Thursday, June 9, 2016

More Bobbie ... And Billie Joe

Ode To Billie Joe:   
Hey Kent,  
Looks like you and I discovered some of the same online "info" on the recording of "Ode to Billy Joe". I thought it was a stretch for the song to be over seven minutes, only to be trimmed down for airplay. I think it's great when a songwriter like Bobbie can deliver lyrics that are ambiguous. The group, America's songbook is full of those kind of verses. To be honest, after Billy Joe and girlfriend threw something off the bridge, I thought he went back by himself to retrieve it, and accidentally drowned! I just hate how the cheesy movie forced all of us to conclude what "really" happened. Better left alone to let our imagination paint the picture.  
- John LaPuzza 
I'm starting to think that what went over the Tallahatchie Bridge that day was everybody's sanity!!!  But we're coming across some vintage articles now, circa 1967 / 1968 that bear out the whole B-Side / seven minute version story ... read on!  (kk)   

Attached is a Billboard article about Jimmy Haskell confirming Ode was the intended B side. This is from 1968, not something written 20 years later. 

Hopefully this link will take you to a book written about Bobbie Gentry and goes into detail on Mississippi Delta.
Also the old Billboards on line indicate Mississippi Delta charted overseas.  
Paul Urbahns 
Radcliff, Ky 
Very interesting ... not only does the photo above and the link confirm "Ode To Billie Joe"'s B-Side status, it ALSO states with complete certainty that a seven minute version exists SOMEWHERE.  Sure would love to see somebody at Capitol unearth this rarity!  (kk)   

Truthfully, it probably makes the most sense to reference material that was out at the time when it comes to anything relating to Bobbie Gentry and/or "Ode To Billie Joe" ... especially since she hasn't spoken a word about it in the nearly 50 years since!   

With that thought in mind, check out these comments from Gary Theroux, one of the original authors of the hit syndicated radio series "The History Of Rock And Roll" ...

Regarding "Ode To Billie Joe," Mr. Diehl is entitled to his perceptions -- but that's what they are: his perceptions.  I stand by my research, which was compiled from many, many sources.  Only Bobbie Gentry herself can settle the lingering questions about her classic hit and at the present time she doesn't seem too interested in talking.   Therefore we have to go by established facts plus what she did say while she was still open to the press.  

Whether or not there is or isn't an intact seven-minute version of "Ode To Billie Joe" in the Capitol vaults does not mean that one was never recorded.  According to my research, the 4:13 released version of "Ode" (with the added strings) was a cut down from a seven minute original track -- which, as noted, consisted simply of Bobbie singing to her own single guitar accompaniment.  If so, Capitol could have easily simply discarded the removed section(s) and their edits buried under Jimmie Haskell's string enhancements.   As it turns out, Billie cut a seven-minute DEMO version of "Ode" and presented it to Capitol (see story below).  It appears that her original Capitol studio recording was also seven minutes, which the label cut down.  While only Bobbie could tell us for sure, every published report I researched indicates that Bobbie's original conception of "Ode" -- be it the demo or the studio performance -- ran seven minutes.  

The idea of a record company insisting on shortening a song before release is nothing new.  When The Browns went in to record "The Three Bells" in 1959, producer Chet Atkins told them the song was way too long to be commercial and had them cut the song's timeline down to only three phases of Jimmy's life: his birth, his wedding and his passing.  The other verses -- which The Browns sometimes included in their live performances -- were deleted. 

Incidentally, I never speculated as to what any additional verses of "Ode" might have contained as I do not know and am not one to guess.  If I ever get to interview Bobbie directly, I'll probably ask her that, but I am not holding my breath.  

As I wrote, Ms. Gentry was signed to  Capitol on the strength of "Mississippi Delta," which Capitol's Kelly Gordon thought would make a fine A side.  Yes, Bobbie had performed live and even recorded before, but, according to all published reports, at the time she was hoping Capitol would pick up "Mississippi Delta" as a SONG to be recorded by one of their established artists.  She was thrilled when Kelly was equally impressed by her VOCAL and signed her as an artist.  

The copyright date on a composition has nothing to do with when a song was written. It could have been five minutes or fifty years before.  As the holder of many copyrights myself, I don't necessarily copyright everything I do right after I complete it.  Depending on what it is and its public release date, I may wait weeks, months or even years before I file for copyright registration -- and when I do, I often group a number of things under a single copyright.   It's cheaper and easier.  Therefore when Bobbie's compositions "Ode To Billie Joe," "Mississippi Delta" and her other works were formally copyrighted has nothing to do with the exact dates upon which they were composed.  

Whenever I research a hit, I first go to the people directly involved in its creation: the original writers, artists and producers.  After that I'll check outside sources -- which are far more likely to include errors, contradictions, misperceptions and promotional hype.  In the case of Bobbie Gentry, as the original writer and performer, she has made herself unavailable for years.  Arranger Jimmie Haskell -- whom we lost only last February -- did reveal HIS version of the "Ode" story in this interview conducted shortly before his passing:   

Bobbie Gentry had the most gorgeous legs ever: On the record with Jimmie Haskell

I'm afraid I'm going to have to side with the folks who were there at the time on this one.  (I don't think Tom Diehl was even BORN yet in 1967!!!  Lol!)

The fact that SO many of these on-the-scene observers remember a seven minute version (Bobbie Gentry, in her own words, says that "Ode To Billie Joe" started out as "a short story") and virtually EVERYTHING (including Billboard Magazine) says "Mississippi Delta" was the A-Side makes me think that we are presenting "the most accurate truth" ... which is ALWAYS the goal of Forgotten Hits.  (I'd also like to register an educated guess that, based on everything I've read here over the past week, those seven minutes never divulged a single clue as to what was thrown off the Tallahatchie Bridge ... because at NO time did Bobbie Gentry consider that to be a significant part of the story.)  Notice that I said "an educated guess" ... because that's all this is ... but if Bobbie Gentry would simply give me a call, we could scoop the nation with a worldwide exclusive that would nail this sucker down once and for all!!!  (kk)