Polk Salad Annie

Album: Black and White (1968)
Charted: 8
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  • The Louisiana singer/songwriter Tony Joe White acquainted America with the Southern cuisine polk salad on this track from his first album, which became a hit single in the summer of 1969. Polk salad is made from the leaves of the polkweed plant, but is not something you'll find in grocery stores since it's toxic - you have to boil it a few times before you can eat it. White explains in the song's folksy introduction that polk is "a plant that grows out in the woods and the fields, and it looks something like a turnip green." He then introduces Annie, a hardscrabble woman who made polk salad for her family, since that's all they could afford to eat.

    White grew up in Oak Grove, Louisiana near the Mississippi River, and wrote what he called "swamp songs" about the folks from the area. "Annie, she could have been one of maybe three or four girls along that river there because all the girls were kinda tomboys," he said in our 2013 interview. "They loved to fish, climb trees shoot rifles. That kind of stuff. So Annie could have been anybody. It's just like 'Old Man Willis,' 'Roosevelt and Ira Lee.' All those were real people that I grew up with."
  • White does enjoy a good polk salad. "I ate a bunch of it growing up on the cotton farm," he told us. "It grows wild, and you pick it a certain time during the year, and you boil it and cook it like greens. My mother said it had a lot of iron in it and stuff for us kids, so it was something that tasted real good to me back then. I still eat some every spring."
  • This being the late '60s, many listeners thought that "polk salad" was code for marijuana. White explained: "The early days on the tour we was out and it was a big hit, a lot of the hippie festivals, flower children and everybody, they would bring deep bags of grass back to the dressing room or back in my tent. And they said, 'We brought you a little polk.' They all thought polk salad was marijuana. And I was, like, 'That's not the kind I'm talking about.' Anyway, everybody got it after a while."
  • Elvis Presley played this at many of his concerts, including a performance on February 18, 1970 at the International Hotel in Las Vegas that was included on his live album On Stage. For Tony Joe White, this was a thrill, since he performed a lot of Elvis songs when he first started out.

    Elvis arranged for White, who was living in Memphis at the time, to fly to Vegas so he could be in the audience for the concerts that were compiled into On Stage. "They recorded it, like, six, seven nights in a row, so every night after the show, we would sit back in the dressing room and talk and hang out," White told us. "He had an old acoustic guitar back there and he would always get me to play him an old blues lick or something. And then he would try and learn it. He loved guitar but he really didn't play it a lot. He treated me really good, though, every time I was around him."

    This live version of the song was released it as a single, issued in America in 1973.
  • Recorded at RCA Victor Studios in Nashville, the Black and White album was produced by Billy Swan, who had a #1 hit as a solo artist in 1974 with "I Can Help." Musicians on this track were David Briggs (organ), Norbert Putnam (bass) and Jerry Carrigan (drums). White played the guitar and harmonica.

Comments: 2

  • Barry from Sauquoit, NyPer: http://www.oldiesmusic.com/news.htm {10-25-2018}...
    Tony Joe White, the Oak Grove, Louisiana native best known writing and performing the swamp rock classic “Polk Salad Annie” (#8 in 1969), died of a heart attack Wednesday (October 24th, 2018) at his home in Leiper's Fork, Tennessee, he was 75...
    Though his only other top 50 tune was the follow-up, “Roosevelt And Ira Lee” (#44) that same year, Tony Joe also wrote Brook Benton’s “Rainy Night In Georgia” (#4 in 1970) as well as four tunes on Tina Turner’s 1989 album, 'Foreign Affair', one of which was the single “Steamy Windows” (#39 in 1990)...
    He appeared in the 1974 film version of 'Catch My Soul', a rock opera version of Shakespeare’s 'Othello', with Richie Havens...
    May he R.I.P.
  • Barry from Sauquoit, NyOn June 14th 1969, Tony Joe White performed "Polk Salad Annie" on the ABC-TV program 'American Bandstand''...
    Fifteen days later on June 29th, 1969 "Polk Salad Annie" would entered Billboard's Hot Top 100 chart at position #86; seven weeks later on August 17th it would peak at #8 {for 1 week} and it stayed on the chart for 12 weeks...
    He had three other records make Top 100 chart; "Roosevelt and Ira Lee (Night of the Mossacin)" {#44 in 1969}, "Save Your Sugar for Me" {#94 in 1970}, and "I Get Off On It" {#79 in 1980}...
    Tony Joe White will celebrate his 72nd birthday next month on July 23rd {2015}.
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