Examining Jim Stafford's Foolish Decision to Divorce Bobbie Gentry
what a talented girl!"
Introducing Bobbie Gentry
Roberta Lee Streeter, born July 27, 1944, professionally known as Bobbie Gentry, is an American popular singer-songwriter recognized as one of the first female Country music artists to write and produce her own material. Her songs drew from her Mississippi background to compose vignettes of the Southern United States. Gentry rose to international fame with her intriguing Southern Gothic narrative "Ode to Billie Joe" in 1967. The song spent four weeks as the No. 1 pop song on the Hot 100 chart and was fourth in the Billboard year-end chart of 1967 and earned her Grammy awards for Best New Artist and Best Female Pop Vocal Performance in 1968.
Gentry charted eleven singles on the Billboard Hot 100 and four singles on the United Kingdom Top 40. Her album (Bobbie Gentry album) "Fancy," brought her a Grammy nomination for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance. After her first albums, she had a successful run of variety shows on the Las Vegas Strip. Mysteriously, Gentry lost interest in performing in the late 1970s, and since has lived in a private gated community in Mississippi.
My connection to Bobbie Gentry
Pieces like this are tough for me to write. It's rather simple really. I have fight with facts and my own emotions and sometimes, my emotions win. I guess that's okay as long as I do not stray that far from the truth concerning my subject.
I remember well the first time I heard the sandy-edged voice of Bobbie Gentry. Chill bumps ran up my spine. It was summer and school was out until August. My parents both worked so I had my days alone. No friends to talk to except via phone and my portable radio that I loved. I was 13, an amateur teenager in 1967. I loved rock music and listened only to WVOK, Bessemer, Alabama. This was "the" station for other teens and myself, the "hip" crowd.
I had just made myself a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and was walking toward the living room when "Ode to Billy Joe" started playing over my radio. I lost my appetite at that moment. I recall just standing still as Bobbie Gentry belted the musical saga out to everyone about this kid named "Billy Joe McAllister," who fell madly in love with this girl and for some mysterious reason took his life by jumping from the Tallahatchie Bridge at Money, about ten miles (16 km) north of Greenwood, Mississippi, and has since been replaced. The November 10, 1967, issue of Life Magazine contained a photo of Gentry crossing the original bridge.
I was in shock
I suppose. Gentry wrote the song about McAllister and well, the rest is musical history, fame and money galore for Gentry. She darn well deserved it too. Gentry, in my humble opinion, defied the odds of making a name for herself in the music industry. Her one-girl battle against a male-dominated business and being a southern girl, well she fought an uphill battle with her career, but made it. That, no one cannot take from her.
But as for me being in shock, I was. There was just something in Gentry's voice that made her story of "Billy Joe McAllister," take on a life of its own. From that day forward, WVOK played her song as least four times per day. I give the station owners (then), William Benns and wife, Iralee, credit for promoting someone from our own backyard and being that Gentry was very pretty and had a sexy voice, she and her destiny were suddenly carved in vinyl.
It had to be love
It had to be. My stomach did not feel well after hearing Bobbie Gentry's soothing voice over WVOK. Remember I said I was 13? Now I was sensible enough to know that me, a very rural kid would not stand a chance to win this pretty singer's heart, so I convinced myself to love Bobbie Gentry from afar.
No matter what I was doing or who I happened to be yakking with on our black telephone with a rotary dial, each time "Ode to Billy Joe" played, I stopped instantly and listened to Gentry sing her beautiful-but-haunting tale about McAllister being "madly" in love with a certain Mississippi girl to such an extent that he took his life.
Do you remember the film?
"Ode to Billy Joe," starring Robby Benson as Billy Joe McAllister? And Glynnis O'Connor as Bobbie Lee Hartley, his love interest and James Best as sheriff, Dewey Barksdale, who held a dark secret (in the film) and what happened between him and McAllister at a wild party was thought to be why Billy Joe leaped to his eternal reward off of Tallahatchie Bridge.
I watched the film just to hear Gentry's song on the soundtrack. The movie itself was okayish and possibly a decent rendering of a southern mystery told by Hollywood writers who did not know what grits were. Yeah. Pretty sharp, those Hollywood writers.
I said all that to say this
And while I strayed from the subject of despising Jim Stafford, a once-famous Country rocker, who's song, "Spiders and Snakes," which I never liked, is living well (allegedly) in Branson, Missouri with all of the other once-famous singers has been's doing three shows a day for retired tourists from Peoria, Illinois who always idolized Stafford and the like.
I did though, tolerate "Spiders and Snakes," but not to the extent as to leave home head-long in pursuit of meeting this songster who stole Bobbie Gentry's heart. No way. No wow!
I mean. I saw his act on television so much that those jokes that were stale the first time that I heard them grew rotten the second and third time Stafford told them on Nashville Now with Ralph Emery and other "exciting" variety shows.
Stafford's other hit, "Wild Wood Weed," (1974) served him well as it climbed the charts like a starving cat burglar after jewels to steal to fence for groceries. I liked the "Weed" thing. I did not like Stafford's cock-sure attitude and how he gave off a sickening vibe of arrogance.
I could understand him giving off an arrogance vibe if he were that famous, but Jim, hate to hurt your feelings, but you were not that famous. And your other poor excuse for a song, "My Girl Bill," don't get me wound up here at 2:36 a.m., June 4.
Partnering with Bobbie
I guess I should feel in awe of you, Jim Stafford, for knowing talent when you heard it. That had to be the case (at first), when you talked Bobbie Gentry into living with you for six months at Van Nuys before marrying her on Oct. 15, 1978 on the 200-acre horse ranch you both owned. Slick is a better word. You saw how meteoric her rise to fame had been and you figured that inside her pretty head were more hit songs that maybe you could claim a legal songwriting claim to when the song(s) hit the airways, for God Himself only knows that your own career was heading for the skids due to bad management including payments and royalties, so Bobbie was a natural vehicle for you to ride (no pun intended) to regain what stardom you had lost.
Uhh, Jim? You still with me?
The inevitable materializes
Wasn't long after you and Bobbie were hitched, both of you began touring and why not? As celebrities, that kinda goes with the territory. But years after the divorce from Bobbie Gentry, who by the way, is still not recording, could out-sing, out-write and out-perform you if she were drunk as a skunk and living on acid. Hate to hurt your feelings, Jim, but it's only fair that you hurt Bobbie's feelings and went on to taste success in a few Las Vegas shows.
Still, I have to wonder if "the" reason you hinted at (not stated) for the divorce was the hectic touring schedule and having no time to spend with each other, when to this outsider, the reason for your divorce is obvious. You were threatened by Bobbie Gentry. Face it. You are not the first male celebrity who was threatened by a female companion or friend. (e.g. Desi Arnaz).
It is now 2016, June to be exact. And if I were so minded, I could start surfing all of the available FM, AM and internet radio stations to find one of your current songs, Jim Stafford, and not find one. Just the old, worn-out "Spiders and Snakes" and "My Girl Bill" bit.
What goes around comes around. We "reap what we sow." Both fit your case, Jim. Oh, I almost forgot. Stupid is as stupid does. That one is perfect.
Note: next time I will examine the foolish decision made by then-foolish James Taylor as he let the sexy, talented, gorgeous Karly Simon slip through his fingers.
Good night, Houston.
One more time, enjoy with me, from 1967
© 2016 Kenneth Avery
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