Polk Salad Annie
|"Polk Salad Annie"|
|Single by Tony Joe White|
|from the album Black and White|
|Recorded||1968, Muscle Shoals, Alabama|
|Writer(s)||Tony Joe White|
|Tony Joe White singles chronology|
"Polk Salad Annie" is a 1968 song written and performed by Tony Joe White. It was recorded in Muscle Shoals, Alabama. 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 product of pokeweed. Its 1969 single release peaked at Number 8 on the Billboard Hot 100.
The single, released in 1969 by Monument Records had been out nine months before it finally charted, and had been written off by Monument as a failure. Said White: "They had done given up on it, but we kept getting all these people in Texas coming to the clubs and buying the record. So we would send up to Nashville saying, 'Send us a thousand more this week.' They would send us these 'Do Not Sell' examples, so we would have to sit down and mark out the 'Do Not Sell' and then send them to the record stores. All these stores in South Texas kept calling our house saying, 'We need more.' So we just kept hanging on. And finally a guy in L.A. picked it up and got it across. Otherwise, 'Polk' could have been lost forever."
The song vividly recreates the Southern roots of White's childhood and his music reflects this earthy rural background. As a child he listened not only to local bluesmen and country singers but also to the Cajun music of Louisiana, that rare hybrid of traditional musical styles introduced by French settlers at the turn of the century.
His roots lie in the swamplands of Oak Grove, Louisiana, where he was born in 1943. Situated just west of the Mississippi River, it's a land of cottonfields, where polk grows wild and alligators lurk in moss-covered swamps. "I spent the first 18 years of my life down there," said White. "My folks raised cotton and corn. There were lotsa times when there weren't too much to eat, and I ain't ashamed to admit that we've often whipped up a mess of polk sallet. Tastes alright too.. a bit like spinach."
In a January 17, 2014 interview with music journalist Ray Shasho, Tony Joe White explained the thought process behind the writing of "Polk Salad Annie" and "Rainy Night in Georgia." ..."I heard “Ode to Billie Joe” on the radio and I thought, man, how real, because I am Billie Joe, I know that life. I’ve been in the cotton fields. So I thought if I ever tried to write, I’m going to write about something I know about. At that time I was doing a lot of Elvis and John Lee Hooker onstage with my drummer. No original songs and I hadn’t really thought about it. But after I heard Bobbie Gentry I sat down and thought … well I know about Polk because I had ate a bunch of it and I knew about rainy nights because I spent a lot of rainy nights in Marietta, Georgia. So I was real lucky with my first tries to write something that was not only real and hit pretty close to the bone, but lasted that long. So it was kind of a guide for me then on through life to always try to write what I know about.”
- Richard "Groove" Holmes released a live version on his 1970 album Recorded Live at the Lighthouse
- Clarence Reid released a version on his 1969 album Dancin' With Nobody But You Babe
- Tom Jones released a version on his 1970 album Tom, recorded in February 1970
- Elvis Presley immediately picked up the song, which became a staple of his live performances of the 70s. He recorded it on several occasions: Elvis: That's the Way it Is (documentary film, 1970), On Stage (1970), Elvis: As Recorded At Madison Square Garden (1972), and Elvis Recorded Live on Stage in Memphis (1974, although not on the record, it was performed at the concert the album was taken from). From the Garden version on, it featured a rare fuzz bass solo by Jerry Scheff. Tony Joe White reportedly liked Presley's interpretation of the song.
- Los Lonely Boys perform this song on their 2009 tribute EP entitled 1969.
- Conan O'Brien sang a version of the song on his Legally Prohibited from Being Funny on Television Tour. He mentions that Elvis sang the song on his tour as well.
- Rockabilly artist Sleepy LaBeef has also covered this song on his album Rockabilly 1977, and also included it on his 2000 album Tomorrow Never Comes. This also includes a bass solo like the Presley record.
- Johnny Hallyday did also a version
- American-born French Singer Joe Dassin had also a version on his album Blue country released in 1979
- Harald Schmidt German Entertainer performed it on 9/13/2011 in his Late-Night-Show on German TV
- Dutch Mason did a version on his album Wish Me Luck released in 1979
- The song appears on the 1983 album "Playing For Keeps" by Big Twist and the Mellow Fellows 
- Peabody instructor Gil Trythall covered this song on his electronic music album Nashville Gold (Switched on Moog).
- Tony Joe White and Foo Fighters performed this song on "Late Show With David Letterman" (Season 22, Episode 35) originally airing October 15, 2014.
Notes and references
Sallet is an old English word that means "cooked greens," and should not be mistaken for "salad"; in fact, a great many cases of Pokeweed poisoning result from this linguistic mistake. While it may be that record companies labeled the song "salad" the dish in question was a sallet.