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'Polk Salad Annie': The Story Behind Tony Joe White's Classic Southern Song

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Tony Joe White, also known during his time as Swamp Fox, was a singer-songwriter who rose to fame in the late '60s. White's songs featured unique lyrics that set him apart and an instantly recognizable sound inspired by his Louisiana roots. After spending time performing in nightclubs in Corpus Christi, Texas, White decided to make the move to Nashville and pursue a music career. Shortly after his move, he signed a record deal with Monument Records and was well on his way to pursuing his dreams. The first single on his debut album was "Polk Salad Annie," which couldn't have been a better way to introduce White to the world. 

After hearing Bobbie Gentry's "Ode To Billie Joe," White decided to write what he knew. "Polk Salad Annie" was inspired by White's own childhood growing up in Oak Grove, Louisiana. He was raised on Cajun music, country and blues, which contributed to developing his signature bluesy, swamp rock sound. 

"Polk Salad Annie" follows the story of a poor Southern girl and her preparation of an interesting dish that most people probably aren't familiar with. "Polk Salad" refers to cooked pokeweed, which is basically cooked greens. In the song, Annie knows how to cook the plant, which can be fatal if not properly prepared. Gathering her greens from the "truck patch" is the rural Louisiana slang for a garden. 

While this was the only significant hit on the charts for White, he was able to make a name for himself as a talented songwriter. Elvis Presley and Tom Jones even recorded their own versions of "Polk Salad Annie." White went on to write the Brook Benton classic "Rainy Night in Georgia" and produce songs for other artists, including Tina Turner. 

Although White passed away in 2018, we can look back at his first hit and admire how he brought his own unique perspective to the music world with "Polk Salad Annie."

"Polk Salad Annie" 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 that's 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) Every day 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)

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'Polk Salad Annie': The Story Behind Tony Joe White's Classic Southern Song