It's time for round two of the Chicks Who Told The Wretched Music Biz To Fuck The Fuck Off series, this time focusing on an even more mysteriously reclusive Diva of days gone by... and one I'd pay to see make a comeback.
They found her, you know. Tracked her down a few months ago to a mansion at the top of some gated community in the Great Smoky Mountains of Tennessee. Found her phone number. Called it. She picked up, and in the classic, giveaway drawl intoned that there was no one here by that name. You could almost hear the wink, and the internal, "Well, I guess it's time to change the number again."
Never seen or heard from since 1982, the story of Roberta Lee Streeter -- stage name: Bobbie Gentry -- is one of those music industry tales that just leaves you shaking your head. Author of arguably the single most argued over popular song in species history, her whereabouts and Whatever Happened To's mount by the year, forming a legend unique in the music of our era.
She was born this day in 1944 in the heart of the Ground Zero of The Blues, the Mississippi Delta, and 23 years after that she rose to prominence on the back of one of the greatest songs ever written in any era, like a Southern Gothic novel with chord changes. The track made her a global superstar and a pioneer -- she and Dolly Parton (another subject for this page for another day, trust me) are thought to be the first female Country artists to write their own material.
As brilliant and unprecedented as Ode to Billie Joe may have been -- and it's still, 50 years on, one of the greatest tracks ever penned by anyone -- there's way more to Bobbie Gentry than just the title track off her debut platter, and she was hardly just a "Country artist". Songwriters and performers like this are one in ten million, only occurring once every few generations. Too bad the suits didn't trust her to do her thing, descending like flies and doing what power puppet profit pigs always do, cajole you to repeat the exact formula that got their Teen Thai Prostitute funds a-swelling in that biiiiiiig bank account of theirs.
Take her (ridiculous, even today) song Fancy.... it's just your typical, detailed story song about a poor mother with no option but to turn her 15-year-old daughter out as a hoe. And it has a happy ending, turning out to be the right move in the context of the story she's telling. And it went to #9 on the charts. How do you have a hit single, in 1970, with a song like that? As a woman???? She makes what the faux-controversial divas of today sing about sound like songs about waiting in line to have your hair done.
I was thinking when I began writing all this yesterday, about how yesterday's honoree and today's, born one year and one day apart, are really super similar by a lot of vital metrics. Both wrote challenging, unapologetic material about the deeper and more honestly seamier side of the human condition, and relationships as they relate to women. Both did so in completely uncompromising, artistically visionary ways. And both did so wearing pretty much next to nothing! Really, Bobbie was as provocative in her own style as Betty Davis would be, just a few years later, in hers.
After ceasing recordmaking in 1971 -- one reason being that the industry bigwigs wouldn't allow her production credits on her records, even though it was she that was producing them in the studio -- she went on to conquer the Las Vegas strip, becoming one of its hugest attractions in the 1970s with her wildly theatrical, genre-bending shows.
It was all eventually water under the Tallahatchie Bridge (pictured above) though, and she grew weary of the physical demands the Vegas performances put on her body night after night, eventually stopping altogether in around 1981, and appearing for the last time on TV in 1982. Since then, not a peep. Not a picture. Not a sighting. Not a whisper. At all.
All of this -- much like the 1977 film adaptation of Ode to Billie Joe -- will make a fantastic, Garbo-esque biographic film or documentary someday soon (why not both? I'm down), but until that day we are left to ponder five of the most tantalizing words in music: Whatever Happened to Bobbie Gentry? Like that package that went sailing off the bridge in that iconic hit song, we may never know the truth. But that's ok too, because as Leonard Cohen so famously said, we may be ugly, but we have the music. Actually he claims Janis Joplin told him that, but it is what it is.
As with yesterday, there is literally zero archival stuff of Miss Bobbie to share with y'all, but no worries cuz as with Betty Davis, years and years ago I made a CD of my favorite tunes of hers that eventually found its way, as FLAC files, into my phone, which doubles as sort of an iPod for me. So get ready, cuz Imma put it onya right down below here.
Mississippi Delta Reunion
01 Okolona River Bottom Band
03 The Girl from Cincinnati
04 Niki Hokey
05 Find 'Em, Fool 'Em and Forget 'Em
06 I'll Never Fall In Love Again
07 You've Made Me So Very Happy
09 But I Can't Get Back
11 Mississippi Delta
12 Marigolds and Tangerines
13 Somebody Like Me
14 Sweete Peony
15 Glory Hallelujah, How They'll Sing
16 Skip Along Sam
17 Son of a Preacher Man
18 Seasons Come, Seasons Go
19 He Made a Woman Out of Me
20 Where's the Playground, Johnny
21 Mean Stepmama Blues
22 Something In the Way He Moves
24 Lookin' In
25 Ode to Billy Joe
Total time: 1:19:24
473 MB FLAC/July 2016 archive link
Well that'll be it for July from me, unless another seminal, formative muso kicks the bucket before next Monday and I'm pressed into Emergency Grief Duty anyhow. But pull my little mixtape down and paste your ears to what makes today's mystery Birthday Girl worth all the decades of hype that surround her whereabouts. And as always, we wish Miss Bobbie Gentry the very best of 72nd b'days. and many more. And please come back and make music again, can you? This parade of idiots in neon micro-thongs, singing about pimps and hoes, don't hold a candle to what you had to say on the subject back in the day anyway--J.