Tony Joe White is getting back to his roots, fifty years on from when he cut his first recordings. The swamp-rock veteran’s latest LP, Bad Mouthin’, takes its name from the first song he ever wrote, a grimy country blues that’s only just seeing the light of day after more than five decades in obscurity.
Prior to White recording his 1969 debut, Black and White, which included his Top Ten hit “Polk Salad Annie,” the Louisiana native cut a handful of sides for a small label in Corpus Christi, Texas, as far back as 1966. Among them were “Bad Mouthin'” and another song, “Sundown Blues,” both of which have been unearthed for Bad Mouthin’. White rerecorded both as stripped-down, muddy blues dirges that invoke the spoken-word boogies of John Lee Hooker.
“[‘Bad Mouthin”] was the first song I ever wrote about the time when I left Louisiana going to Kingsville, Texas around 1964. I was playing in a club called the Inferno and I kept hearing people saying that other people were ‘bad mouthing’ them, and I never had heard that before,” White recalls of the writing of the title track. “You know, some of it may be true and some of it not, but bad mouthin’ is when you are spreading really bad things around about somebody. I went down near the Mexican border and found a studio that was pretty cheap and that song and ‘Sundown Blues’ were the first things I ever recorded.”
Unearthing those early compositions inspired White to likewise revisit his musical roots, and while five of the 12 tracks on Bad Mouthin’ are originals, the others consist of covers from the heroes of his youth. Hooker’s “Boom Boom” is among them, as are songs made famous by Jimmy Reed, Lightnin’ Hopkins, and Charley Patton. There’s even a cover of Elvis Presley, who recorded his own version of White’s “Polk Salad Annie” in 1973.
Bad Mouthin’, which was produced by Jody White and engineered by Ryan McFadden, will be released via Yep Roc Records on September 28th.