At the very first Ponderosa Stomp (I don’t even think it was called the Ponderosa Stomp yet, it might have been called the Knights Of The Mau Mau Ball), held at the Circle Bar in New Orleans (size: 750 square feet) Dr. Ike brought in, among dozens of other greats (Howard Tate, R.L. Burnside, Paul Burlison, Tousaint McCall, et al) Tony Joe White. I’d never seen him live but have always loved his records. He showed up with just a drummer, his guitar and a harmonica on a rack– Jimmy Reed style, and he blew what was left of my mind. He could play all the parts on his records— horns, strings, multiple guitar lines, etc. all on his guitar, just using his fingers (no pick). He just sat there and rocked, never looking at the crowd. He’ll always be best known for Polk Salad Annie, I Got A Thing About You Baby, and Rainy Night In Georgia, the first two better known by Elvis’ versions, the latter by Brook Benton.
From around ’69 to ’71 the music industry was hyping something called “swamp rock”: Creedence, Ronnie Hawkins, Tony Joe White, Dr. John, Joe South, and others were thrown into this marketing category. Even the Ventures, ever the bandwagon jumpers cut a “swamp rock” album. This was Tony Joe’s foot in the door, although it was his songwriting (having tunes cut by Elvis, Tina Turner, Brook Benton, etc.) that paid the bills.
Tony Joe White was born in Oak Grove, Louisiana, in 1943, way back in bayou country, his accent is as thick as motor oil, he was the oldest of seven children. Influenced by Lightnin’ Hopkins he began leading bands as a teenager, spending seven years on the chitlin’ circuit before getting signed to a recording and publishing contract by Monument. I don’t think any of these early bands– Tony Joe & the Mojos, Tony’s Twilights, etc. recorded, but I could be wrong.
I remember reading a quote from Kim Fowley about the greatest things he ever saw in his life, one was Tony Joe White backed by Booker T. & the M.G.’s, “He was Elvis that night” recalled the most quotable man in rock’n’roll history. I wish I had a tape of that, anyone know if it was ever released? He wasn’t Elvis the night I saw him, he was the white Jimmy Reed. Even more so than J.J. Cale, who does a pretty good white Jimmy Reed himself. He’s still at it, for a couple of grand he’ll show up at your bar, with a guitar, harmonica and drummer, and rock for an hour or so. Here’s a few more of my favorites– Did Somebody Make A Fool Out Of You,