Brook Benton (1959)
Since Spotify has decided to stop working with the bluetooth in my car, I’ve started carting CD’s along again. I’ve been listening to “Box of Rock,” which is a 3-CD set that has so much old gold in it; re-recorded songs but still sung by the original artists, which makes it especially valuable to me. The song I heard yesterday that struck a chord with me was, “Rainy Night in Georgia,” sung by Brook Benton. Turning to wikipedia I learned that the song was written by Tony Joe White and originally recorded by him on his 1969 album, “Continued.”
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.
Regarding the Brook Benton recording, in 1969, after several years without a major hit, Benton had signed to a new record label, Cotillion Records (a subsidiary of Atlantic Records), by label A&R chief and producer Jerry Wexler. Benton recorded the song in November 1969 with arranger/producer Arif Mardin at Criteria Studios in Miami, Florida.
Included on 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, #2 on the AC Chart, and #58 in the 1970 Year End 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.
I just listened to the Tony Joe White original, and it’s pretty good, but it doesn’t have the soul-wrenching resonance that Brook’s cover does. He really takes me to that place and I feel the ache.