Swamp-rock legend Tony Joe White, whose songs were covered by a galaxy of music stars including Elvis Presley and Tina Turner, died Wednesday, October 24, in his home at Leipers Fork, Tennessee.
“He wasn’t ill at all,” his son, Jody White, told US media this week. “He just had a heart attack.
“There was no pain or suffering.”
White, the renowned singer/songwriter of deep, dark and swampy hits like Who You Gonna Hoodoo Now, first appeared working Texas clubs in the mid-1960s before moving to Nashville in 1968.
He released his latest album, Bad Mouthin’, on the Yep Rock label in September this year, and had made his debut on the Grand Ole Opry on the same night.
At 71, the Swamp Fox could still cook, appearing on the David Letterman Show backed by the Foo Fighters in 2015.
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In March that year, the Newcastle Herald published the following report after speaking with White appeared on Letterman dressed in black from head to toe, with dark glasses, harmonica brace and his trademark whomper stomper electric guitar, it was Tony Joe as all his fans have come to know him.
Speaking with the Swamp Fox
March 2015: As Letterman said live on air afterwards, "I tell ya something, just between us, if I was this guy you could all kiss my ass."
Tony Joe White is back in Australia for his biannual tour. He's touring on the back of an album, Hoodoo, released late in 2013, just in case his audience wants some new music.
"Hoodoo has stirred up more commotion around the world than any album I've put out in a long time," he says from his hotel room in Sydney on a rainy Friday morning. "I've got a lot of swamp tunes, that was a good session."
White had to work hard to light a fire under his music when he began his recording career. Although music publisher Bob Beckham backed him, his record sales didn't catch on with the mainstream right away. His first pockets of success were in France, and south Texas.
With his constant touring and songwriting, one gets the feeling he's never forgotten how hard it is to get into the music industry, much less stay relevant. But he's always done it his own way - he's got about a half a dozen of those black cowboy hats; a few of them are Akubras, others from Texas Hatters.
And, for the record, the Foo Fighters came to him. Dave Grohl's Sonic Highways album and related HBO documentary series (available April 3) included visits to eight American cities to uncover their music roots. In Nashville, Grohl talked to Dolly Parton, Steve Earle, Willie Nelson, Emmylou Harris - and Tony Joe White. So Tony's splash on Letterman was a natural follow-up.
"We were talking about it before," White says. "Way back when Dave spent two days with me three months before. He knew the song real well."
Who wouldn't want to get inside White's mind: he's perfected the art of making music his own way.
Is there anybody chasing your sound?
"It's hard to say. I see a lot of bands around, travelling so much. A lot of them got a lot of blues. I don't think any of them has the swamp I've got. Writing the song has a lot to do with it."
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Songwriting is a constant process for White, as he explains: "I don't have a cellphone. I have too many songs going through the head. I need the free time to think.
"When I have a guitar lick in my head, I'll head to the river, make a fire, get a cold beer and usually wait on it. You sit there watching your cork go under or line get tied. You build a fire and let it go.
"As a rule, I can wait. The songs are handed down from up above and I just reach out and grab one."
Besides keeping the sun and stage lights out of his eyes, those black cowboy hats also keep the rain off White's head.
It's raining as we talk, in Newcastle and in Sydney.
"I can almost say 99 per cent of the places I go to it will shower or rain," he says with a hint of humour. "It's done it three days now. I think it's from all the rain songs, like Rainy Night In Georgia. Rain hunts me down, let's me know it's checking me out.
"I always play good when it's raining. My mum has half Cherokee. I love to see thunder, clouds above my head. It's a good feeling. I like walking in the rain."
Australia fits into that picture, too. He opened his tour at The Basement in Sydney and then Lizotte's at Dee Why. We talk the morning after that Dee Why date.
"Last night I had an absolutely great gig. The sound system was so good, all I had to do was whisper. The crowd was ready. It was raining outside. A perfect night.