Bobbie Gentry - Mississippi Delta
Miss Bobbie Gentry
My father-in-law is a righteous dude. Aside from all the obvious reasons, he’s always bringing me records. An inveterate garage sale-er, he’s always got something for me, ranging from a small carton of records, to a lot of about 3,000 45s. As I said, a righteous dude. The last time we visited my in-laws he had a couple of boxes of 45s he had picked up for me. When I got home later the next day, and started going through the records, it seemed that the boxes contained the usual mix of garage sale fare, i.e. lots of top 40 stuff, and a handful of keepers. Nothing I had any hopes of selling, but a few items for my crates. Among these was Bobbie Gentry’s 45 of ‘Ode To Billie Joe’ (and a few other things I’ll be blogging in the next week or two). The tune was a huge hit in 1967, and despite the fact that it’s always been a fave, it was never a record I sought out on 45. So, the other night I’m recording some vinyl, and going through the stack of 45s and I decide to flip some of them over to see what was hanging out on the b-side. This is a practice I recommend highly, as I’ve found many a hidden treasure taking up the forgotten side of a single. The flip side of ‘Ode to Billie Joe’ was a tune called ‘Mississippi Delta’. Now let me preface this by saying that I’m not a complete rube. I know that Bobbie Gentry’s early work carries with it a certain amount of hipster cred (a fact that simultaneously intrigues me and makes me suspicious), and that she is all the more interesting for having written much of her own material, and for her later reclusiveness. As a result, the ole Spidey sense was ever so slightly a-tingle as I dropped the needle. I had no freaking idea. ‘Mississippi Delta’ was a complete shocker. Opening with some funky, swampy guitar, the tune takes a sharp left turn when Gentry starts singing. Gone is the smoky, honey barbecued voice of ‘Ode To Billie Joe’. The Bobbie Gentry on this side of the 45 features the vocals of a woman that sounds like she hadn’t been asleep for a few days, cruising along on a mixture of bourbon, black coffee and trucker speed. The track is a rough-edged, funky rocker with the kind of crazy, back-bayou, rattlesnake soup lyrics that came into fashion briefly with the rise of Tony Joe White a few years later. I mean, really…. Have me a little that Johnny cake, A little bit of that apple pan dowdy. Picking them scuppernon's off that vine. Chigger bite, it's goin' to beat howdy. Ate me a bucket of Muscadine, Sit on the riverbank after dark. Drop my line down a crawdad hole, Do him in with a scaly bark. One-ree-o-ree-ee-reeanni. Fidderliss-farce-nickory-john-queery-quan. M I double S I double S I double P I. M I double S I double S I double P I. Right in the middle of the cotton belt, Down in the Mississippi Delta, Wearin' last years possum belt, Smack dab in the Mississippi Delta. Right there, nestled securely on the bottom side of a HUGE radio hit, is a certified lost classic. The kind of butt-shaking number that might otherwise have been used as the soundtrack to a funky, psychedelicized party scene in a forgotten exploito flick – a rough collision of country, funk, rock, blue-eyed soul and bizarre Faulkner cum Joyce swampbilly cant. I love it. The weird thing is (now get this…) ‘Mississippi Delta’ was originally the A-side of the 45. When it was first released, deejays started to flip it over to play “Ode To Billie Joe”, which was then pulled back, string-i-fied and re-released as the top side of the 45. This configuration hit #1 in August of 1967 (knocking the Beatles ‘All You Need Is Love’ from the top slot). ‘Ode To Billie Joe’ went on to be covered countless times, ‘Mississippi Delta’ went on to a life of obscurity, though it was covered years later by the Dutch group Shocking Blue. Now you can all go out and get your own 25 cent copy of the 45, take it to your next potato chip and Ripple party, flip it over and impress your friends.