RIP Tony Joe White. Tony reigned supreme as one of the true masters of funky bluesy swamp rock. The singer/songwriter/guitarist unexpectedly passed away today aged 75.
Tony directly credited Bobbie’s ‘Ode To Billie Joe’ with turning him into a songwriter. Discussing the genesis of his first composition ‘Polk Salad Annie’ he recalled “I heard ’Ode to Billie Joe’ on the radio and I thought, man, how real, because I am Billie Joe, I know that life. I’ve been in the cotton fields. At that time I was doing a lot of Elvis and John Lee Hooker onstage with my drummer. No original songs, and I hadn’t really thought about it. But after I heard Bobbie I sat down and thought … well I know about polk because I had ate a bunch of it and I knew about rainy nights because I spent a lot of rainy nights in Marietta, Georgia. So I was real lucky with my first tries to write something that was not only real and hit pretty close to the bone, but lasted that long. So it was kind of a guide for me then on through life to always try to write what I know about.”
Tony and Bobbie later became friends and he guested on her 1971 BBC TV series. In one of his last interviews he said that some years later “she wrote me a letter and said, ‘We’ll still get together, maybe, and try to write the song we were talking about. But right now, I’m pulling away from the music business.’ I framed that letter. I still have it in my studio. Hand-wrote.”