Austin City Limits is saddened to learn of the sudden death of singer/songwriter Tony Joe White of a heart attack at 75.
The Louisiana native started playing music while still in high school, inspired to start writing songs after hearing Bobbie Gentry’s “Ode to Billie Joe.” “Polk Salad Annie,” his fifth single, reached the top ten in 1969 and was the herald of his distinctive swamp rock sound, a funky blend of blues, soul, country and rock & roll that took advantage of his wah-wah guitar and deep, growling voice. While he never gained that kind of chart standing again, he had plenty of success as a writer with classic songs “Rainy Night in Georgia” (B.J. Thomas, Brook Benton), “Willie and Laura Mae Jones” (Dusty Springfield), “Steamy Windows” (Tina Turner), “I’ve Got a Thing About You Baby” (Elvis Presley, who also recorded “Polk Salad Annie”) and “¾ Time” (co-written and performed by Ray Charles), along with many others. He appeared on Austin City Limits in 1981 with a wide-ranging survey of his brilliant catalog. White continued to tour and record throughout the decades, with his most recent LP Bad Mouthin’ released in September of this year.
Tony Joe White was one of a kind, a pioneering iconoclast who can never be replaced. Here he is from his episode of ACL with “Polk Salad Annie.”