Tony Joe White :: 1943-2018

When news broke of Tony Joe White’s death, nearly all the obituaries led with some mention of his hit single “Polk Salad Annie.” Of course, that will likely remain his signature song, covered by everybody from Elvis to the blues band currently playing down the street. But still, White was, at his best, a lot more than just a one-hit wonder.

First on his Monument records, and later on his run at Warner Brothers, White’s music drips with energy. Horns pop out of the corners, the guitar tone bangs off the walls, and White sings he’s telling a short story. He usually was. “Roosevelt and Ira Lee” is about two guys who go looking for bullfrogs and step on a water moccasin; “A Night in the Life of A Swamp Fox” is a swaggering, slyly funny look at the touring life. But my favorite is “They Caught the Devil and Put Him in Jail in Eudora, Arkansas,” a fun spin on Faustian bargains, where White goes out to borrow some cornmeal and ends up trying to sneak a peek at Satan.

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