A white singer and guitarist who had the black blues in his blood, mastered soul and rock and influenced the music of the U.S. South like no other: that was tony joe white, who has now died at the age of 75.
His "swamp rock" – loosely translated: rock music from the deepest swamps – has inspired musicians like eric clapton or creedence clearwater revival. White songs were covered by world stars like elvis presley, ray charles, tina turner and randy crawford.
First, white’s current record label, yep roc, had reported the artist’s death on thursday night, citing his family, and expressed "deep respect and admiration". The 75-year-old died wednesday at his home in leiper’s fork in the U.S. State of tennessee "under natural circumstances," he said.
In september, the musician, who has been active for more than 50 years, had released his new album "all mouthin’", on which he returned to classic, stripped-down blues with guitar and harmonica. By that time, the dark mellifluousness with which white had once sung the beautifully melancholy ballad "rainy night in georgia" had disappeared from his voice. The primal, raw record was nevertheless celebrated by critics and fans like most of his works.
"Polk salad annie" and said "rainy night in georgia," both from 1969, were key songs for tony joe white’s long, prolific career. This marked the start of the 23. The musician, who was born in goodwill/louisiana on july 1943, began his career in texas and the country music metropolis of nashville/tennessee, and was characterized less by his own top hits than by the success of other singers with his atmospherically brilliant songs.
"Rainy night in georgia" alone became an "american standard" and was recorded dozens of times – first by african-american brook benton, who reached number four on the US charts in 1970, and later by ray charles, randy crawford, aaron neville, shelby lynne and boz scaggs.
And "polk salad annie" was also part of the repertoire of more than 40 other singers – from johnny hallyday to tom jones to elvis presley. The "king of rock’n’roll" led white’s "for ol’ times sake" and "I’ve got A thing about you baby" into the charts in the 70s.
By the ’80s – a decade that had little to offer white’s earthy, handmade "swamp rock" – the singer-songwriter was largely out of the big time. Until he collaborated with tina turner, who was at the height of her career at the time, for her album "foreign affair" (1989) – he wrote four songs, played harmonica and guitar, for example on the huge hit "steamy window". Since then, with regular albums and tours, white has been a highly respected figure in traditional rock and blues.
"Tony joe white was a true american original," was how yep roc records co-founder glenn dicker paid tribute to the singer and guitarist the day after his death. "Everything he did, he did with his own unique voice."
The label quotes the musician thus: "if there is such a thing as a connecting line between all that I have done – then it is probably truthfulness. Even my pretty little love songs are true, inspired by real love and real life."Words made for white’s tombstone.