When Tony Joe White traveled from rural Louisiana to Nashville hoping to market his songs he was asked what kind of music he made. His answer?
“Well, it’s kind of swampy.”
White’s specialty was writing about life in the South. Like polk salad.
Pokeweed or poke sallet (“salad”) is noxious. The leaves must be boiled in water three times to cook out their toxins. In some areas they can be found everywhere, with the stalks reaching eight feet in late summer. At that point the stalks bow down from the many berries that change from green to deep purple. Country legend Dolly Parton mentioned in her memoir that she would use crushed poke berries for lipstick as an adolescent, since her parents forbade her from wearing makeup.
White scored his first and biggest hit in 1969 with “Polk Salad Annie” that reached #8 on the pop chart. Soon Elvis recorded the song and made it a regular part of his live shows.
“[When] it was a big hit, the hippies would bring bags of grass to my dressing room and say, ‘We brought you a little polk,’ ” said White. “They thought polk salad was marijuana.”
White died last week at the age of 75.
“He wasn’t ill at all,” said his son, Jody White. “He just had a heart attack. … There was no pain or suffering.”
Tina Turner recorded White’s song, “Steamy Windows.” The two met in 2006.
“She turned around and looked at me and started hysterically laughing and couldn’t get her breath,” White said. “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.'”
Not many people know White wrote the following. Brook Benton had a #4 hit in 1970.