Saturday, November 09, 2013


Below…the last of Bobbie Gentry. Her cover of Patti Dahlstrom's "He Did Me Wrong But He Did Me Right" sank like something tossed from the Tallahatchee Bridge. Too darn bad, but a lot of great Patti Dahlstrom songs failed to get the attention they deserved, no matter who recorded them.

The year was 1978. After a Christmas Eve appearance on Johnny Carson's "Tonight Show," nobody saw Bobbie Gentry again. Since she hadn't had a Top 10 hit since "Fancy" in 1970, she wasn't exactly missed. By the time people began asking "Whatever Became of…" she had put up an effective barrier that kept her privacy intact. She wasn't big enough, (or her new life interesting enough) for the heavy tabloids to bother. As for fans, those knowing her whereabouts respect her too much to even sneak a snapshot of how she's looking these days.

Gentry was born Roberta Streeter. She took her last name from the strong film character "Ruby Gentry" played by Jennifer Jones. She seemed to come out of nowhere in 1967 with the #1 hit "Ode to Billie Joe." The song was originally over 7 minutes long, a demo with guitar. Capitol edited it down to make it into a single, subtracting enough verses to make the song much more mysterious, and adding the string arrangement that made it even more dramatic.

Bobbie walked away with four Grammy awards that year including Best New Artist, Best Vocal Performance/Female, and the somewhat similar Best Contemporary Female Solo Vocal Performance. There was also a Grammy for "Best Arrangement Accompanying a Vocalist."

Sultry and smart, she recorded some pretty interesting songs on her albums, and tried to challenge Top 40 radio now and then (how about "Casket Vignette.") But…her popularity in 1968-1970 was mostly due to a set of duets with Glen Campbell, including "All I Have to Do is Dream." Her single "Fancy" was only the second (and last) time she had a solo hit in America. Also in 1970, "Raindrops Keep Fallin' on My Head" grazed the UK Top 40.

"But I Can't Get Back" was the prophetic title of the single released in support of her album "Patchwork" in 1971. It hit #37 in the US, didn't do much overseas, and disc jockeys didn't see her name on much vinyl after that. In 1974, she spent the summer in England starring in a limited (four episode) run of "The Bobbie Gentry Show." And yes, four years later…she issued the Dahlstrom-penned single, appeared on "The Tonight Show," and disappeared.

Gone, but hardly forgotten. She's missed by both male and female fans. Jill Sobule, everyone's favorite Jewish lesbian singer/songwriter, may have offered the best tribute. It's her song, "Where is Bobbie Gentry," and here are some choice lines:

Where is Bobbie Gentry?

Up in Alaska, Hollywood, or maybe in Japan

I bet that she’s still beautiful, goes barefoot everywhere she can

Does she still play guitar or write a song or two?
Maybe that was over; she’s got better things to do

If I could just find you

I would love you, then I’d leave you alone

If I could just find you

I would love you and I’d leave you alone

HE DID ME WRONG... But He Did It Right


Timmy said...

Would sorely, -- I - I mean surely love to hear that "Where Is Bobbie Gentry" song...

Anonymous said...

Some good information here but Bobbie Gentry was quite active until the early 1980's. She had her last seven figure Las Vegas contract at the Alladin Casino in 1980. Her legendary show packed the Vegas strip for over a decade regardless of current hit records. Her last television appearances were in the 1980's. The C.M.A award show of 1982 was the end. Her biggest income year was 1976, when the film adaptation of Ode to Billie Joe became a smash hit at the box office and Bobbie's Warner Brothers contract gave her 10% of the profit and 15% of television and vhs rental profit. Her take before taxes was between three and four million. It was through her Warner Brothers film deal that Bobbie recorded for Warner Curb. In 1976, with the films success, Bobbie sold 300,000 records with the film sound track and re-record single of Ode to Billie Joe. Savy business deals like her minority ownership stake in the Phoniex Suns basketball team allowed her to retire from show business quite wealthy on her own terms. In recent years the composition ,Fancy, has earned Bobbie huge royalties from the 1991 Reba McEntire cover. Featured on Reba's album ,Rumor Has It, with over 4 million units sold and Greatest Hits volume 2 with a staggering 10 million copies sold. Ode to Billie Joe ,to date, has sold a staggering 50 million records on over 200 covers. Pop royality covers like, Jackie Wilson, Ray Charles, The Supremes, The Fifth Dimension and recent covers like Sheryl Crow and Roseanne Cash have kept the song in the forefront.

Ill Folks said...

Great information, thanks! Now we know where Bobbie Gentry the bank! "Owed" to Billy Joe...200 cover versions, and be-boppin' Reba...just reading royalty statements can take all day for this woman.

Anonymous said...

My favorite Bobbie Gentry cover was by master jazz pianist Bill Evans. His take on Bobbie's lush composition ,Mornin' Glory, was the lead off track on his historic 'Live In Toyko' album. Bill performed the song in hundreds of concerts before his untimely death. Other Bobbie Gentry songs with multiple covers include the southern swamp rocker, Mississippi Delta, Oklahona River Bottom Band and her glorious Ode to pot smoking, Sittin Pretty.

Anonymous said...

There is one very good reason the tabloid press has left Bobbie Gentry in peace. In 1973, when information surfaced on Bobbie's engagment to Elvis Presley, the tabloids ran a cover story" Bobbie gentry to have Elvis's son". Her legal team went after the culprits and won a judgment of an undisclosed amount. It was one of of the first legal victories against the tabloid press. Bobbie has had a truly remarkable life. She also dated Tom Jones,Bobby Darin besides the King. She reportedly ended the engagment when it became clear Elvis wanted a stay at home wife and that he still had girlfriend ,Linda Thompson, on a string in the background. .