Tony Joe White - his music

Latest review of his new CD and tour in Australia in 1999

TONY JOE WHITE Two's Company

Two years ago a sweat drenched Tony Joe White stood on the stage of the Fly By Night Club.

At the end of a long set and promised he’d be back soon. A man of his word, White returns to the Fly for shows this Saturday and Sunday.

Australia has long had a love affair with this rangy master of the laid back blues. Since way back in the dark days of the 60's Aussies have taken his songs of Polk Salad Annie, The High Sheriff Of Calhoun Parrish and a Rainy Night In Georgia, to name a few to heart. As he has become better known as a songwriter than singer, his home country may have lost interest but here in Australia, and mainland Europe, we have remained a little closer to the truth.

American may have thought Tina Turner owned Steamy Windows, but anyone who encountered White's dripping take on the song knows way better. This is as down home as down home gets. In Gumbo John, a track from White’s brand new album One Hot July he drawls, Southern culture is on the skids but it sure is fun' and it’s hard to argue.

The South, in White's music, is a place where people are too busy scraping a living to worry about another man's colour.

It is also a place people were raised to love, but also to realise that they would also gonna have to move if they were gonna make a living. Musicians are little different and so as White and his family headed North he followed the trail of all rural folk in the second half of this century.

One Hot July was something of a homecoming, in that it is the first album White recorded in his home state. When White returned from the last Australian tour he wasn't home more than two days before he decided to head down to Bogalusa, Louisiana to tape a bunch of new songs he had a thing about, baby.

White says his voice and guitar were cocked as if under a trigger finger. His senses were still alive with the sights and sounds of the Australian shows.

It took less than three nights to complete the tracks. A couple of overdubs were added in coming days, most obviously extra guitar and harmonica parts, but at least eight of the 13 songs were first takes.

"It was one of them things where 1 knew 1 wanted to go back to my home state to record these songs" explained White last week. "That little studio was in a town called Bogalusa, which is out of New Orleans, back in the swamps. You can step outside at night and you can hear the alligators and bullfrogs bellowing. 1 wanted the sound to be real swampy, so 1 went back home to cut it."

At a loss as to why it took 30 years as a recording artist to get back to Louisiana to record, White concedes he has probably missed a great deal by this absence.

"I often thought 1 messed up by not going down there. That's my roots but 1 was always in Muscle Shoals or Memphis or Nashville. The guy from that studio kept sending me brochures through the years. He kept telling me 1 had to get back there and he was right. It brought guitar licks out of me and things in my voice 1 would never have done anywhere else."

The album features a five-piece combo. That's three more than White sees as necessary on stage.

For this weekend's shows White will be accompanied only by drummer Marc ‘Boom Boom’ Cohn. He enjoys the freedom of needing to blend only three ingredients of the show: White, Cohn and the audience. Keeping things this simple White believes the night is free to take its own shape.

"On some of the new tunes 1 know I'll miss the licks of Dr. Gloom on B3 but when you play by yourself, the song takes its own shape. You let it go and then it's OK to let it play the other way."

The freedom he speaks of is most obvious in the way White lays out his set list. He begins with maybe five or six songs of his choice then turns it over to the floor for requests. This continues for the duration of a two-hour plus set. Anybody who went both nights last time will vouch for the variety of songs White and Cohn attempted. On the last night someone called for Homemade Ice Cream a tune the writer hadn't picked in nearly 25 years. Still he had a shot at it.

"To me, the audience is as much of the show as the entertainer. There's things they like to hear, and they should hear it. You shouldn't just come out throw a bunch of things on people and say, 'hey, listen to this'. 1 love to do them old swamp tunes and it's fun to do it, so 1 take requests and that's the way it happens."


Tony Joe White - his music / Martin Doppelbauer / November 2000 /