Tony Joe White – who has died from a heart attack aged 75 – grew up in rural Louisiana and was nicknamed ‘the Swamp Fox’ due to his ability to write songs that conveyed the humidity – idiosyncrasies and tensions of the US south.
The best known of these was Rainy Night in Georgia – which gained global recognition not through his own version but via a cover in 1970 from Brook Benton – followed by a number of other popular interpretations over the years, by artists from Ray Charles to Randy Crawford and Rod Stewart.
When his career was flagging in the 1980s Turner brought his song Steamy Windows to wider attention as a Top 20 hit in various countries and also used three of his other compositions on her highly successful 1989 album Foreign Affair.
White was born into a farming family – the seventh son of Virgie (nee Andrews) and Charlie White in Oak Grove – a small town in north-eastern Louisiana and he grew up harvesting cotton and corn.
A keen interest in music – especially the blues his African-American neighbours played – found White upon graduating from high school playing Texan honky-tonks where he recalled ‘the beer bottles would get to flying’.
In 1967 he was working as a dump truck driver for the local authority in Marietta Georgia and while doing so heard Bobbie Gentry’s groundbreaking 1967 hit Ode to Billie Joe.
This inspired him to write songs about southern life and one of the first was Polk Salad Annie – a wry rocker about ‘a girl that I swear to the world/ would make the alligators look tame’.