After more than fifty years of playing music, handfuls of chart topping singles, and collaborations with some of the most revered musicians of the century, Tony Joe White “The Swamp Fox” is set to release a brand new album, Hoodoo, Sept. 17.
White was born in Oak Grove, Louisiana in 1943 and was raised on a cotton farm that was owned by his father. After he finished schooling, following a stint driving a truck in Georgia, he formed a series of bands and took to the road. A trip to Nashville in 1966 was marked by one lucky break after another, and his fruitful recording career began at the fabled country-soul crucible of Monument Records.
Gems like “Polk Salad Annie” and “Rainy Night in Georgia” were just the beginning, as he proceeded to write, record, and perform regularly through the present day, finding great success both at home and abroad. Through the years, his songs have been recorded by everyone from Tina Turner to Elvis Presley to Ray Charles.
Culled from an initial stack of roughly seventeen tunes, the nine songs that comprise Hoodoo come alive in the haunting atmosphere and intensity of the stripped-down recording process. Cut mostly live to tape—vocals and all—much of Hoodoo consists of first takes.
“There’s some actual magic that came over all of us when we were doing this,” White recalls. “I would sit down with my drummer Cadillac [Bryan Owings] and my bass player the Troll [Steve Forrest], play twenty seconds of the tune, and then say ‘We’re gonna hit record, and you just play what comes into your heart.’ It’s like everyone is getting the hoodoo sensation. Spontaneity is beautiful. And,” he adds, “since it’s our studio, there’s no hurry: no one is over our shoulder saying when we gotta get in and when we gotta get out…we were the record company.”
Hoodoo features autobiographical songs about his life growing up on farm and learning the blues (“9 Foot Sack”), cautionary tales of rural Mississippi (“Alligator, Mississippi”), and a tale of his trek homeward after the Nashville flood of 2010 (“The Flood”).
Despite his illustrious past, White feels no pressure to top himself. “There’s not a push nowhere,” he concludes. “Maybe I’ll stop playing shows and making records when the songs quit coming to me. But they still come to me. You see, I don’t work for a song—but once I get a hold of it I don’t let go. I just keep writing, and when I do, I want to go out and play it for somebody. It’s the songwriting that keeps me going.”