Tony Joe White, Borderline, London
Friday 02 July 2004
A man who has lugged a swamp box and a whomper stomper from the Bouef River Bayou of Louisiana to the backstreets of W1 doesn't want his amplifier to sound as if it has just been dragged out of a levee. Further still, if this is the man who wrote hits for Mr Elvis A Presley and can still crank out a songs such as "Do You Wear a Garter Belt?" - with a top lip that looks like it's being yanked upwards on the end of a fishing line - he don't want his amplifier being fixed by no chick.
"Ain't it nice have a girl come fix yo' equipment," quips Tony Joe White, the 61-year-old, part-Cherokee purveyor of what the French first termed "swamp rock", a dark Dixie gumbo of blues, soul, rock and country which emerged from the stable of songwriters at Nashville's Combine Music in the early 1970s - which included fellow Confederates Kris Kristofferson and Georgia's Larry Jon Wilson - and the music of artists such as Jerry Reed, Joe South, John Fogerty and Mac (Dr John) Rebennack of New Orleans. It would go on to inspire everyone from an Abbey Road-era Beatles to The Rolling Stones of Let It Bleed and Exile On Main Street.
Ink-black sunglasses in place and Stratocaster in his lap, White - bear-like, and the former Gram Parsons-like good looks now doughy - opens with the slow, breathy baritone of "Rich Woman Blues", before being joined by his drummer onstage and ploughing into a piledrivingly funky "Undercover Agent for the Blues", covered by Tina Turner. Thereafter, a reverential, mostly male crowd requested - and received - the likes of the inter-racial-marriage meditation "Willy Mae and Laura Jones" - covered by Dusty Springfield on Dusty in Memphis - the Cajun Gothic of "They Caught the Devil and Put Him in Jail in Eudora, Arkansas" and the corn-pone raunch of "Stud Spider", all punctuated with blasts of harmonica, and an edgy wah-wah that justified the manly sobriquets "swamp box" and "whomper stomper".
Then, the hits: "Rainy Night in Georgia", a smash for Brook Benton and covered by Ray Charles; then, Elvis's favourite ode to family dysfunction, "Polk Salad Annie". The former - the high point of the show - stood out in a machismo-heavy set like an early-morning rainbow. But it was nearly upstaged by the anti-vegan polemic of "The Organic Shuffle", taken from White's latest album, Snakey: "He was on aisle five, looking for sprouts/ When all of a sudden he just let it out.../ the Organic Shuffle." In the high chapel of the Swamp Fox, as his French fans call him, there ain't no call for sprouts - or chicks who can fix amplifiers.
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