Whatever Happened to Bobbie Gentry?

This is a wonderful documentray about the wonderful singer Bobbie Gentry, narrated by the equally wonderful Rosanne Cash.

Spoiler alert. I hadn’t realised that Bobbie Gentry had ‘retired’ in the early 1980s, and that nobody seems to know where she is now. Which is sad. But her most famous song, Ode to Billie Joe, still gives me goose-bumps.

PS I saw Rosanne Cash in concert recently, and she was brilliant. But she didn’t perform Ode to Billie Joe on this occasion.

You can catch the programme on BBC iPlayer until next Monday 21st May.

BBC iPlayer – Whatever Happened to Bobbie Gentry?

But if you missed it, here is their description. And of course, it will be repeated some time…

Rosanne Cash presents a profile of one of the most gifted, and enigmatic, of all American singer-songwriters.

Best remembered these days – if at all – for one hit record, there was a lot more to the now rather neglected talent of Bobbie Gentry than the mysterious Ode To Billie Joe. At her peak in the late 1960s and early 1970s, she was a million-selling artist who topped the charts in both the US and the UK, headlined in Las Vegas where she befriended Elvis Presley & Tom Jones, and fronted her own television show for BBC 2.

Alongside this she wrote and produced much of her own work and, across a series of albums, developed an idiosyncratic style of her own which owed as much to the tradition of the American short story as it did to country and folk music.

Whatever Happened To Bobbie Gentry examines her rise to fame and career trajectory from the international success of her debut release, Ode To Billie Joe, through to her subsequent decision to withdraw from both the music industry and public life.

The programme includes the recollections of those who worked alongside her, including arranger Jimmie Haskell, who recalls how the pristine detail of her lyrics inspired his sweepingly cinematic treatment for Ode To Billie Joe. Producer Rick Hall and musicians Jesse Boyce and Mickey Buckins reflect on her trip to Muscle Shoals to record her Fancy LP, and contemporary artists Shelby Lynne and Lucinda Williams comment on, and acknowledge, her on-going influence.

The documentary also features contributions from John Cameron (the musical director of her BBC 2 TV series) and music writer Holly George Warren.


Bob Harris Country

Rosanne Cash is performing at Union Chapel on March 30th and I’ll be there. Ideally in or near the front row. She is without doubt my favourite country singer right now. I enjoy a lot of country music, but there’s a certain sub-species that I find hard to deal with, though it’s hard to work out why.

When I was growing up, my Mum was a big fan of country and western, as it was then called. Particular favourites of hers were Jim Reeves and Johnny Cash, both of whom I’ll still play from time to time.

Whispering Bob Harris has a one-hour long show each Thursday evening on Radio 2 in which he plays a nice mix of new country music and some old favourites. And ‘Americana’. Still not entirely sure what that is: maybe just a catch-all term for country music, bluegrass and other styles, some of which have evolved from our own Scottish and Irish traditions.

Obviously, I’m hoping that Rosanne will be invited to guest on the Country show while she’s here in the UK – but looking at the list of future guests, that doesn’t seem to be the case. Recent guests include Eric Church and The Band Perry.

The enthusiasm Whispering Bob has for the music is infectious. And his knowledge is encyclopedic. But unlike some parts of Wikipedia, I suspect most of the information he gives out is fairly accurate.

Sometimes he plays a record that, even if it’s totally different lyrically, reminds me of all those records played overnight on the old Country 1035, all the archetypal, my woman left me, my dog got run over and my truck got stolen (I may have made that up) songs that made me wish I’d never volunteered for nightshift.

On the other hand, sometimes he’ll play a record that you wouldn’t necessarily label ‘country’ but which is different, moving, or evocative, a recent example being Raul Malo’s version of ‘Let it be me’. Sublime.

So that’s Bob Harris Country, BBC Radio 2, Thursday evening, 7-8pm.

BBC: Bob Harris Country

Bob Harris’s own website which includes playlists from the last several years.

Rosanne Cash’s own website.