In 1969 I heard Tony Joe White sing “Polk Salad Annie” at the Red Rooster in Panama City Beach, Florida. He told us that night that he had recorded the song in Muscle Shoals the year before. I went to the record store the next day. They did not have it in stock. I ordered a 45 on the Monument record label and it arrived the next week. How times have changed.
In a few weeks “Polk Salad Annie” was a radio hit. The song was written by Tony Joe White and was produced by Billy Swan. The music has a distinctive sound; a “swampy” sound. The song tells of a Southern white girl’s childhood living in the swamp. Swamps are a part of the landscape from Louisiana through Florida. The song is Southern roots music, so much so, that you can almost smell the rich wet soil. The sound is not blues or Southern soul, nor is it country. It has a touch of Cajun music and a rock beat on the rockabilly side. That “swamp” sound is a mixture of all of these.
Several, including Elvis and Tom Jones, have recorded the song since. The music is close, but with more R&B funk that they thought was needed in those disco days. Other songs have expanded the genre. That genre would now be known as “swamp rock.” Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Born On The Bayou” and Joe South’s “Hush” are perfect examples. “Amos Moses” by Jerry Reed, "Niki Hoeky" by Redbone and Dale Hawkins version of “Suzie Q” were all swamp rock songs.
One version of “Big Boss Man” by Elvis was swamp heavy. JJ Cale, John Fogerty, The Radiators, The Tail Gators, Ronnie Hawkins, Ed Volker and Boss Hog have all contributed their efforts. Dr. John’s “I Walk On Guilded Splinters” and "Struttin' My Stuff" by Elvin Bishop both are swamp rock gems with a bit more funk, which fits extremely well. I count the stuff Excello label did in the ‘50’s as “swamp blues” with artists like Lazy Lester and Slim Harpo.
The guitar part in swamp rock is lowdown, dirty with lots of reverb and a wah-wah pedal to produce that just right funky feel. My favorite is the tone of a resonator guitar played through a Pignose amp. Yes, I have loved that swamp rock sound ever since that night at the Red Rooster.
Delta Swamp Rock: Sounds from the South is an import that has Duane and Gregg Allman on the album cover with a lot of hanging Spanish moss was released in 2011. The album was promoted as the real deal in swamp rock. In my opinion it was a hit-and-miss effort at best. Many of today’s jam bands and JJ Grey & Mofro are taking swamp rock into the future.