When Dave Grohl filmed the Nashville episode of his HBO music docuseries Sonic Highways, he spent time talking swamp rock with gravelly-voiced singer-guitarist Tony Joe White. The Louisiana native, who died Wednesday at 75, went on to jam with Grohl and the Foo Fighters a few times afterward, including a memorable Halloween 2014 performance at the Ryman Auditorium that found the entire band — and White — donning demonic greasepaint.
Two weeks prior to the Halloween gig, White joined the Foo Fighters on the Late Show With David Letterman for a collaboration on his signature song, “Polk Salad Annie.” A live staple for Elvis Presley in the Seventies, the tale of a thieving Louisiana girl who made the “alligators look tame” highlighted the funky playing and sing-speak phrasing of White, who had a Top 10 hit with the song in 1969.
In his dark hat and glasses, White growled out the lyrics on Letterman, a snakeskin guitar strap slung over his shoulder, as the Foo Fighters laid down a greasy groove behind him. At one point, Grohl tentatively approaches the mic to handle a verse, before White retakes the spotlight with a nasty harmonica and guitar solo.
Letterman was awed. “If I was this guy,” he gushed after the performance, pointing to White, “you could all kiss my ass.”
Onstage at the Ryman on Halloween, Grohl recalled the magic of first meeting White in Nashville.
“I had one of the biggest hangovers of my entire life, and I sat down with this man and talked to him for an hour and a half. Not only did he cure my hangover,” Grohl said, “but he changed me in a way that I hope that every time we come around and play, that he comes out and plays with us.”