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.
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.
“Okalona River Bottom Band”
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.