Tuesday, June 3, 2014

"It was the third of June, another sleepy, dusty Delta day..."

Bobbie Gentry was born Roberta Lee Streeter on July 27, 1944 in Chickasaw County, Mississippi.
It's been almost 50 years since Bobbie Gentry's debut single “Ode to Billie Joe” toppled the Beatles’ “All You Need Is Love” from the top spot on the Billboard chart of hit singles. Recorded in 40 minutes on July 10, 1967 for Capitol, it was released as the flip side of “Mississippi Delta” (also a fantastic song), but DJs and listeners alike were mesmerized by its compelling words and haunting music. The song won Gentry three Grammy Awards, including Best New Artist (she was the first Country artist to ever win in this category).
Gentry described the enigmatic ballad as “a study in unconscious cruelty…. Everybody has a different guess about what was thrown off the bridge—flowers, a ring, even a baby. Anyone who hears the song can think what they want, but the real message of the song, if there must be a message, revolves around the nonchalant way the family talks about the suicide. They sit there eating their peas and apple pie and talking, without even realizing that Billie Joe’s girlfriend is sitting at the table, a member of the family.”
Gentry was a smart and talented artist whose producing savvy went uncredited, and she backed off from performing due in part to the rampant sexism of the '60s. Still she left an enduring legacy.
If you love roots music, we've got a lot of great stuff on hand right now, including new albums by Carlene Carter, Rosanne Cash, Johnny Cash, Hooray for the Riff Raff, Emmylou Harris, Rodney Crowell, Nanci Griffith, Dolly Parton, and Nickel Creek. Do stop in and browse!
Ode to Billie Joe
It was the third of June, another sleepy, dusty Delta day.
I was out choppin' cotton and my brother was balin' hay.
And at dinner time we stopped, and walked back to the house to eat.
And mama hollered at the back door "y'all remember to wipe your feet."
And then she said she got some news this mornin' from Choctaw Ridge
Today Billy Joe MacAllister jumped off the Tallahatchie Bridge.

Papa said to mama as he passed around the blackeyed peas,
"Well, Billy Joe never had a lick of sense, pass the biscuits, please."
"There's five more acres in the lower forty I've got to plow."
Mama said it was shame about Billy Joe, anyhow.
Seems like nothin' ever comes to no good up on Choctaw Ridge,
And now Billy Joe MacAllister's jumped off the Tallahatchie Bridge

And brother said he recollected when he and Tom and Billy Joe
Put a frog down my back at the Carroll County picture show.
And wasn't I talkin' to him after church last Sunday night?
"I'll have another piece of apple pie, you know it don't seem right.
I saw him at the sawmill yesterday on Choctaw Ridge,
And now you tell me Billy Joe's jumped off the Tallahatchie Bridge."

Mama said to me "Child, what's happened to your appetite?
I've been cookin' all morning and you haven't touched a single bite.
That nice young preacher, Brother Taylor, dropped by today,
Said he'd be pleased to have dinner on Sunday. Oh, by the way,
He said he saw a girl that looked a lot like you up on Choctaw Ridge
And she and Billy Joe was throwing somethin' off the Tallahatchie Bridge."

A year has come 'n' gone since we heard the news 'bout Billy Joe.
Brother married Becky Thompson, they bought a store in Tupelo.
There was a virus going 'round, papa caught it and he died last spring,
And now mama doesn't seem to wanna do much of anything.
And me, I spend a lot of time pickin' flowers up on Choctaw Ridge,
And drop them into the muddy water off the Tallahatchie Bridge.


  1. I never understood the meaning of the "bass the biscuits, please" lyric.

    1. Just Speculatin'June 4, 2014 at 12:58 PM

      I think the reason for the pass the biscuits and the i'll have another piece of apple pie is to highlight how nonchalant a manner with which the topic is spoken. It's just another topic for discussion at the dinner table, with the same amount of importance as a completely everyday event.