A true icon of swamp rock, Tony Joe White parlayed his songwriting talent and idiosyncratic vocals into a modestly successful country and rock career in Europe as well as America. Born July 23, 1943, in Goodwill, Louisiana, White was born into a part-Cherokee family. He began working clubs in Texas during the mid-'60s and moved to Nashville by 1968.
Tony Joe White is a genre unto himself. Sure, there are other artists who can approximate White's rich gumbo of blues, rock, country, and bayou atmosphere, but almost 50 years after "Polk Salad Annie" made his name, you can still tell one of his records from its first few moments. 2016's Rain Crow confirms White hasn't lost his step in the recording studio. Produced by his son Jody White, Rain Crow is lean, dark, and tough; the bass and drums (Steve Forrest and Bryan Owings) are implacable and just a bit ominous, like the sound of horses galloping in the distance, while the flinty report of White's guitar sketches out the framework of the melodies and lets the listener's imagination do the rest…
Tony Joe White, aka the Swamp Fox, has been on a roll these past few years, issuing album after self-released album of quality original material full of deep, dark, blues-flavored Florida vintage roots music.Heroines is no exception, but it is a record with a twist. First, it's on the Sanctuary label. Secondly, five of the record's 12 tracks are recorded with female vocalists in duet. They include the great Jessi Colter, Shelby Lynne, Emmylou Harris, Lucinda Williams, and Michelle White. The set opens with "Gabriella," a brief, jazzy flamenco-kissed instrumental, played on a pair of acoustic guitars. "Can't Go Back Home" stars Lynne. A true laid-back Tony Joe nocturnal swamp blues, it nonetheless carries within it that slightly menacing tension. Lynne's voice, which is well known for its power, showcases its other side here, one that is expressive, soulful and sensual even on slow burn. White's vocal whispers its edgy truth, underscored by his signature guitar sound.
Tony Joe White's Hard to Handle album is built around a concert recording made in 1969 or 1970. It features White swaggering through a clutch of tough-as-rock blues and soul covers like Big Joe Williams' "Baby Please Don't Go," Otis Redding's "Hard to Handle" and Jimmy Reed's "You Got Me Runnin'," as well as some originals. "I Want You" is a sludgy, nasty groover that has some truly scuzzy guitar solos and sounds like it could have come off a Jon Spencer Blues Explosion record, one of White's trademark swampy story songs "Roosevelt & Ira Lee (Night of the Moccasin)," and "When You Touch Me," a slight and uninteresting jam. Too bad the whole concert sounds like it was recorded through a wall of steel wool. The vocals are muffled at times; the sound cuts in and out and generally sounds no better than a hastily made bootleg. A couple of the songs ("I Want You" in particular) show White to be a dynamic performer with a lot more guts than one might imagine.
Revered as one of the originators of swamp rock, Tony Joe White has recast a number of his classic songs on Deep Cuts, proving that time has no jurisdiction over funky. His signature groove, starting from his 1969 hit "Polk Salad Annie," is what he uses to paint a vivid picture of the world he experienced growing up, where poverty provided unity between otherwise divided races and bad-news women were sometimes too good to pass up. Tony Joe cut the tracks with his son Jody providing a rich palette of beats and loops, utilizing both digital and live drums, strings, organs, and the unmistakable timbre of his guitar. White's time-worn baritone is positively haunting, like a restless spirit conjured by the funk that was always the core of his music.
Tony Joe's first U.S. release since 1983 finds the swamp-rocker in rare form. Produced by Roger Davies – Tina Turner's manager/producer, and the one responsible for her '80s breakthrough – this is the most cohesive album he's made since his early Monument LPs with Billy Swan. Tony Joe is kept tightly focused with a small combo (Hammond organ, bass, drums), and the rest of the space in the mix is occupied by the star's funky guitar, harmonica, and breathy vocals, recorded so close he sounds like he's two inches from the listener's face. It also helps that Tony Joe's songwriting skills have only sharpened over the years; the disc is simply loaded with great songs, including "Crack the Window Baby," "Gumbo John," "I Want My Fleetwood Back," and the moody "Cold Fingers," "I Believe I've Lost My Way," and "Across From Midnight." One of his very best, and as highly recommended as they come.
Tony Joe White's albums from the 1990's are all more stripped down and blues-oriented than his more well-known material from his "Polk Salad Annie"/"Rainy Night In Georgia" heyday. But although blues has been his main idiom for the past decade or so, "Lake Placid Blues" is mainly distinguished by two of the finest rockers of White's career, the title track and "The Beach Life". This set also includes "Let The Healing Begin", which had been covered to fine effect by Joe Cocker, but I like Cocker's version much better. Other highlights include "Louisiana Rain", "Down Again", and "The Guitar Don't Lie". Another fine set by a woefully underappreciated talent.
Tony Joe White says he always saw the friends he invited to play on his new album–Eric Clapton, Mark Knopfler, J.J. Cale, Michael McDonald, and the late Waylon Jennings–as "keepers of the fire." They're also premier custodians of loneliness and despair, the two emotions that lie at the heart of this hypnotic submersion into country/swamp blues. From the kickoff track, "Run for Cover," with Wayne Jackson of the Memphis Horns, these meditations on mourning–lost lovers, spiritual struggles, anxiety that knows no name and no bottom–grab the listener fast and pull him down into swirling dark waters.
You'll recognise the wonderful Steamy Windows (covered by good friend Tina Turner with TJW backing her) but the awesome opening track Tunica Motel which tells of Tony Joe's return to his blues roots sets the stage for the whole album. Tunica Motel has it all - strong hooks and TJW's strong songwriting which starts as a song about getting away from it all, and becomes, gradually, a gut-spilling account. "I'm so tired of fighting with myself…" confesses TJW. Later, when he's contemplating his musical direction, he "sees the ghost of Robert Johnson" and for me the line brings an involunatary tingle down my spine every time I hear it, which is often. Tony Joe is Back! In this album he reintroduces us to his warm Stratocaster blues in gorgeous tracks: Ain't Going Down This Time and You're Gonna Look in Blues. In some ways these marked a new sound that he'd develop on subsequent albums - moving us closer to his use of Spanish guitar.