Single Stories: Tony Joe White, “Polk Salad Annie”
49 years ago, Tony Joe White entered the studio to record the song that would prove to be the biggest hit of his career.
Written by White himself, “Polk Salad Annie” is a tale of a poor young girl growing up in the south, and if you know anything at all about southern cuisine, then you know that the title is referencing polk sallet, a.k.a. pokeweed greens. Per White, who grew up in a family that struggled financially from time to time, “There were lotsa times when there weren’t too much to eat, and I ain’t ashamed to admit that we’ve often whipped up a mess of polk sallet. Tastes alright, too. A bit like spinach.”
Recorded at RCA Studios in Nashville, Tennessee, where it was produced by Billy Swan, “Polk Salad Annie” was not an instant smash by any means. In fact, it had been in stores for nine months before it even managed to make the chart. After a surge in sales from Texas, however, it continued to build, and once it finally found a foothold in Los Angeles, it went on to hit #8 on the Billboard Hot 100.
Alas, “Polk Salad Annie” proved to be White’s only single to find its way into the Top 10, but given the struggle to make its way there at all, you can’t say it wasn’t a hit well earned.