M I double S I double S I double P I
Down in the Mississippi Delta…
Bobbie Gentry, who?
I would assume you did not ask the same question, too. Well, who could ever not know this beautiful songstress of her time?
With the compilation of classic pop and country songs compiled into her album, “Ode to Billie Joe”, Bobbie Gentry did not imagine the massive success awaiting her. A husky-voiced country singer, well-known for her raven-colored hair, Gentry was actually much more, persuasively interpreting rock, country rock, gospel, pop, R&B, and jazz in her repertoire. Indeed, this Mississippian beauty deserves being the chanteuse of the 60’s and maybe beyond.
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An innovative lyricist, Gentry has woven rural narratives together with ease and poignancy.
“Billie Joe” is a brilliant Southern gothic tale sprinkled with the controversial subject matter. Topics that talk about young love, a disapproving family, a baby born out of wedlock, and ultimate suicide. To note, it knocked the Beatles’ “All You Need Is Love” off its No. 1 perch in 1967, and remained in the position for four weeks and sold a staggering three million copies.
Titled Ode to Billie Joe, the album was a worldwide smash, remaining on the pop charts for 30 weeks. In an instant replay worthy moment, Gentry again dethroned the Beatles. This time it was the revolutionary Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.
Mississippi Delta: A song about her Mississippian roots
Billie Joe is a cohesive album that holds up well half a century later. However, the first track, a hard-driving rock number entitled “Mississippi Delta”, sticks out like a sore thumb. Released as the B-side of “Billie Joe”, Haskell, best known as Rick Nelson’s arranger and producer for 28 years, recalled in an exclusive interview,
“If the song had been released as the A-side, Bobbie would have been known as a gravel-voiced artist.”
Gentry walked away with three Grammys, including Best New Artist and Best Vocal Performance by a Female, at the 1968 awards ceremony.
In the eye of the hurricane, the songwriter deftly juggled professional and romantic pursuits, going on a handful of dates with her musical arranger. Haskell confessed,
“I thought she was very pretty. My wife and I had separated at the time, and we were thinking of having a divorce. Luckily for me, that never went through because my wife is wonderful.”
“I remember taking Bobbie out to lunch. When a friend of mine in the music business said, ‘Why can’t you see me today?’ I replied, ‘I’m going to lunch with Bobbie Gentry.’ I only thought of her as the girl with the most gorgeous legs ever who also possessed a great songwriting ability [laughs].”
“After we went out to lunch, I wanted to see Bobbie again. I called her two or three or four times. I finally left her a message on her answering machine. She finally returned my call. When I heard her voice, I exclaimed, ‘I’ve been trying to call you! I was hoping you would call me back before now.’”
Bobbie responded, ‘Listen you, I don’t work for the phone company’ [laughs]. Bobbie was definitely a firecracker, very strong-willed.”
Watch Bobbie Gentry’s Mississippi Delta.
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