It was 30 years ago tonight — Christmas night 1978 — that Bobbie Gentry performed on “The Tonight Show” and vanished into legend.
The dark-haired, sultry-voiced Mississippi native once was one of America’s hottest singers. At home in country, pop and Southern soul, she topped the charts with “Ode to Billie Joe” in 1967 (originally a B side, as our friend Larry explained a good while back at Funky 16 Corners) and was a familiar face on TV variety shows in the late ’60s and early ’70s.
Watch and see what the fuss was all about. This is Bobbie Gentry singing “Fancy” on “The Johnny Cash Show” on Jan. 21, 1970. What’s not to like?
Then only 25, Gentry already was a seasoned performer.
And she was just 34 when she called it a career that Christmas night.
Since then, she’s lived in Los Angeles (maybe Atlanta, maybe Las Vegas) and, perhaps, raised a son … or worked behind the scenes in TV production … or ran a farm … or became a playwright. No one knows for sure.
“She just disappeared,” the equally quirky singer Lucinda Williams — for whom Gentry has been an inspiration — reportedly once told Rolling Stone. “I heard she married some rich guy in Vegas. It just adds to the mystery of it all.”
So, 30 years on, let’s listen to some Bobbie Gentry and hear what all the fuss was about.
“Mississippi Delta,” Bobbie Gentry, from “Ode to Billie Joe,” 1967. The album link is to a 2-on-1 CD that includes “Touch ‘Em With Love,” Gentry’s 1969 album.
This was the A side to “Ode to Billie Joe,” which unexpectedly became the hit. Our friend Larry at Funky 16 Corners explains it all.
“Okolona River Bottom Band,” Bobbie Gentry, from “The Delta Sweete,” 1968. The album link is to a 2-on-1 CD that includes “Local Gentry,” her second 1968 album.
This was the followup single to “Ode to Billie Joe.” It peaked at No. 54 on the U.S. charts.
“Eleanor Rigby,” Bobbie Gentry, from “Local Gentry,” 1968. The album link is to a 2-on-1 CD that includes “The Delta Sweete,” Gentry’s first 1968 album.
Gentry did an increasing number of pop covers as her career progressed. This one is particularly suited to her earthy, downbeat style.
“Fancy” and “Find ‘Em, Fool ‘Em and Forget ‘Em,” Bobbie Gentry, from “Fancy,” 1970. The album link is to a 2-on-1 CD that includes “Patchwork,” Gentry’s 1971 album.
Gentry’s songs often portrayed strong women. These two certainly do. They’re from the last album that charted for Gentry, reaching No. 34 among U.S. country albums and No. 96 among the Top 200 U.S. albums.
And over at our other blog …
The Midnight Tracker offers these tunes and the rest of Side 1 from “Fancy.”