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Elvis & The Evolution of POLK SALAD ANNIE
by Geoffrey Mc Donnell (Australia)


Tony Joe White was born in the northeast town of Oak Grove 10 miles from the Arkansas border and 20 miles west of the Mississippi river on July 23rd 1943, Tony Joe is part Cherokee growing up on a Cotten farm on the edge of the Boeuf River bayou. A Cajun, country blues and rock n' roll musical area.

Tony Joe came to be 'known'with his 1968 Monument record "Black & White" and from this his top ten 'hit' POLK SALAD ANNIE in late 1969. The album was produced by none other than Billy Swan(of 'I CAN HELP' fame!) with musicians David Briggs playing Piano + Organ, Jerry Carigan on Drums, Norbert Putnam on Bass, Chip Young on Guitar as well as Tony Joe on Harmonica and Guitar.So already there was much in common with Elvis's musicians!. The album was recorded at RCA Victor studios in Nashville.

Originally POLK SALAD ANNIE had been written as a 'joke' throwaway song until 'Soul Fransisco' was released becoming a 'hit' in Europe drawing attention back to PSA. This was picked up and came on a Los Angeles radio station, then went national in Autumn 1969.

It was the French who started a love affair with his music ,tagging it 'swamp rock and calling him the Swamp Fox. Two songs written in 1968, Polk Salad Annie and Rainy Night in Georgia arguably define the artist.Elvis Presley added to the popularity of Polk Salad Annie by performing it and Brook Benton made Rainy Night in Georgia his signature tune.Nowadays the 'Swamp Fox' has Tina Turner and Joe Cocker singing his stuff.When Tony Joe got out of high school and was driving trucks in Georgia it seemed like it was 'raining all over the world'. Tony lived that, just like the polk salad his Mum made him eat.Polk Salad is edible but should be boiled first tastes a bit like Turnip tops, but if you live out in the woods and the fields you can boil stinging nettles and eat them as well!

POLK SALAD is about a dysfunctional familly. Annie's momma works on a chain gang,her father is a layabout,her brothers are theives and her Grandmother was eaten by an alligator(chomp,chomp!) Recently Tony Joe has a new song, Gunbo John, about an old swamper who lived back in the woods- he got in trouble with some 'gators too.

Tony Joe White had an interesting encounter with two of Australia's more eccentric comics (Roy and HG) when he appeared on the Club Buggery show on Saturday, April 12, 1997.Tony closed out the show with POLK SALAD ANNIE.For those who missed the show here's some of the 'interesting' bits,

HG: Now, we've gotta ask you the question; did you ever meet the King?
TJ: Elvis?
HG: Yeah.
TJ: Yeah.

HG: And could you set the scene for us; can you describe the hamburgers and the racquet ball?

Roy: Did he shoot the television while you where there?

TJ:He stayed away from his gun.He invited us; flew us out to Las Vegas, me and my wife, to watch him do Polk Salad Annie live; his producer (Felton Jarvis) was a good friend of mine and we hung out there for three or four days and then in Memphis again he recorded a couple more of my tunes and I went down in the studio and played a little guitar and he always treated me really good every time I was around him. And I'll tell you one little quick thing about the deal and you can see what this was about. It was in the dressing room, and a friend of mine, Jim Brolin .. Dr Marcus Welby from the television. He was in there with me and we was all talking. Anyway, I was getting ready to leave about the third night, so I said to Elvis, 'I got this little place up in the Ozark Mountains in Arkansas, it's so far back in the woods that nobody even knows who you are or don't even care who you are, you know - if you want to come up and fish and hang out and rest...' And he said, 'Oh, yeah, man, sure, sure.' I left the room and he turned to Brolin and he said, 'Can you believe Tony Joe invited me to go fishing? And Brolin said, 'Yeah, you should do it too, man'. But, it was like, here's a man flying to Dallas to get a cheeseburger at night in a big jet, so fishing was probably weird to him you know. I think if he coulda done it he ... did stuff like that, I believe he mighta sung a lot longer.

HG: Can I just ask about writing for the King when the King was doing an album would he ring up and say, 'King here, have you got any songs Tony Joe?', or was there a whole heap of business that went through ... I mean Roy wrote a few for the King but there was no evidence the King could read. He'd jot down the notes.....

Roy: I didn't make the printing big enough, that was the problem.

TJ: It was .. about him calling me ... no he never called but Felton would call ... the producer, or someone. This was another thing that was weird about this whole deal. It was like three or four o'clock in the morning - in fact our last get together - phone rings, I'm in Memphis, and this voice with a German accent says: 'Mr White, we're down at the studio and we was wondering if you have any more songs?' And I said, 'Who in the hell is this at four o'clock in the morning?' And he said, 'Well, you don't understand - it was like a spy or something, man - we need some more songs..' And I said, 'Who? What's your name?' He said, 'I'm Freddie Beanstalk, I'm with Elvis Presley and Felton and we're down at Stax - at four in the morning - can you bring us something?' So, man, I had Thing About You Baby, For Ol' Times Sake, I had them on a little demo. I stumbled around the studio there and got dressed and I get down there and it's an alleyway and these two little guys come out with these trenchcoats on and they usher me into this little dark room with a tape recorder and they play just a piece of I Got A Thing About You Baby ... 'I like this, we keep this.' I ain't saw Elvis, I ain't saw nobody, just these two little spies. And then, they play For Ol' Times Sake ...'We like this.' They play the third song.. 'We don't like this, you can go.'

Roy: Terrific blokes.

TJ: Yeah, I say, 'Where's Felton, man, who in the hell are you boys?' You know, it was like about that time Felton came by and then Elvis came in and it was clear, but I thought it was odd he was letting these two old men.. businessmen .. pick his ..

Roy: Pick his material.

TJ: .. tunes, and then run you off if they didn't dig it, man. So, no fishing ... (Trails off amid laughter as Roy shakes his head in mock surprise)

Tony Joe has released a 'new' CD in 1999 and as a tribute to Elvis it's on the Tupelo/Mercury label. Tony has toured Australia twice in 1997 and 1999 for the first time in almost 20 years.On a radio interview Tony said he liked Australia a lot and was looking forward to doing some fishing!

Interestingly Tony says over the years after many concerts he's have people come up to him afterwoods and offer him some 'polk salad' which was often Cannabis! and Polk Salad isn't that!

It's very interesting just before we look how Elvis performed polk salad annie to note that for the aborted Elvis January 1977 Sessions Tony Joe's 'Rainy Night in Georgia' was one of the positivly chosen songs that Elvis was going to record. As with so many songs Elvis took Polk Salad and moulded and extended it to become a vital part of his 'live' Concert shows of the 70's Always a Concert Highlight and from what Tony Joe's version gave Elvis it GREW with him into a Ledgendary song that above all else allowed Elvis to exhibit some of his much loved Karate. Elvis's version of Polk Salad Annie went something like this:-

Polk Salad Annie (Tony Joe White)

Presley's Version(his added extra words in Italics)
from the Las Vegas 18.2.70 Midnight Show "ON STAGE" Version.

      (Dialogue)
      Some of you all never been down South too much (repeats whole line )
      I' gonna tell you a little story, so you'll understand where I'm talking about
      Down there we have a plant that grows out in the woods and the fields,
      and it looks something like a turnip green.
      Everybody calls it Polk salad. Now that's Polk (pause)salad.
      Used to know a girl that lived down there and
      she'd go out in the evenings to pick a mess of it...
      Carry it home and cook it for supper, 'cause that's about all they had to eat,
      But they did all right.

      (1st verse)
      Down in Louisiana
      Where the alligators grow so mean
      Lived a girl that I swear to the world
      Made the alligators look tame

      Chorus:-
      Polk salad Annie
      'Gators got your granny(chomp,chomp)
      Everybody said it was a shame
      For the mama was working on the chain-gang
      What a mean, vicious woman

      (2nd verse)
      Everyday before suppertime
      She'd go down by the truck patch
      And pick her a mess of Polk salad
      And carry it home in a tote sack

      Chorus:- Polk salad Annie
      'Gators got you granny
      Everybody said it was a shame
      'Cause the mama was working on the chain-gang
      A wretched, spiteful, straight-razor totin' woman,

      Lord have mercy.
      Sock a little Polk salad to me
      Yeah, you know what, yeah, yeah

      (3rd verse)
      Her daddy was a lazy and no-count
      Claimed he had a bad back
      All her brothers were fit for
      Was stealing watermelons out of my truck

      Chorus:-
      That's Polk salad Annie
      'Gators got your granny(Chomp,chomp)
      Everybody said it was a shame
      cause the mama was working on the chain-gang

      Sock a little Polk salad to me
      You know what meets a meal mention
      You sock a little
      what meets a meal mention Hey, hey, hey, yeah, yeah
      Chic a bon, chic a bon, chic a bon bon bon bon
      Chic a bon, chic a bon, chic a bon bon bon bon

      Sock a little Polk salad to him
      You know what meets a meal mention
      Sock a little Polk salad to him
      You know
      Chinc, chinc, chinc, chin, ling, ling ling

Before the 3rd verse Tony Joes version has a Harmonica instrumental and his version as the Original runs for 3 minutes and 42 seconds , nearly a minute less than Elvis's 'full blown'Version. There are just a few minor added lines that Tony had which Elvis removed,but apart from Tony's 'grunts' replaced by Elvis's 'grunts' the main noticeable difference is in Elvis's ENDING which is much extended from the loose 'open' end of the Original as this just allowed Elvis to play around until he had the format HE wanted with Polk Salad Annie.Obviously Elvis had already Heard 'Polk Salad Annie' before his Las Vegas August 1969 Season, as I have found 4 separate 'hints' with Elvis dropping a couple of Words of the song:-

Las Vegas 3.8.69 D/S 1 line before All Shook Up as on Fort Baxter 'opening night' CD
Las Vegas 5.8.69 M/S 2 lines after All Shook Up
Las Vegas 25.8.69 M/S 1 line after What D'Say
Las Vegas 26.8.69 M/S 2 words 'Polk Salad' before Can't Help Falling in Love.