Tuesday, October 24, 2006

 

The Tallahachee Bridge Song


It has been described as Being a simple acoustic guitar played against a background of strings that create the perfect setting for Bobbie Gentry's mature almost husky voice, using traditional blues scales in much the same way as 'Black Magic Woman' did. Sounds pretty academic stuff, all that I know is that Bobbie Gentry rightly made her name and fortune as author and interpreter of 'Ode To Billie Joe', one of the all time great songs. It was originally released in 1967, spent 4 weeks topping the US charts, peaked at no.13 in the UK, sold in excess of 3 million copies, Inspired a film of the same name in 1976, was awarded the Grammy Hall Of Fame in 1999, has been one of the lead tracks on many various artist compilations. Not bad really for a song that started off as the B side of her first single 'Mississippi Delta' which was ignored as disc jockeys started spinning Billie Joe. I've always said that one of the signs of a great song is the number of cover versions that exist and 'Ode To Billie Joe' is no exception having been interpreted by Booker T & The MGs, Ray Charles, Howlin' Wolf, Ralph McTell, Diana Ross & The Supremes, Billy Joe Spears, Jackie Wilson, Tammy Wynette, the list is endless. Apart from posting the original I have also chosen three cover versions the first from Sinehead O'Connor which was to be found on the War Child compilation 'Help', while staying faithful to the original it reminds me of Dylan's 'Ballad Of Hollis Brown' both in musical terms and in it's subject mater. The second cover is from a lesser known female artist Phranc and is a straight folk run through of the song, which can be found on her EP 'Goofyfoot'. Last up is an instrumental from blues prodigy Lucky Peterson, this time its an instrumental driven by Lucky's Hammond B3, an instrument and sound that I've always been a sucker for. An interesting observation, all the cover versions I know have preferred the spelling Billy as opposed to the more hillbilly Billie! I find that the original has an under exploited funky side, should anyone know of a funk cover version I'd be happy learn of it.

1. Bobbie Gentry - 'Ode To Billie Joe'
2. Sinehead O'Connor - 'Ode To Billy Joe'
3. Phranc - 'Ode To Billy Joe'
4. Lucky Peterson - 'Ode To Billy Joe'

Bobbie Gentry has long since retired from the music biz, having written a song like this royalties should keep her rich for the rest of her days. Her whereabouts and activities today remain a closely guarded secret. Those of you wishing to further investigate her works should check out the compilation 'An American Quilt 1967-1974' you won't be disappointed.

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