Tony Joe White, the country bluesman and hit songwriter behind such successes as “Polk Salad Annie” and “Rainy Night in Georgia,” has died. He was 75.
A statement released on Thursday from the record label Yep Roc Music Group said White’s family confirmed the rocker died on Wednesday in Nashville, Tennessee.
His son Jody said the cause of his father’s death was a heart attack.
Yep Roc records released his last album in September called “Bad Mouthin,”‘ a collection of blues classics.
Less than a month ago, White to a sold-house at the legendary Grand Ol’ Opry in Nashville, ending his set with the promise of a return engagement that now can never be.
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 and many more.
In his five decades as a singer-songwriter, White was best known for his swamp rock style mixing blues, country and rock ‘n’ roll, which earned him the nickname the Swamp Fox, especially with his fans outside the US.
With his deep growling voice, his song about the Southern greens wasn’t an immediate hit, but months after its release it eventually shot up the charts.
— Tony Joe White (@tonyjoewhite) October 1, 2018
White told The Associated Press in 2006 that in the late ’60s many people thought he was singing about something else.
“Back then, people thought polk salad was grass,” White 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 White’s songs, including “I’ve Got a Thing About You Baby.”
After the success of “Polk Salad Annie,” R&B artist Brook Benton had a hit in 1970 with White’s song “Rainy Night in Georgia,” which also became a song often covered by other artists.
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 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!”
Shooter Jennings, Waylon’s son, wrote on Twitter that his father would often record White’s songs or have White play on his records.
“He was always the Swamp King living in a modern world,” Jennings wrote. “His shows and his style were one of a kind and untouched by anybody else.”