- Published: 03 January 2016 03 January 2016
Written in 1997 after Tony Joe appeared on the show Club Buggery with comedians Roy and H.G.
Tony Joe White had an interesting encounter with two of Australia's more eccentric comics when he appeared on the Club Buggery show on Saturday, April 12, 1997.
For the uninitiated, the show's name probably seems bizarre but the word buggery is used in unusual ways in Australia. For instance, when telling an individual you no longer want them in your presence, you could tell them to 'go to buggery'.
How comedians HG Nelson (real name Greg Pickhaver) and Roy Slavin (John Doyle) decided on Club Buggery for the name of a national Saturday night television program is not really clear. Even less clear is how to describe the show to someone who has not seen it.
Roy and HG are co-hosts and are supported by a group of musicians known as the Brand New Beatles, a two-woman singing group called the Nissan Cedrics and an intro-man and former television quiz show host named Ian Turpie who usually sings a cabaret-style song at the end of the show as well as taking part in weekly pre-recorded skits with the Nissan Cedrics and others.
The show plays to a live audience and invited guests, who include politicians, sportspeople, scientists, musicians, et al., join Roy and HG for an 'interview' in which the two comedians mix light-hearted and serious questions. Roy and HG are able to keep both guests and audience laughing without embarrassing anyone too much.
They make outrageous exaggerations and present themselves as experts on every subject but the show thrives on such eccentricities. Possibly the most obscure part of the format is that Roy and HG see most things from a sporting perspective and, each Saturday, refer to the set by some name/term that describes a sporting event/person, etc.
On the night Tony Joe appeared, it was called the 'Occie', which referred to champion Australian racehorse Octagonal which raced for the last time that afternoon.
That sets the scene for the dialogue of the show which follows. What was most appealing about the interview was the way in which Tony Joe obviously enjoyed the banter although he seemed a little bemused on a couple of occasions.
When Roy suggested that Tony Joe must have been smoking something when he wrote Polk Salad Annie, Tony Joe insisted, No, man. Tony Joe came back at the close of the show and performed Polk Salad Annie.
The interview has been reproduced verbatim but a couple of words are indistinguishable because of laughter or one person talking over the top of another. This is how it went:
TJ: What is that? (Referring to the drink)
HG: (Continuing his question) Ah, um, it's a place of fable and some myth in Australia, you know, of catfish and alligators. Are these things still there? I know you come from Oak Grove, what's Oak Grove like now, has it changed much from when you were a kid?
TJ: No, Oak Grove were good worlds in my day. It was a little town, it was like, um, two grocery stores and a cotton gin and a church and it's still just like that.
HG: And are alligators and catfish still the local - if I can characterise the animals of the area - are still the main things in the area.?
TJ: Aw, yeah, the ‘gators are kinda getting pushed on down. They cut down a lot of the swamps and the paper mills come in and making money off that, but there's still a few around.
HG: Now, I'm right in thinking that French radio was the first, er, radio to pick up your work, ah, in a serious sort of way and play it a lot to make it chart. Um, and, yet, Louisiana and France is historically got a connection - is there any evidence of that sort of cultural connection still there?
TJ: You know ... Well, like on my part of Louisiana, I'm up there in the delta in about Mississippi and Arkansas, like the blues country and then you get on down to Cajun country where the French are. But, I don't know, the French people just kinda felt something in the music you know, inside of them, you know, when that first happened 'cause Polk Salad Annie had even come out yet when that happened. And I was still in Texas playing a little club for $10 a night and all of a sudden they called me from France and said it's happened. And, you know, it was like a funny deal to go over there and thousands of people and your going 'Here's something you ain't never been down south, I'm gonna tell you a little bit about this' ... (TJ laughs) ... And it was like they seemed to feel it though.
Roy: Does it annoy you Tony that, um, so much of your gear has been ripped off, stolen? If we look at Mark Knoppler, he just bludged your ideas, (TJ laughs and covers his eyes with his hand) stole your ideas and gave you no acknowledgment. If you look at Chris Rea .. I mean you look at a Chris Rea bloody CD - not that you'd want to, but if you did - you have a look and there's no, 'I would like to thank Tony Joe White for all his ideas, for his style, for what he brought to us because I've copied everything.' (TJ raises his eyebrows and laughs) Does that annoy you? It would me because you're just being ripped off? I mean Mark Knoppler rips you off. What are you gonna do about it?
TJ: You know man..
Roy: Can you sue him?
TJ: I want a tape of this show 'cause I want to send this to him. (Lots of audience laughter) We're good friends.
Roy: Look, I've said this to his face. (Audience laughter) I say Mark Knoppler has never had one musical idea of his own in his life and Chris Rea even less. (TJ laughs) Now, what are you going to do about it?
TJ: I think you mighta just done it.
HG: They knock off Roy's songs as well you know ... that Twisting By The Pool, Roy wrote that weeks (perhaps he meant to say years) ago. (TJ can't contain his laughter) It was Twisting By Lithgow (Lithgow is a town in New South Wales, Australia) when Roy wrote it ....
Roy: Twisting by the Lithgow Pool.
HG: Now, I was going to say - the interesting thing is - that in the area that you come from - as you mentioned before - there's a lot of music played and there's a very strong blues tradition ... is this still alive now with younger players coming into it?
TJ: Back down there, where I was at?
TJ: You know, I don't know, man, I've haven't been down there in a long time. I go .. (Lots of audience laughter. Perhaps something happened off camera which amused them)
HG: (With hand to his ear) There's whispers that you get that they tell you that ... (Tails off amid laughter)
TJ: I go see my brother and I go fishing with him but I don't go to any clubs when I'm home, I just visit my family and come back, but I'd imagine there's gotta be somebody playing a little swampy music down there somewhere.
Roy: Do you ever use open tunings or a capo or something like that?
Roy: Do you ever play in D flat, I think one of the great blues keys ... ah, or B flat. (TJ looks really bemused now) What key do you play in?
TJ: I've been in E all my life, Sir .. and A (He says this pointing at Roy and laughing)
Roy: So occasionally you go to A. I mean, is the blues limited? I mean it's E, A and - what? - B flat 7th, or just B 7th and that's about it.
TJ: It could be, but you know I play a lot of almost Spanish chord, Mexican (indistinguishable word) minors and things like that and kinda blend them all together. But if you listen to, you know, Lightning and John Lee, they don't stay away from E, A and B too much, you know.
HG: Now, we've gotta ask you the question; did you ever meet the King?
HG: And could you set the scene for us; can you describe the hamburgers and the racquet ball?
Roy: Did he shoot the television while you where there?
TJ: He stayed away from his gun. He invited us; flew us out to Las Vegas, me and my wife, to watch him do Polk Salad Annie live; his producer was a good friend of mine and we hung out out there for three or four days and then in Memphis again he recorded a couple more of my tunes and I went down in the studio and played a little guitar and he always treated me really good every time I was around him. And I'll tell you one little quick thing about the deal and you can see what this was about. It was in the dressing room, and a friend of mine, Jim Brolin .. Dr Marcus Welby from the television. He was in there with me and we was all talking. Anyway, I was getting ready to leave about the third night, so I said to Elvis, 'I got this little place up in the Ozark Mountains in Arkansas, it's so far back in the woods that nobody even knows who you are or don't even care who you are, you know - if you want to come up and fish and hang out and rest...' And he said, 'Oh, yeah, man, sure, sure.' I left the room and he turned to Brolin and he said, 'Can you believe Tony Joe invited me to go fishing? And Brolin said, 'Yeah, you should do it too, man'. But, it was like, here's a man flying to Dallas to get a cheeseburger at night in a big jet, so fishing was probably weird to him you know. I think if he coulda done it he ... did stuff like that, I believe he mighta sung a lot longer.
Roy: I think, yes, that would have helped him immensely, a bit of fishing, (Audience laughter and TJ hides his eyes looking embarrassed) I think you're right. He was a pretty ... he would have been a pretty weird fisherman Elvis, I imagine. You know, put the hook in his leg and.. (Trails off amid laughter) When you did the Isle of Wight concert, you were working with, or you were on the same bill as, say, Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin, people like that; did you ever think of dropping some acid and doing acid rock sort of swamp, swamp rock..?
TJ: (Looks at audience, raises his eyebrows as they laugh and then says, with a smirk....) I tell ya, I just had a big hit back stage, there man... No, I tell you, I was always really scared of all that whole scene. I drink beer and smoke cigarettes, that's all I'd ever do but I was spooked of it. The only reason I didn't do it was because I was very scared of it 'cause I've seen people go down around me in droves you know, and I was always kind of an outcast in this bunch anyway and they never did hang with me too much.
Roy: Did they ever suggest .... here's a tab Tony, yeah, sure, we'll come fishing with you, man... have a tab.
TJ: Yeah, well, in fact, I mean, people even in the days of Polk Salad Annie when it was happening, they thought it was grass, you know, like...
Roy: Well, it is isn't it, I mean... isn't that what it's about?
TJ: No, man. ... And they would bring all these piles of marijuana back stage ... 'Man we brought you some Polk tonight ... I'd go, 'That ain't Polk Salad, man.'
Roy: Polk Salad Annie ... 'gators got your granny.
TJ: (Looking at the audience) He's got it..
Roy: Seems pretty weird to me, Tony, sounds like that came out of a bit of weed, man.
TJ: It did, the polk weed, yeah. You know we used to dry that out and smoke it too, really.
Roy: The polk weed?
Roy: What was it like?
TJ: It just burn your throat, you didn't get no buzz....
HG: We have a similar thing here - we used to get banana skins and dry them . (Trails off amid laughter) ... Leaves a slightly... (More laughter)
TJ: (Turning to his mike) Check one, two, three.
HG: Can I just ask about writing for the King when the King was doing an album would he ring up and say, 'King here, have you got any songs Tony Joe?', or was there a whole heap of business that went through ... I mean Roy wrote a few for the King but there was no evidence the King could read. He'd jot down the notes.....
Roy: I didn't make the printing big enough, that was the problem.
TJ: It was .. about him calling me ... no he never called but Felton would call ... the producer, or someone. This was another thing that was weird about this whole deal. It was like three or four o'clock in the morning - in fact our last get together - phone rings, I'm in Memphis, and this voice with a German accent says: 'Mr White, we're down at the studio and we was wondering if you have any more songs?' And I said, 'Who in the hell is this at four o'clock in the morning?' And he said, 'Well, you don't understand - it was like a spy or something, man - we need some more songs..' And I said, 'Who? What's your name?' He said, 'I'm Freddie Beanstalk, I'm with Elvis Presley and Felton and we're down at Stax - at four in the morning - can you bring us something?' So, man, I had Thing About You Baby, For Ol' Times Sake, I had them on a little demo. I stumbled around the studio there and got dressed and I get down there and it's an alleyway and these two little guys come out with these trenchcoats on and they usher me into this little dark room with a tape recorder and they play just a piece of I Got A Thing About You Baby ... 'I like this, we keep this.' I ain't saw Elvis, I ain't saw nobody, just these two little spies. And then, they play For Ol' Times Sake ...'We like this.' They play the third song.. 'We don't like this, you can go.'
Roy: Terrific blokes.
TJ: Yeah, I say, 'Where's Felton, man, who in the hell are you boys?' You know, it was like about that time Felton came by and then Elvis came in and it was clear, but I thought it was odd he was letting these two old men.. businessmen .. pick his ..
Roy: Pick his material.
TJ: .. tunes, and then run you off if they didn't dig it, man. So, no fishing ... (Trails off amid laughter as Roy shakes his head in mock surprise)
HG: Now, you finish an Australian tour... (Trails off)
TJ: It's a downer story, you know.
HG: Aw, that doesn't worry us. You're finishing up an Australian tour tomorrow night at the Basement in Sydney with two shows, one at 9.30 and one at midnight.
HG: And, er, now you like playing in Australia ... you like being here?
TJ: Yeah, I love it over here, it's like playing down in Louisiana or Texas to me. The people, they get up on stage with you, they holler and they stomp and romp. It’s like just go out by yourself, sit down with your guitar for about 30 minutes take requests and then you get the drums out and rock. It's just, like, let the night happen over here, you know. I like it a lot.
HG: And on that winning note it's time to wish Tony Joe all the very best for the future and I ask all Club Buggery viewers whether here in the Occie or there at home to get them out and bang them together (He means to applaud) 'gator style as a way of thanking Tony Joe White!