[A few years back, Byron Bay, Australia]
The night had come down slowly, warm and beautiful, and I was waiting
side of stage for the show to begin. There was a light coming from the artists’
trailer behind me and it spilled over toward the stage.
Suddenly I was engulfed by an enormous sillhouette – an image of a
man in a cowboy hat splayed along the ground. Larger than life, a legendary
figure printed like black ink on the grass.
It was then that I knew I was standing in the shadow of Tony Joe
White. (Henceforth referred to as TJW.)
[A few months ago, Philadelphia]
It was a fifteen hour drive from Nashville but it was worth it. I was playing
the opening set at World Cafe for TJW. Due to difficulties with the P.A.
my set was cut from 45 minutes to 30. Things like that always fuel my
performance, sometimes a little anger is good. I played and had a good time although
I did swear quite a bit. After the show, I got to chat with TJW for a
good half hour or so about his gear and stuff.
He is a quietly spoken man who looks like Elvis Presley. In fact,
they were friends in the 60s (Elvis covered some of his songs including ‘Polk
Salad Annie’). You get the feeling that he doesn’t say anything unnecessary to
any conversation. I told him about how I was there in Byron Bay.
He said Jack & Meg White had come up to say hello that day, why hadn’t I?
I’ve thought about it and the truth is that I hadn’t felt worthy… And then we
talked about his guitars and stuff.
TJW is all about the groove and the tone. I dare anyone to find a
better guitar tone, whether he’s playing his ’65 Stratocaster or his Pimentel
nylon string (handmade in Albuquerque by an old
luthier family originally from Mexico).
He plays with a tender touch, at times as if he is caressing a woman – after
all, they say that tone is in the fingers.
He has the same gear he bought back in the Golden Era – the
original electric guitar, Colorsound Supa Tonebender, the Maestro Boomerang wah
pedal – all from the ’60s. His Fender Tweed 4×10 is most likely from 1973. He’s
kept all this gear in ship-shape condition and the sound is pure splendour. If
you can, get up close to the amp and let that holy analogue tone wash away your
digital sins… I did just that at a recent show in Nashville. (See pic.)
His new album is called ‘The Shine’ and some of the songs were
co-written with his wife, Leann. “They’re all about truth and life,”
he says. The band got together in his living room and just played. The grooves
are there and it’s the kind of record you can drive to and cover some miles
before you know where you are or how far you’ve gone. This music can ease your
weary mind and just make you feel instead of think.
Guitar sounds range from gorgeous warm distortion (on ‘Tell Me
Why’) to that beautifully tender nylon string (‘Season Man’). These different
textures weave through the album creating a synthesis of opposites that melds into
one – that unmistakable artistry of TJW.
The feel he gets from his classical guitar is almost Latin at
times and I could easily hear Bebel Gilberto singing some of these songs.
This dude (and he is a Cool Dude) has had the kind of career every
shy singer-songwriter dreams of – songs covered by artists like Elvis Presley,
Ray Charles, Etta James & Dusty Springfield; touring all over the world
with just enough fame to get an audience but not so much he can’t walk down the
street; song royalties without having written a song he’d be too embarrassed to
sing… These are the things we gentle folks dream of as we drive our old cars
in search of an audience and a new song.
TJW continues to be a “season man, moving with the change…
moving with the rains…”
The new album : The Shine (Swamp Records)
Also recommended: Deep Cuts (Swamp Records)
Anne McCue on the web: www.annemccue.com