×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Tony Joe White, ‘Polk Salad Annie’ Singer, Dies at 75

Swamp-rocker Tony Joe White, a cult-favorite singer/songwriter whose songs were covered by everyone from Elvis Presley to Tina Turner, died Wednesday at 75.

White had just released his latest album, “Bad Mouthin’,” on the Yep Rock label Sept. 28 and had made his debut on the Grand Ole Opry that same night.

“He wasn’t ill at all,” his son, Jody White, told the Tennessean. “He just had a heart attack…there was no pain or suffering.” The Louisiana native died at his home in Leipers Fork, Tennessee, outside of Nashville.

White recorded more than 20 albums, beginning in 1969, but had his only serious brush with the charts as a performer with “Polk Salad Annie,” which reached No. 8 in 1969. The song became even better known as a staple of Presley’s repertoire, showing up in Elvis’ live albums and concert movies in the early 70s. Another early composition became an even bigger hit via a popular cover version, as Brook Benton’s version of “Rainy Night in Georgia” reached No. 4 on the Billboard Hot 100 and topped the soul chart in 1970.

The extent to which White was a hero to the music intelligentsia became evident when the Foo Fighters performed “Polk Salad” with White on David Letterman’s program in 2014. That performance (see video, below) drove the talk show host to a rare level of effusiveness. “Oh my God!” exclaimed Letterman. “Holy cow! Man alive. I tell you something, this is just between us, if I was this guy, you could all kiss my ass — and I mean that. That was delightful. My God!”

Others who recorded White’s songs included Tina Turner (who included four on her 1989 “Foreign Affair” album), Ray Charles, Kenny Chesney, Eric Clapton, Willie Nelson, Rod Stewart, Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings, Tom Jones, Dusty Springfield, Shelby Lynne, Nancy Wilson, Etta James, Isaac Hayes, Hank Williams Jr., Los Lonely Boys, John Anderson, Joe Bonamassa and Carmen McRae. Common and Kanye West both sampled his song “Stud-Spider.” HIs song “I’ve Got a Thing About You, Baby” was also covered by Presley and showed up on the 2016 album that combined Elvis’ vocals with new arrangements from the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra.

His September release, his first full-on blues album, had received generally good reviews, with American Songwriter saying it “resonates with the dark, ominous, rootsy authenticity Tony Joe White has always exuded” and noting that his “dusky baritone voice, laconic delivery, shadowy harmonica and snakelike guitar were never more than a few chords away from a bluesman’s approach.” He was a favorite among Americana enthusiasts in the UK, where Uncut magazine hailed the latest album as a “haunting late-career contemplation.”

White had canceled tour dates in Australia for October after the Opry date, with a promoter announcing, “After a recent show at Nashville’s legendary Ryman, the great man was almost unable to walk after suffering severe pain in his calves and had to be helped off the stage while in extreme pain. Since then the discovery of a bulging disk in his back has meant an immediate end to future engagements that involve significant travel until physical therapy can hopefully reinstate him to a healthy state for travel.”

His last Los Angeles appearance was just over two months ago, when the Grammy Museum hosted an “evening with” performance and Q&A.

He’d previously appeared at the Grammy Museum in 2016, when the Los Angeles Times recounted some of the stories he told from the stage. One of them involved meeting Tina Turner in 1989, when she was devoting a good portion of her album to his material. “I walked into her dressing room, and she was putting on her makeup, and she looked into the mirror and just started laughing,” White said. “It went on for quite a long time. Finally she said, ‘And all this time, I thought you were black!'”

White is survived by his wife, Leann, his children Michelle, Jim Bob and Jody (who produced several of his latter-day recordings), and several grandchildren. Funeral arrangements are pending.

More Music

  • R. KellyR. Kelly in concert at

    'Surviving R. Kelly' Producers on the Lifetime Doc's Ripple Effect

    The ripple effect of “Surviving R. Kelly” continues to widen more than a week after the documentary aired on Lifetime, renewing public interest — and outrage — over the litany of sexual abuse allegations against the R&B artist. Lady Gaga and Phoenix have apologized for working with him. Chance the Rapper and other artists are said to [...]

  • Jeremy Vuernick

    Capitol Music Group Promotes Jeremy Vuernick to Executive VP of A&R

    Jeremy Vuernick has been promoted to Executive Vice President of A&R for Capitol Music Group, it was announced today by CMG COO Michelle Jubelirer and president Ashley Newton. In his elevated position, Vuernick will draw upon his broad experience as an A&R executive to sign and develop artists for the company, as well as oversee recording projects for new and [...]

  • DJ Khaled Bad Boys

    DJ Khaled Joins 'Bad Boys' Sequel (EXCLUSIVE)

    DJ Khaled has rounded out the cast of Sony’s upcoming “Bad Boys” sequel “Bad Boys for Life,” joining returning stars Will Smith and Martin Lawrence. Khaled will also join series newcomers Vanessa Hudgens, Alexander Ludwig, Charles Melton, Jacob Scipio, and Paola Nuñez. Joe Pantoliano is on board to return as Captain Howard. Production is currently [...]

  • Rihanna Super Bowl

    Rihanna Sues Father For Exploiting Their Last Name

    Rihanna sued her father on Tuesday, alleging that he has traded on their last name to solicit millions in investments. Ronald Fenty, who lives in Barbados, is accused in the lawsuit of establishing Fenty Entertainment in an effort to exploit his superstar daughter’s fame. Rihanna — whose full name is Robyn Rihanna Fenty — says [...]

  • BTS 'Burn the Stage: The Movie'

    BTS 'Burn the Stage: The Movie' Documentary Set to Hit YouTube Premium Service

    “Burn the Stage: The Movie,” a documentary following K-pop group BTS on their 2017 concert tour, will be streaming on the YouTube Premium subscription service starting this Friday. The movie is based on the previous YouTube original series “BTS: Burn the Stage.” Since its release in theaters worldwide last November, “Burn the Stage: The Movie” has [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content