Tony Joe White, “Polk Salad Annie”

“You can only eat the leaves if they’re cooked right, and you can’t eat the berries, they’re poisonous,” White recently told American Songwriter.

Before his death last week of a heart attack at age 75, Tony Joe White was known as a one-of-a-kind singer and writer with a laconic delivery and lyrical gift that were truly unique. In the summer of 1969, this guy who was clearing his throat, mumbling with a swampy drawl, and talking about a grandma being eaten by an alligator was all over the airwaves, playing a funky blues guitar and singing about some kind of vegetable dish most people above the Mason-Dixon Line had never heard of. Enough eventually bought the record to send it to the top 10 on Billboard. The song was “Polk Salad Annie.” White had pulled into Nashville from a $15-a-night gig in a Corpus Christi, Texas club, trying to find out what he needed to do to make records and get them played on the radio. In just a few months, against all commercial odds, he was well on his way to doing just that. He got a deal on the Monument Records label, which released the single “Polk Salad Annie” from his debut album, the Billy Swan-produced Black and White. The song was about a poor girl from the other side of…

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