Friday, June 24, 2005

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.


Anonymous cj grogan said...

Like the raspy vocal and the funky bass/drums on the bottom and that there harmonica.

6/24/2005 05:08:00 PM  
Blogger go.gorostiza said...

yes, i love it!
larry, just in case you overpassed it too, her "Okolona River Bottom Band / Penduli, Pendulum" has a similar style, though not so strong as Mississippi Delta!

6/24/2005 05:55:00 PM  
Blogger MackMcCoy said...

Bobbie's dollarbin treasures go further than this - pick up the "Fancy" LP next time you see it for fifty cents - it was recorded at Fame Studios by Rick Hall, with the usual players, and has some straight up southern soul appeal, goes right on the shelf with "Dusty in Memphis" and the Lulu LP on Atco recorded with the Dixie Flyers...

6/25/2005 12:13:00 AM  
Blogger Dan Phillips said...

Yup. This IS the A side! Although I think of Bobbie every time I cross the Tallahatchie River, "Ode"
is not a favorite of mine. I'll take this or "Fancy" anyday.

I strongly agree that one should always at least listen to the B-sides - there are definitely jewels to be found or, maybe, just an anitidote to some hit you hated,
that make it worth the effort.
You definitely ought to keep that in-law, too! What a guy. Mine is letting me store 16,000 45s at his house. So, I too am blessed.

6/25/2005 01:29:00 AM  
Blogger MrBaliHai said...

I've been wanting to hear this song for quite a while. Mojo magazine had a really nice article on Bobbie a while back that mentioned this tune.

6/25/2005 08:07:00 AM  
Anonymous darcy said...

Sounds good.
I picked up another "was it the A or was it the B side" Bobbie Gentry just the other day - "Courtyard" , with "Louisana Man" on the other side (for 25 English pennies). Think "Courtyard" was the original A but "Man" was the hit, in the US at least. Anyway Courtyard blew me away. Totally different feel to "Delta" and "Ode" and just shows she was a lady of some versatility. Must seek out some more of her stuff, and sounds like "Fancy" will be top of the list.

6/25/2005 11:39:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Covered by our (defunct) little Fort Worth Rn'B group "The Gospel Swingers" a few years back. I had no idea it was Bobbie Gentry!

6/26/2005 11:25:00 AM  
Blogger Scott Soriano said...

Wow. I, too, have gotten Ode... on boxes of 45s, 99% turning out to be junk, and I've always tossed out Ode.. with the junk,never thinking to try the flip. I am going record hunting today and will surely find a copy of this.

Another flip I STRONGLY recommend is Give Me Love by Rosie & the Originals (which is on my list of songs to blog). The A side is Angel Baby. Not that I am a Beatles; fan, but John Lennon called Give Me Love the best rock and roll song ever recorded. strong statement from a guy who has heard a lot of music.

6/27/2005 01:15:00 PM  
Blogger Charlie Townsend said...

Yes, Bobbie was wonderful, and I do agree, "Mississippi Delta" SHOULD have been the hit. However, just a little 'trivia.' I read where someone mentioned that 'Courtyard' was the 'A side' and 'Louisiana Man' was the hit. Well, allow me to explain. Having had a hit originally w/ the 'b-side' you will notice that ALL of Bobbie's hits were 99% of the time, the 'b-side' (I guess it was her 'good luck' charm.) Even w/ 'Fancy' it was released as the 'b-side.' Fancy (another top 40 by Bobbie) is AWESOME and very well should have made a #1 spot on the pop and country charts, sadly it didn't. However, as quite an accomplishment, it DID make top 40 country & pop. I have an explantion regarding this too..... but don't wanna take up too much space. If anyone wants to know, tell me, and I will be happy to relate the story.
Gene C.
Baton Rouge, LA

7/20/2005 08:01:00 PM  
Anonymous kirkatron said...

Although I am a big Bobbie Gentry fan, the first version I heard of Mississippi Delta was by Billy Lee Riley.
I have a 45 on the Mojo label where he does a great interpretation of it.

12/15/2005 01:52:00 PM  
Anonymous cathy said...

If Bobbie Gentry's Fancy was the b side, what was on the a side?

6/04/2006 09:26:00 PM  
Anonymous Charles said...

Check out "Find 'Em, Fool 'Em and Forget 'Em" on the Fancy LP: awesome SOUL.

2/09/2007 11:11:00 PM  

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