Tony Joe White, legendary singer/songwriter who wrote “Polk Salad Annie” and “A Rainy Night In Georgia,” died late Wednesday at his home in Leipers Fork, Tennessee, near Nashville. He was 75.
White’s son, Jody, told “The Tennessean,” “He wasn’t ill at all. He just had a heart attack…there was no pain or suffering.”
White’s career spanned more than 50 years. In addition to his own recordings, his songs were recorded by Elvis Presley, Tina Turner, Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson, Joe Cocker, Tim McGraw, Kenny Chesney and Ray Charles, among others.
White’s most recent album, “Bad Mouthin’,” was released in September of this year. It featured five of his originals and was rounded out by several classics. He debuted on the Grand Ole Opry the day the album came out, September 28.
When the album was released, White said, “If there’s anything like a line connecting everything that I’ve done, I would say it’s realness. Even my songs that are sweet little love ballads —those are all real, inspired by real love and real life. Being real, being focused on what’s really going on around you, is something I learned early in my life.”
Glen Dicker, the co-founder of Yep Roc Records, where White recorded, said of the singer, “Tony Joe White was a true American original. 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!”
White wasn’t focused on one genre of music throughout his career. Instead, he covered everything from blues to rock, country and R&B and Americana. Fans followed him wherever he went with his music, as they knew it did come from within his heart and soul.
White was born in Oak Grove, Louisiana. Music was around him from an early age, but he said that it wasn’t until he heard Lightnin’ Hopkins play that he really became interested in guitar. His songwriting inspiration came after hearing “Ode To Billie Joe,” a tune made popular by Bobbie Gentry in 1967. His most popular tune, “Rainy Night In Georgia,” was recorded by Brook Benton and more than 100 other artists.
White is survived by his wife, Leann, daughter Michelle and sons Jim and Jody, plus grandchildren.
Many friends and peers took to Twitter to honor White. Among them, Shooter Jennings reminded that White and his father, Waylon Jennings, were close friends. “Tony Joe White has passed away. He was my dad’s best friend in Nashville… Tony was someone my dad really admired and loved … he would have Tony Joe play on his records any chance he got. He would frequently cut songs Tony Joe wrote and most of the time would sit and listen to Tony Joe’s new music. He had a profound musical influence on my dad…There was only one Tony Joe.”
Kenny Chesney wrote “Rest in peace, Tony Joe White. One of the true swampy Southern soulmen of all time…”
Comments continue to flow as news of his death spreads.