Missing since Christmas

Christmas 1978, that is. That’s how long it’s been since Bobbie Gentry last performed in public.

Gentry once was one of the hottest singers around, topping the charts with “Ode to Billie Joe” in 1967, then becoming a familiar face on the TV variety shows of the late ’60s and early ’70s.

Because Gentry was on TV into the mid-’70s, it’s a little surprising to find her recording career was all but over by then. She recorded eight albums from 1967 to 1971, and not much more. A remake of “Ode to Billie Joe” briefly charted in 1976. Another single missed in 1978, and that was it.

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Gentry — born Roberta Lee Streeter in Chickasaw County, Mississippi — really was a California girl. A dark-haired, dark-eyed California girl. She grew up in Palm Springs, then worked briefly as a Vegas showgirl, then moved to Los Angeles, where she studied at UCLA and the Los Angeles Conservatory of Music.

She was bright, and she wrote a lot of her own songs. The critics loved Gentry’s adventurous nature. The fans were less enthusiastic. Toward the end of her career, Gentry wrote and produced her own Vegas show, going so far as to supervise the dancers and the costumes.

After appearing on “The Tonight Show” on Christmas night 1978, she called it a career. She was 34.

Since then, she’s raised a son and, perhaps, worked behind the scenes in TV production in the Los Angeles area. She’s gone off the radar.

A recent trip to the used record store turned up Gentry’s second album, “The Delta Sweete,” from 1968. One listen, and it’s clear why it thrilled critics and baffled fans. It’s quite a mix of styles, from swamp rock to country to folk to pop. Gentry — then just 24 — wrote eight of the 12 cuts.

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“Okalona River Bottom Band”

“Mornin’ Glory”

“Sermon”

All by Bobbie Gentry, from “The Delta Sweete,” 1968. (The link is to a CD with two Gentry albums from 1968. The other is “Local Gentry,” her third album.)

All three cuts are written by Gentry. We’ll save the covers for another night.

4 Comments

Filed under February 2008, Sounds

4 responses to “Missing since Christmas

  1. Phil

    She was on a 45 with Jody Stephens in 1963: Requiem For Love / Stranger In The Mirror – which you probably knew but I thought I would mention anyway just in case😀.

  2. Dan

    Actually, Bobbie Gentry’s last television performance was in May of 1980 on an NBC special honoring mothers day. She sang the broadway song’ Mama A Rainbow’. She also presented at the 1980 ACM awards show which was hosted by George Strait.

  3. Dan

    There has been a serious re-evaluation of her work. As of 2009, her entire Capitol catalog is back in print. She has sold a million re-issue and compilation cd’s since 1990 and she won the grammy hall of fame award in 1999. Her other notable big hit ‘ Fancy’ is in the process of being optioned for a motion picture. Fancy has been covered by many artists. Most notable was Reba McEntire who has sold over ten million copies of the song on albums and earned Bobbie Gentry millions more in royalties. The biggest myth about her is that she was dropped by Capitol Records. This simply is not true. She had a first tier contract with the label 1967-73,earning a whopping 3.5 million from the label This became public record when musican Bobby Paris sued her for 1% of her royalties in a verbal agreement he had with her. He won the case in court and Bobbie Gentry paid him 35,000. Capitol offered her a second tier contract in 1973. She was in the process of working on a new album for the label. Because of her ability to earn millions outside of recording she was in a strong position to turn down Capitols watered down offer. Her refusal to be dominated by a producer ala Billy Sheryll( Tammy Wynette) Owen Bradley( Loretta Lynn made it nearly impossible to continue to have a serious recording career.. She focused on her popularVegas review , earning huge contracts untill her 1980 retirement. In 2003, billboard magazine noted that Ode to Billie Joe was the biggest female single in the history of Capitol Records and #10 on their all time hit list.

  4. She is one of the greats! You can see why what happened to her had to happen considering the circumstances of the time and place…which is also my home. I vividly remember her performance with just her acoustic and a piano player at MS State circa..oh..1969?

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