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.
Tony Joe White
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,
Even Trolls Love Rock’n’Roll, Roosevelt and Ira Lee, They Caught The Devil and Put Him In Jail, High Sheriff Of Calhoun Parish, Takin’ That Midnight Train. If you get a chance to see him, go. If anyone out there has any of the live stuff with Booker T. & the MG’s let me know!
19 thoughts on “Tony Joe White”
He did a disco album for Casablanca in 1980 – or at least HIS IDEA of a disco album – and that was a goodie, too. It was called THE REAL THANG.JP
Fantastic. I discovered him thru “Polk Salad Annie” (I do love Tom Jones' version, nothing like a Welshman saying, “Y'all ever been down South, well I'm here to tell y'all a little somethin' 'bout it”) but never knew much else.
His wha wha technique is out of control
Tony Joe and the Mojos had two singles on the J-Beck from Corpus Christi.
“Tony Joe and the Mojos had two singles on the J-Beck from Corpus Christi.”I'll track 'em down and post 'em, would you know if they have they been comped?
Gawddamn! What a motherfucker of a guitar player!!Of course, I remember when “Polk Salad Annie” was ubiquitous on the radio, but I don't think I've ever heard anything else the man has done.Wonderful!
I really like his version of Slim Harpo's “Baby Scratch My Back”.
Hell yeah, Big Tony Joe.I remember Polk Salad Annie from the radio, but for the longest time I thought he was black. The fact that his name was “White” made me think so even more.Best song title: “They Caught the Devil and Put Him in Jail in Eudora, Arkansas”Man, thanks for posting, your blog rocks.
Hey Elf, i think you spelled wah wah wrong, now you know why your music career never took off!Set 'em up Joe
“Hey Elf, i think you spelled wah wah wrong, “Hasil Adkins acquired one somewhere along the line and used to call it his “bow wow” pedal!
There is cool documentary called searching for Tony Joe about a couple of college kids who have just discovered his music and go looking for him. And let us not forget the stuff he did on Tina Turner's Foreign Affairs record
I can't find any info about the documentary you speak of, but I'd love to see it. I do remember he was in Catch My Soul, Jack Good's rock musical version of Othello (he played Cassio), one of the few things I remember about the movie which I saw at a drive-in in Fla. in the early 70's. I also remember he was on the old Johnny Cash tv show quite a few times.
yeah jimI like the 'white Jimmy Reed' tag…not many white boys lay that groove down…if I had a bar and some bread, I'd happily stump 2 grand for an evening with TJW…been digging him since the late 60s, but never seen him live..rock on the houndbreakfastgeorge
Opened a couple of shows for him out here in SF over the last couple of years. He does a really cool version of The Look of Love, believe it or not.
Tony Joe is seriously appreciated “overseas” — over several seas, actually — and seriously under-appreciated here, even by those who should know better. Saw him most recently about 4 yrs ago at the Village Underground with just “Rocky” his drummer, and the electric bass and Hammond B-3 (featured so nicely on his early records) was NOT missed one iota.
Although always a fan of Elvis' swamp/funk output and a big Jerry Reed fan, I didn't really seek out Tony Joe White until Southern Culture on the Skids name-dropped him in their song, VOODOO CADILLAC.His output seems to vary, so I'm trying to find the funkiest stuff. Thanks for this great post!
Further to Kim Fowley's comment about TJW and the MGs, one of the greatest things I've ever seen was Tony Joe backed by the Muscle Shoals rhythm section and the Memphis Horns at the It Came from Memphis festival in London, 2005. I've seen him solo a few times but this was something really extraordinary, the pulse of the swamp was made manifest in the room. Can't wait for his next trip to Europe – he's one of the few performers you never tire of seeing.
TJW is great. Unfortunately his recent records aren't very good imo. It always sounds the same. He has a new one out this month I believe.Anyway, for the livestuff, you can find TJW live in '71 with Donald “Duck” Dunn and Tony's regular musicians at that time I believe on this CD: http://www.tonyjoewhite.com/live-in-europe-1971/And be sure to check out the DVD “Live at Austin, TX” with a performance from 1980 on ACL. Great sound and he promotes and plays many songs from his great “The Real Thang”-album. Love it very muchDrop me a line for info, maybe I can help: firstname.lastname@example.org