The first time I ever saw Tony Joe White was May 1, 1971. I hated him.
White had the unenviable task of joining Spirit in opening for Jethro Tull, now at the peak of their powers just days after the release of Aqualung.
I, along with many others in Philadelphia’s packed Spectrum, had little time for some dude playing music about swamps and looking kind of like he’d just emerged from one, especially when Martin Barre was waiting in the wings ready to unleash that six-note onslaught that heralded the title track of the new Tull LP. White did not go down the worst of any opening act I saw at the Spectrum; that dubious honor was presented a few weeks after this show, to LaBelle as they crashed and burned in a storm of boos before The Who claimed the stage during the Who’s Next tour. But the crowd did not exactly embrace White in a warm hug of good cheer.
Yesterday, just over forty years later, I saw Tony Joe White for the second time. What a difference a few decades make.
|Tony Joe White's 2013 release on Yep Roc Records.|
Backed only by drummer Fleetwood Cadillac - yep, that’s how the Mississippian was introduced - White took the stage at Philadelphia’s World Café Live for the weekly WXPN Free at Noon concert series and got things off to a rousing start by discovering his amp was not on. But years of stage experience saw White coolly apprise the folks in front of him - and those listening around the world - about the issue and its resolution.
“Alright - Friday!” White announced in his thick drawl, “A little mid-day swamp…”
|A man in black - Tony Joe White on stage at World Café Live.|
For the next forty minutes White held the crowd spellbound, his worn Stratocaster emitting notes that led down twisting paths of the blues, backed by Cadillac’s simple but sympathetic drums. White’s tales of hoodoo, voodoo, and a disappearing Southern life were nearly croaked out in a conspiratorial voice that gave the impression the tales were being told just for your ears alone. And no-one could stop listening.
That I found White so mesmerizing this time is a direct by-product of the fact that my musical tastes haven’t refocused over the years, they’ve simply widened to now embrace swamp rock, Tull, and far too much else.
But I’m glad I had the chance to test that theory.
Tony Joe White’s Free at Noon concert can be heard at the following Web site; simply scroll to the bottom of the page and look for the Free at Noon stream for November 15, 2013: