Swamp Rock legend Tony Joe White dead at 75

Tony Joe White
(Image credit: Gems / Getty Images)

Singer songwriter Tony Joe White has died unexpectedly at his home in Leiper's Fork, Tennessee. He was 75.

The new was announced on Facebook in a short notice that read: "We are with broken hearts to announce that Tony Joe White has passed away at the age of 75. A true legend that will always be remembered as a real artist."

His son Jody White told The Tennessean, "He wasn’t ill at all. He just had a heart attack. There was no pain or suffering."

Tony Joe White was most famous for the songs Polk Salad Annie, which was a hit for him in 1969 and was covered by artists including Elvis Presley and Foo Fighters, and Rainy Night In Georgia, which White recorded in 1967 but was a hit for Brook Benton in 1970 and subsequently covered by hundreds of acts including Ray Charles, Otis Rush, Little Milton, Randy Crawford, Tennessee Ernie Ford, Johnny Rivers, Hank Williams, Jr., Aaron Neville, Boz Scaggs, David Ruffin and Shelby Lynne.

In January 2014, White told The Examiner, "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."

White was born in Oak Grove, Louisiana, in 1943, where pokeweed grows wild. "I spent the first 18 years of my life down there," said White. "My folks raised cotton and corn. There were lotsa times when there weren't too much to eat, and I ain't ashamed to admit that we've often whipped up a mess of polk sallet. Tastes alright too... a bit like spinach."

Another musician to cover White was Irish bluesman Rory Gallagher, whose version of As The Crow Flies appears on the Wheels Within Wheels album, while a live version is a highlight of Irish Tour 74. "He is very important," said Gallagher, "but underestimated everywhere."

White's solo career earned him cult status, with 1971's self-titled fourth album and the following year's The Train I'm On considered classics. Both feature White's signature swamp rock sound, a blend of New Orleans-style rhythm and blues and Country and Western, with traditional Cajun and Creole influences. His latest album, Bad Mouthin', was released via Yep Rock Records last month. 

"Tony Joe White was a true American original," said Yep Rock founder Glenn Dicker in a statement. "In everything he did he did it with his own unique voice. There was a gentle ease and flow that vibrated from the man. Always a positive vibe. 

"We have been very fortunate to have been able to work with Tony Joe over these past few albums and years. We’re grateful for all the wonderful music… and the hangs. We love you Tony Joe!"

Fraser Lewry

Online Editor at Louder/Classic Rock magazine since 2014. 38 years in music industry, online for 25. Also bylines for: Metal Hammer, Prog Magazine, The Word Magazine, The Guardian, The New Statesman, Saga, Music365. Former Head of Music at Xfm Radio, A&R at Fiction Records, early blogger, ex-roadie, published author. Once appeared in a Cure video dressed as a cowboy, and thinks any situation can be improved by the introduction of cats. Favourite Serbian trumpeter: Dejan Petrović.