“If I was this guy, you could all kiss my ass!”
That’s how David Letterman introduced Tony Joe White when he performed on his show in duet with the Foo Fighters. Indeed, White might be one of the coolest rockers out there, sunglasses, hat and snake-skin boots, he took the blues from the swamps of Louisiana and combined it with modern rock. The king of swamp-rock also contributed some of the coolest songs in Tina’s song catalogue, including… Undercover Agent For The Blues.
Tony Joe White and Tina Turner. It is one of those combinations that nobody would think about in the beginning but then it turns out that it is the most perfect match ever. Tony Joe basically defined Tina’s 1989 success album Foreign Affair by providing four songs; apart from the title track, also the hit single Steamy Windows, You Know Who Is Doing You Know What and… Undercover Agent.
His songs struck a chord with Tina. The expressions used in the lyrics combined with the bluesy, steamy sound reminded Tina of the music growing up in the South. Not that surprising maybe. Like Tina, White grew up in a family of cotton farmers and spent his childhood in the fields not all that far away from Tina’s hometown of Nutbush. In a 1989 interview, Tina jokingly said that when she first heard the songs, she thought Tony Joe White was a black man and she was shocked when she finally met him! The songs that White wrote for her became instant personal favorites to Tina and Steamy Windows and Undercover Agent have remained in the set list of her concerts for several tours.
The introduction of Tony Joe to Tina was set up by mutual friend Mark Knopfler, who had worked with Tina on several songs in the 1980’s. He passed on a demo tape containing some of Tony Joe’s songs. She immediately fell in love with Undercover Agent, a song White wrote together with his wife Leann. She invited him over to the studio to play guitar and harmonica on the track. The two hit off right away and the very same evening she had a second listen to the demo tape. She hand-picked the songs Steamy Windows, You Know Who and Foreign Affair. White was over the moon.
So, Undercover Agent For The Blues – what’s that all about? Sung from Tony Joe’s perspective, it’s about a man seduced by the ultimate femme fatale. James Bond set in the Louisiana Bayou. Hook, Line and Sinker. “She took me for a ride, and rattled me down to my shoes.”
Tony Joe White performing the song live in 1992 (Ollie Marland on keys)
However, when Tina sings it, SHE becomes the seductress. “He was blinded by the blackness of my long silk stockings.” You bet we don’t have a problem believing that! But in the end… who surrenders? Because this Undercover Agent, he had Tina romping, bare foot stomping. In a total state of confusion.
Judging from the below live performance of the song in 1990, especially with those high kicks in the end, it’s a safe bet that, even though he kept on getting kinkier, it was Tina who took him for a ride.
Speaking of live performances. How steamy can it get on stage? Although the above live performance of the song in a rock arrangement, is already quite hot and sweaty, the song got even steamier in the acoustic arrangement performed on the Wildest Dreams and 50th Anniversary tours. And our all-time favorite – bringing it home to good old David Letterman – is this version on the Late Show in 1997.