THE STORY OF TONY JOE WHITE
aka “The Swamp Fox”
Tony Joe white was born in the small town of goodwill, louisiana on July 23rd, 1943.
He was the youngest of seven children who grew up working on a cotton farm. His family would sit around the campfire and play songs at night, a tradition that stayed with Tony Joe throughout his entire life.
He first began performing music at school dances, and after graduating from high school he began performing at clubs in Kingsville and Corpus Christi, Texas. While cutting his teeth on the club circuit, he met his wife Leann, who encouraged him to write his own songs and that’s when everything changed.
In 1967, White traveled to Nashville with nothing but a guitar and a suitcase. As luck would have it, he was able to get in the door of Bob Beckham’s office, a powerful music publisher who owned Combine Music, and he was instantly captivated by White’s look, sound and charisma. The music industry at that time had never seen someone who could cross over so many musical genres.
Things took off in 1969, when ‘Polk Salad Annie’ started climbing the charts and reached #8. On the heels of the release of his first album, ‘Black & White’, White began touring with Sly & the Family Stone, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Steppenwolf and played many huge festivals around the world including the Isle of Wight and the Texas International Pop Festival. Usually accompanied by just a drummer, White established himself as an enigmatic performer and guitar player. His career as being an A-list songwriter also took shape during this era as Brook Benton’s version of White’s song ‘Rainy Night in Georgia’ his #2 on the charts and Dusty Springfield had a hit with his song ‘Willie and Laura Mae Jones’.
Throughout the 70’s, White continued to release many classic albums including ‘…Continued’ (1969), ‘Tony Joe’ (1970), ‘Tony Joe White’ (1971), ‘The Train I’m On’ (1972), and ‘Homemade Ice Cream’ (1973). These albums all continued to illustrate that he knew no musical boundaries. He effortlessly crossed between rock, soul, blues and country. As the disco era came and went, he released three more albums ‘Eyes’ (1976), ‘The Real Thang’ (1990), and ‘Dangerous’ (1983). He also performed on Austin City Limits in 1981, which is still one of the rawest and most unhinged performances the show has ever seen.
After ‘Dangerous’, White stopped touring and releasing albums and focused solely on songwriting from 1983 to 1989. The career change paid off in a big way as White was approached by Roger Davies, who managed Tina Turner, which led to his comeback in 1989. He wrote 4 songs on Tina Turner’s wildly successful ‘Foreign Affair’ album, including the hit single ‘Steamy Windows’. In 1991, White released his first new album in 8 years titled ‘Closer to the Truth’. The album was a worldwide success and White signed with Remark Records which released ‘The Path of a Decent Groove’ (1993) and ‘The Path of a Decent Groove’ (1995) and ‘One Hot July’ (1999). During this time, White went back on the road and was met with great success. He went on to tour with Eric Clapton, Joe Cocker and played many major festivals throughout Europe.
In 2000, Tony Joe began working with his son Jody White on management and production. After self-releasing ‘The Beginning’ (2001) and ‘Snakey’ (2002), the father-son tandem began another late resurgence for The Swamp Fox. ‘The Heroines’ was released in 2004 and squarely put White back on the map. The album featured duets with Lucinda Williams, Shelby Lynne, Jessi Colter, Emmylou Harris and his daughter Michelle White. Sanctuary Records signed White and the album was a massive success and laid the framework for the years to come.
‘Uncovered’ was released by White’s own label Swamp Records in 2006 and featured duets with several true legends of the industry who he most admired, including Eric Clapton, Mark Knopfler, Waylon Jennings, Michael McDonald and J.J. Cale. The album was met with much adoration around the globe and again thrusted White back into the touring circuit. He returned to his bare-bones style of playing with only a drummer and had many successful tours in the USA, Europe and Australia. Fans were captivated by White’s ability to create such a full sound with only one accompanying musician.
Over the next 10 years, White’s fame continued to grow. He released 6 more albums which continued to illustrate his lack of boundaries. ‘Deep Cuts’ (2008) recreated some of White’s swamp classics in a R.L. Burnside inspired way. This led to placements on the TV shows ‘CSI’ and ‘Roswell’ and exposed White to a new audience. He later released ‘Live In Amsterdam’ which saw these new version of songs recreated in a live format. The release was swampy, wild, heavy and captured White in one time touring format.
After spending time in Taos, New Mexico, he released ‘The Shine’ (2010) which contained a beautiful collection of desert inspired songs. White then signed with Yep Roc Records and released ‘Hoodoo’ (2013), ‘Rain Crow’ (2016) and ‘Bad Mouthin’’ (2018). During this time White’s success achieved new heights. He performed all over the world including shows at Glastonbury, a performance on the Jools Holland Show and played with the Foo Fighters on the David Letterman Show.
The list of artists who recorded White’s songs is unparalleled: Elvis, Tina Turner, Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson, Joe Cocker, Tim McGraw, BB King, Buddy Guy, Kenny Chesney, Roy Orbison, Ray Charles, Dusty Springfield, Etta James, Robert Cray and many other high profile artists recorded his songs over the years. White’s lack of boundaries somehow inspired others and led to an incredibly successful career as a songwriter and performer.
White died suddenly of a heart attack on October 24th, 2018. He was a man who was revered as an original by everyone in the music industry. A true legend who treated music with respect and always followed his heart.