Tony White – “Polk Salad Annie”

Photo Credit: Bing images

If you’ve ever heard a song play and it made you wonder where in the world did the song writer come up with such lyrics and who were they talking about in the song? This is one of those foot tapping songs that you just had to sing along with. Couldn’t you just imagine being down in Louisiana, out in the woods, tumble weeds, unpaved streets, shacks on a hillside, happy children out and about and joyfully playing in the dirt.

“Polk Salad Annie” is a 1968 song written and performed by Tony Joe White. It was recorded in Muscle Shoals, Alabama and released on his album titled “Black and White.” The song peaked at #8 on the US charts. Its lyrics describe the lifestyle of a poor rural Southern girl and her family. Traditionally, the term to describe the type of food highlighted in the song is polk or poke sallet, a cooked greens dish made from pokeweed.

Credit: Wikipedia

White, the Louisiana singer/songwriter acquainted America with the Southern cuisine polk salad. The polkweed plant, is not something you’ll find in grocery stores since it’s toxic – you have to boil it a few times before you can eat it. White explains in the song’s folksy introduction that polk is “a plant that grows out in the woods and the fields, and it looks something like a turnip green.” He then introduces Annie, a hardscrabble woman who made polk salad for her family, since that’s all they could afford to eat.

White grew up in Oak Grove, Louisiana near the Mississippi River, and wrote what he called “swamp songs” about the folks from the area. “Annie, she could have been one of maybe three or four girls along that river there because all the girls were kinda tomboys,” he said in our 2013 interview. “They loved to fish, climb trees shoot rifles. That kind of stuff. So Annie could have been anybody. It’s just like ‘Old Man Willis,’ ‘Roosevelt and Ira Lee.’ All those were real people that I grew up with.”

White does enjoy a good polk salad. “I ate a bunch of it growing up on the cotton farm,” he told us. “It grows wild, and you pick it a certain time during the year, and you boil it and cook it like greens. My mother said it had a lot of iron in it and stuff for us kids, so it was something that tasted real good to me back then. I still eat some, every spring.”

This being the late ’60s, many listeners thought that “polk salad” was code for marijuana. White explained: “The early days on the tour we was out and it was a big hit, a lot of the hippie festivals, flower children and everybody, they would bring deep bags of grass back to the dressing room or back in my tent. And they said, ‘We brought you a little polk.’ They all thought polk salad was marijuana. And I was, like, ‘That’s not the kind I’m talking about.’ Anyway, everybody got it after a while.”

Elvis Presley played this at many of his concerts, including a performance on February 18, 1970 at the International Hotel in Las Vegas that was included on his live album On Stage. For Tony Joe White, this was a thrill, since he performed a lot of Elvis songs when he first started out.

Elvis arranged for White, who was living in Memphis at the time, to fly to Vegas so he could be in the audience for the concerts that were compiled into On Stage. “They recorded it, like, six, seven nights in a row, so every night after the show, we would sit back in the dressing room and talk and hang out,” White told us. “He had an old acoustic guitar back there and he would always get me to play him an old blues lick or something. And then he would try and learn it. He loved guitar but he really didn’t play it a lot. He treated me really good, though, every time I was around him.”

Tony White suffered a heart attack on October 24, 2018 and passed away at the age of 75 in Nashville, Tennessee. His music lives on and he is still considered and nicknamed the “Swamp Fox.”

Song Lyrics – 

If some of ya’ll never been down south too much
I’m gonna tell you a little bit about this
So that you’ll understand what I’m talkin’ about
Down there we have a plant that grows out in the woods
And in the fields looks somethin’ like a turnip green
And everybody calls it polk salad, polk salad
Used to know a girl lived down there
And she’d go out in the evenings and pick her a mess of it
Carry it home and cook it for supper
‘Cause thats about all they had to eat, but they did all right

Down in Louisiana, where the alligators grow so mean
There lived a girl, that I swear to the world
Made the alligators look tame
Polk salad Annie, polk salad Annie
Everybody said it was a shame
Cause her momma was a workin’ on the chain gang
(A mean vicious woman)

Everyday ?for supper time, she’d go down by the truck patch
And pick her a mess of polk salad, and carry it home in a tow sack
Polk salad Annie, the gators got your granny
Everybody says it was a shame
Cause her momma was a workin’ on the chain gang
(A wretched, spiteful, straight-razor totin’ woman
Lord have Mercy, pick a mess of it)

Her daddy was lazy and no count, claimed he had a bad back
All her brothers were fit for was stealin’ watermelons
Out of my truck patch
Polk salad Annie, the gators got your granny
Everybody said it was a shame
Cause her momma was a workin’ on the chain gang
(Sock a little polk salad to me, you know I need me a mess of it)

Publisher: Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC



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