Tony Joe White
July 23, 1943-October 24, 2018
Hometown: Oak Grove, Louisiana
One of seven children, Tony Joe White, was raised on a cotton farm near the small town of Oak Grove, Louisiana. When he was sixteen, his older brother Charles brought home a Lightnin' Hopkins album, and Tony began to pick up the blues guitar. White was influenced not only by local bluesmen and country singers but also by the Cajun music of Louisiana. After graduation from high school, he played in nearby nightclubs in Louisiana and Texas.
White formed his first band, Tony White & His Combo, with Robert McGuffey and Jim Griffith, followed by Tony Joe and the Mojos and Tony's Twilights. He worked in the small nightclubs of the south for seven years before deciding to go solo, writing and singing his own material. "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, eventually reaching No. 8 and becoming White's biggest hit. After the success of "Polk Salad Annie" in 1969, White toured with some of the biggest rock acts of the 1970s, including Credence Clearwater Revival. "Polk Salad Annie" was recorded by a number of other artists, including Elvis.
White built a reputation in the U.S. as a consummate songwriter and arranger. His second hit "Rainy Night in Georgia," was also covered by a variety of artists, including Tina Turner, Joe Cocker, Ray Charles, Aretha Franklin, and Hank Williams, Jr. 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.
In France, his music became very popular and was referred to as "Swamp Rock." White himself was given the nickname the 'Swamp Fox.' In 1991, White recorded his first album in many years. "Closer to the Truth" charted all over Europe, Australia, and New Zealand, sparking an extensive European tour where he opened for such greats as Joe Cocker and Eric Clapton. White also wrote and performed jingles for McDonald's and Levi's 501 Blues.
Tony Joe White was inducted into the Museum of the Gulf Coast, Music Hall of Fame, in 1999.