In a January 17, 2014 interview with music journalist Ray Shasho, Tony Joe White explained the thought process behind the making of “Rainy Night in Georgia” and “Polk Salad Annie”.
When I got out of high school I went to Marietta, Georgia, I had a sister living there. I went down there to get a job and I was playing guitar too at the house and stuff. I drove a dump truck for the highway department and when it would rain you didn’t have to go to work. You could stay home and play your guitar and hangout all night. So those thoughts came back to me when I moved on to Texas about three months later. I heard “Ode to Billie Joe” on the radio and I thought, man, how real, because I am Billie Joe, I know that life. I’ve been in the cotton fields. So I thought if I ever tried to write, I’m going to write about something I know about. At that time I was doing a lot of Elvis and John Lee Hooker onstage with my drummer. No original songs and I hadn’t really thought about it. But after I heard Bobbie Gentry I sat down and thought … well I know about Polk because I had ate a bunch of it and I knew about rainy nights because I spent a lot of rainy nights in Marietta, Georgia. So I was real lucky with my first tries to write something that was not only real and hit pretty close to the bone, but lasted that long. So it was kind of a guide for me then on through life to always try to write what I know about.
In 1969, after several years without a major hit, Benton had signed to a new record label, Cotillion Records (a subsidiary of Atlantic Records). Brought to the attention of producer Jerry Wexler, Benton recorded the song in November 1969 with producer Arif Mardin session personnel present on the hit record included Billy Carter on Organ, Dave Crawford on piano, Cornell Dupree and Jimmy O’Rourke on guitar, Harold Cowart on bass, Tubby Ziegler on drums, and Toots Thielmans on harmonica.
Taken from his “come-back” album Brook Benton Today, the melancholy song became an instant hit. In the spring of 1970, the song had topped the Billboard Best Selling Soul Singles chart. It also reached number four on the Billboard Hot 100, and number two on the Adult Contemporary chart. In Canada, the song made #2 on the RPM Magazine Hot Singles chart.
The RIAA certified the single gold for sales of one million copies. In 2004, it was ranked #498 on the List of Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.
|Background Vocals||Phyllis St. James|
|Background Vocals||Marti McCall|
|Background Vocals||Petsye Powell|
|Background Vocals||Alfie Silas|
Tony Joe White