in an episode of the Legends Rock TV Show and Concert Series, produced by Megabien Entertainment.

In 2007, White released another live recording, Take Home the Swamp, as well as the compilation Introduction to Tony Joe White. Elkie Brooks recorded one of White's songs, "Out of The Rain", on her 2005 Electric Lady album. On July 14, 2006, in Magny-Cours, France, White performed as a warm-up act for Roger Waters' The Dark Side of the Moon concert. White's album, entitled Uncovered, was released in September 2006 and featured collaborations with Mark Knopfler, Michael McDonald, Eric Clapton, and J.J. Cale.

The song "Elements and Things" from the 1969 album ...Continued features prominently during the horse-racing scenes in the 2012 HBO television series "Luck".

In 2013, White signed to Yep Roc Records and released Hoodoo. Mother Jones called the album "Steamy, Irresistible" and No Depression noted Tony Joe White is "the real king of the swamp." He also made his Live...with Jools Holland debut in London, playing songs from Hoodoo.

On October 15, 2014, White appeared on The Late Show with David Letterman alongside the Foo Fighters to perform "Polk Salad Annie". Pointing to White, Letterman told his TV audience, "Holy cow! ... If I was this guy, you could all kiss my ass. And I mean that."

In May 2016, Tony Joe White released Rain Crow on Yep Roc Records.[8] The lead track "Hoochie Woman" was cowritten with his wife, Leann. The track "Conjure Child" is a follow up to an earlier song, "Conjure Woman."

The album Bad Mouthin' was released in September 2018 again on Yep Roc Records. The album contains six self-penned songs and five blues standards written by, amongst others, Charley Patton and John Lee Hooker. On the album White also performs a cover of the Elvis Presley song Heartbreak Hotel. White plays acoustic and electric guitar on the album which was produced by his son Jody White and has a signature Tony Joe White laid back sound.

In 1969, deep voiced southern songsmith Tony Joe White had a U.S. Top 10 hit with his classic swamp rock tune "Polk Salad Annie". His bluesy songs have been covered by dozens of artists ranging from Elvis Presley and Tim McGraw, to Dusty Springfield and Tina Turner. His latest release in a forty plus year career is 2013's "The Gift".

Born in 1943, White was the youngest of seven children in a part-Cherokee family raised on a cotton farm, and first showed an interest in music at the age of 16 when he heard an album by Lightning Hopkins. He later began performing at school dances and night clubs, first as Tony and the Mojos and then as Tony and the Twilights.

After moving to Memphis in the late 1960's, White was signed to Monument records and his first single release was a Ray Stevens song "Georgia Pines".

White's 1969 debut album, Black And White, featured originals such as "Willie And Laura Mae Jones" and "Polk Salad Annie," and psychedelic ode to the west coast "Soul Francisco" which became a hit in France. The album also featured a cover of Jimmy Webb's "Wichita Lineman". His follow up record for Monument was "...Continued" followed by Tony Joe in 1970, his last for Monument.

By 1970 he released The Train I'm On marking the fifth album in Tony Joe White's career, and his second recorded for Warner Bros. it was produced by Jerry Wexler and recorded at the legendary Muscle Shoals studio in Alabama. Johnny Cash had White as a guest on his tv show twice, and in Europe White gained legendary status following a successful debut at the historic Isle of Wight Festival in 1970. White's 2nd record on Warner Bros. in 1971 was a self titled disc recorded in Memphis with The Memphis Horns.

In late September 1973, White was recruited by producer Huey P. Meaux to sit in on the legendary Memphis sessions that became the landmark Southern Roots album of Jerry Lee Lewis.

By all accounts, these sessions were a three day, around the clock party, which not only reunited the original MGs (Steve Cropper, Donald "Duck" Dunn and Al Jackson Jr. of Booker T. and the MGs fame) for the first time in three years, they also featured rockabilly icon Carl Perkins, Mark Lindsay (of Paul Revere and the Raiders), and Wayne Jackson and The Memphis Horns.

Throughout the 1970s and 1980s White toured in support of artists including Creedence Clearwater Revival and James Taylor. In the 1990s Tina Turner recorded four of his songs for her multi-platinum selling album Foreign Affairs, including the world-wide hit "Steamy Windows". With the advent of that project, White formed an alliance with Turner's manager, Roger Davies and his career began to soar.

In 1991 he signed with Remark, issued the Closer To The Truth album and spent the next two years touring Europe in support of Eric Clapton and Joe Cocker, among others. He cut two more albums for Remark, 1993's Path Of A Decent Groove and 1995's Lake Placid Blues, the latter garnering the first of two nominations for "Best R & B Album" from the Nashville Music Awards, (the second being, The Best Of Tony Joe White, a 1996 retrospective of his work on Warner Brothers). French audiences eagerly embraced White as the ‘Swamp Fox’ and in 1998, he became the subject of a French produced documentary: Tony Joe White-The Man From Down South.

In 1999, White went back to his roots and recorded One Hot July, in the swamps of Louisiana. He then toured Australia and Europe once again in support of the critically acclaimed album. In 2001, Audium and Koch Entertainment released The Beginning - a stripped-down acoustic album that received worldwide recognition and five star ratings in virtually every country.

Throughout the years, White has had songs recorded by dozens of major artists including Elvis, Ray Charles, Joe Cocker, Etta James, Hank Williams Jr, John Mayall, and Waylon Jennings. Brook Benton had a huge hit with Rainy Night In Georgia, and Rory Gallagher did a cover of White's song "As The Crow Flies" on his live album Irish Tour. More recently, White has worked with Marc Bryan of Hootie & The Blowfish and Michael McDonald. He has written and performed jingles for McDonalds and Levi's 501 Blues and been featured on movie soundtracks for Millennium, Selena and Hotspot. His music has also been featured in two HBO original films, and has a DVD out entitled Live from Austin, TX. in 2006 Rhino records compiled all of White's late 60's Monument albums into a deluxe ltd edition 40 CD boxset called "Tony Joe White - Swamp Music: The Complete Monument Recordings"

Another recent CD release is Heroes and Heroines, on his own label, Swamp Records. White says he created the company with his son Jody White, so that he could continue to produce music his way. His "Uncovered" came out in 2006 and features collaborations with Mark Knopfler, Michael McDonald, Eric Clapton, Waylon Jennings & Shelby Lynne.

White has played recent high profile slots including the 2008 New Orleans Jazz Fest and on In July 14, 2006 in Magny-Cours, France, as a warm-up act for Roger Waters' Dark Side Of The Moon concert.

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