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The Drop: Tony Joe White

GRAMMY Museum® Mississippi welcomes Tony Joe White to the Sanders Soundstage on Thursday, June 7 for a discussion about his recent album, Rain Crow, followed by a special performance.


Tony Joe White grew up around cotton, the youngest of seven children raised on his father’s farm. Young Tony Joe was alert to every detail of his surroundings: its aromas, tastes and sounds, the scent and feel of swampland. He knew well the trials of work in the fields and the stories spun late at night, stories peopled by preacher men and conjure women, serenaded by train whistles and illuminated by spells and signs.

From White’s first club gigs some 50 years ago, and since his debut album Black and White in 1969, these memories have taken shape in his songs. Many of them were covered by other artists: “Rainy Night in Georgia” by Brook Benton and Hank Williams Jr., “Willie and Laura Mae Jones” by Dusty Springfield, and of course “Polk Salad Annie” by Elvis. But others really couldn’t survive in anyone’s hands but his — the ones that flowed over hypnotic single-chord drones, with White’s slithery guitar fills and husky, haunted vocals.

White has lived long enough to see plenty of changes. His star rose, leading to collaborations with Eric Clapton, Mark Knopfler, Tina Turner, J.J. Cale and other admirers. At the same time, recording and concert technology changed the act of making and playing music into something foreign to those who were schooled on John Lee Hooker, Lightnin’ Hopkins, Hank Williams, backwoods church shouts and hints of the supernatural.

And so Tony Joe White is more than an artist of unique gifts and sensitivities. He is also a link to a time that may already be lost but will be kept alive as long as he keeps revisiting it in song.

On his new album, Rain Crow, he once again summons recollections of long ago, when animals foretold the weather, tongue-talking worshippers proved their faith by handling deadly snakes and a “bad wind” could drive a man to edge of insanity. Recorded at his studio and produced by his son Jody White, Rain Crow unfolded slowly, its pace   guided by the music rather than the onrush of deadlines.