Country bluesman, hit songwriter Tony Joe White dies at 75

FILE - In this Oct. 14, 2014 file photo, Tony Joe White attends the premiere of HBO's "Foo Fighters Sonic Highway" in New York. White, who had a hit in 1969 with “Polk Salad Annie” and whose songs were covered by music greats like Elvis Presley, Hank Williams Jr., Tina Turner, Ray Charles and Waylon Jennings, died Wednesday, Oct. 24, 2018. He was 75. (Photo by Andy Kropa/Invision/AP, File)
Andy Kropa/Invision/Associated Press/File
Mr. White wrote such songs as “Rainy Night in Georgia.’’

NASHVILLE — Tony Joe White, the country bluesman and hit songwriter behind such successes as ‘‘Polk Salad Annie’’ and ‘‘Rainy Night in Georgia,’’ died Wednesday in Nashville. He was 75.

The record label Yep Roc Music Group, which released his last album last month, said his family confirmed the death, but the label did not have any details on the cause.

Mr. White, originally from Louisiana, had a hit in 1969 with ‘‘Polk Salad Annie’’ and his songs were covered by Elvis Presley, Hank Williams Jr., Tina Turner, Ray Charles, Waylon Jennings, among others.


In his five decades as a singer-songwriter, Mr. White was best known for his swamp rock style mixing blues, country, and rock ‘n’ roll, which earned him the nickname the Swamp Fox. With his deep growling voice, his song about the Southern greens wasn’t an immediate hit, but it eventually became one.

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Mr. White said in 2006 that in the late ‘60s many people thought he was singing about something else.

‘‘Back then, people thought polk salad was grass,’’ he said. ‘‘They’d bring me bags of grass backstage and say, ‘Hey, we brought you a little polk.’’’

Presley often covered the song in the 1970s and performed it with relish, waving his arms over his head and dancing throughout the song. He would later record more of Mr. White’s songs, including ‘‘I’ve Got a Thing About You Baby.’’

Raised on a cotton farm in Goodwill, La., about 20 miles west of the Mississippi River, Mr. White became infatuated with the hypnotic sound of Lightnin’ Hopkins and has often cited the song ‘‘Ode to Billie Joe’’ by Bobbie Gentry as his inspiration for songwriting.


After the success of ‘‘Polk Salad Annie,’’ R&B artist Brook Benton had a hit in 1970 with Mr. White’s song ‘‘Rainy Night in Georgia,’’ which was also often covered by other artists.

Jennings and Mr. White also wrote ‘‘Trouble Man,’’ which Jennings recorded in 1989. Mr. White worked with Turner on her critically acclaimed and popular ‘‘Foreign Affair’’ album in 1989, contributing four songs and playing guitar and harmonica.

He said also in 2006 that Turner was taken aback when they first met.

‘‘She turned around and looked at me and started hysterically laughing and couldn’t get her breath,’’ he recalled. ‘‘She was doubling over and I thought, ‘Are my pants unzipped or something?’ Finally she got her breath and came over to me and gave me a big hug and said, ‘I’m sorry, man. Ever since ‘Polk Salad Annie’ I always thought you were a black man.’’’

Mr. Turner recorded his song ‘‘Steamy Windows,’’ which was later recorded by John Anderson and Kenny Chesney.


Tanya Tucker, who recorded his song ‘‘Gospel Singer,’’ said in a statement that Mr. White’s writing and voice were both raw and pure.

‘‘A big part of the South is quiet now with his passing,’’ she said. ‘‘Reckon God wanted a little polk salad!’’

‘‘He was always the Swamp King living in a modern world,’’ Waylon Jennings’s son, Shooter, wrote on Twitter. ‘‘His shows and his style were one of a kind and untouched by anybody else.’’

His last record, ‘‘Bad Mouthin,’’’ was a collection of blues classics.