Tuesday, July 27, 2010

July 27

Here's a birthday wish to Bobbie Gentry, who may be one of the most mysterious entries that I'll write about in this blog. Let me employ a contemporary reference: she's the Lauryn Hill of country music.
First, let's listen to the song that defined her career: the Southern Gothic tune "Ode to Billy Joe".

The mystery of what happened on the Tallahassee Bridge was a phenomenon in 1967; it was #1 on the Pop chart, a top 10 hit on the Adult and R&B charts (but not country!) The album knocked 'Sgt Pepper' off the top spot. The song managed 8 Grammy nominations, of which Bobbie won 3 - including Best New Artist. (If you pay attention to the Grammys, you might know where this is going...)
Her second album, "The Delta Sweete" was a semi-autobiographical concept album, continuing her swampwater songbird sound. It didn't sell as well as the other 3 albums she put out in 1968, mostly covers and duets.

After "Billy Joe", her next composition that achieved some resonance was "Fancy"; the song and album were released in 1970.

The song's become a Reba McEntire standard, and, in its way, a feminist anthem. For Bobbie Gentry, it was her last Grammy nomination, her last hit single.
The album "Fancy" was one of three Bobbie Gentry albums released in 1970. In all, she had recorded nine albums in four years.

The 70's were her cashing in period. There would be no more new songs. She toured Europe, then managed a big payday for a Vegas revue, where she had complete creative control. In the summer of 1974, she had her TV Variety show, the Bobbie Gentry Happiness Hour. In 1976, "Ode to Billy Joe" became a feature film starring Robbie Benson and Glynnis O'Connor.

The film promised to answer the long-debated questions of why Billy Joe jumped off the bridge and what the girl knew.
By 1980, she was retired from performing altogether.

My biggest question is, were there any more songs? She certainly had the artistic ambitions; although Kelly Gordon received producer credit for "Billy Joe" and several other albums, Bobbie revealed that she produced most of her songs (and had to list an established producer at the label's insistence.) She resorted to covering pop and country standards to retain some measure of "Billy Joe" success, while the creative follow-ups - songs like "Casket Vignette" and "Apartment 21" - were ignored by the masses.
So, she did retire to enjoy motherhood and her spoils? Was she frustrated or heartbroken with the business? Did she just leave while the leaving was good? She was a mysterious woman from the first; no use expecting answers now...

We'll let her say goodbye with her buddies Bing Crosby and Tiny Tim:

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