This song was written by the Louisiana swamp rocker Tony Joe White, who first recorded it on his second album, Continued, in 1968. The song is ode to loneliness and fatalism, as it finds our hero outside in the rain with nowhere to go and no woman to love him. "I knew about rainy nights in Georgia," White said in our 2013 interview. "When I got out of high school, I went down to Marietta, Georgia to live with my sister and get a job. I got a job driving a truck for the highway. Then every time it would rain, I would get to stay home and play my guitar. So I remembered them rainy days and rainy nights down there."
White had a hit of his own with "Polk Salad Annie," which hit #8 in the US in August 1969. Benton's version of "Rainy Night In Georgia" peaked at #4 in March 1970.
Brook Benton was a Soul singer who had recently signed with Atlantic Records when he recorded this song. Atlantic boss Jerry Wexler, who was enjoying tremendous success with Aretha Franklin, introduced the song to Benton and had him record it with Arif Mardin producing. Recorded at Criteria Studios in Miami, the song went to #1 on the R&B charts, supplanted a week later by Franklin's "Call Me." Musicians on the track included Cornell Dupree (guitar), Toots Thielmans (harmonica) and Harold Cowart (bass).
The song was the last big hit for Benton; he died in 1988 at age 56.
Tony Joe White had left Georgia when he wrote this song. He had been living in Texas for about eight months when he heard the Bobbie Gentry song "Ode To Billie Joe"on the radio, and the lightbulb turned on. "I thought, How real!," White told us. "And if I ever decided to write a song, I'd write something real and something that I knew about. I knew about rainy nights, and within about two weeks the song was laid down."
This has been covered by Ray Charles, Hank Williams Jr. and Tennessee Ernie Ford, and was #498 on Rolling Stone magazine's list of the 500 greatest songs of all time.