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Blog Posted:5/4/2015 3:50:00 PM

I’m sure most of you have heard of the song ‘Ode to Billie Joe’ or at least seen the movie, which I have never seen because I don’t WANT to know what was thrown off the Tallahatchie Bridge!

The song was written and sung by Bobbie Gentry along with ‘Fancy’

Not only was she a talented and intelligent songwriter, but she had knock-out good looks was intelligent, a GREAT songwriter a had what I would call ‘Country Soul’

Of Portuguese descent, Gentry was born Roberta Streeter in Chickasaw County, MS, on July 27, 1944. The 1952 film Ruby Gentry lent the singer her stage surname

'Ode’ was a monster hit in 1968. Then, in 1975 she simply checked out. Few people know where she is now and I have a feeling that’s just fine with her. Rumor has it that she is living somewhere in Los Angeles

Below is what Bobbie said about the meaning of the lyrics...


“Those questions are of secondary importance in my mind. The story of Billie Joe has two more interesting underlying themes. First, the illustration of a group of people's reactions to the life and death of Billie Joe, and its subsequent effect on their lives, is made. Second, the obvious gap between the girl and her mother is shown, when both women experience a common loss (first, Billie Joe and, later, Papa), and yet Mama and the girl are unable to recognize their mutual loss or share their grief.



Ode to Billie Joe


It was the third of June, another sleepy, dusty, delta day

I was out choppin' cotton and my brother was balin' hay

And at dinner time we stopped and walked back to the house to eat

And Mama hollered out the back door, "Y'all remember to wipe your feet"

Then she said, "I got some news this mornin' from Choctaw Ridge

Today Billie Joe McAllister jumped off the Tallahatchie Bridge"


Papa said to Mama as he passed around the black-eyed peas

"Well, Billie Joe never had a lick o' sense, pass the biscuits, please

There's five more acres in the lower forty I've got to plow"

And Mama said it was a shame about Billie Joe anyhow

Seems like nothin' ever comes to no good up on Choctaw Ridge

And now Billie Joe McAllister's jumped off the Tallahatchie Bridge


Brother said he recollected when he and Tom and Billie Joe

Put a frog down my back at the Carroll County picture show

And wasn't I talkin' to him after church last Sunday night

I'll have another piece of apple pie, you know, it don't seem right

I saw him at the sawmill yesterday on Choctaw Ridge

And now you tell me Billie Joe's jumped off the Tallahatchie Bridge


Mama said to me, "Child what's happened to your appetite?

I been cookin' all mornin' and you haven't touched single bite

That nice young preacher Brother Taylor dropped by today

Said he'd be pleased to have dinner on Sunday, oh by the way

He said he saw a girl that looked a lot like you up on Choctaw Ridge

And she and Billie Joe was throwin' somethin' off the Tallahatchie Bridge"


A year has come and gone since we heard the news 'bout Billie Joe

Brother married Becky Thompson, they bought a store in Tupelo

There was a virus goin' round, papa caught it and he died last spring

And now Mama doesn't seem to want to do much of anything

And me I spend a lot of time picking flowers up on Choctaw Ridge

And drop them into the muddy water off the Tallahatchie Bridge

Below is Reba MacEntire's version of 'Fancy'


* More of what Bobbie Gentry said about the interpretation:

“The song is sort of a study in unconscious cruelty. But everybody seems more concerned with what was thrown off the bridge than they are with the thoughtlessness of the people expressed in the song. What was thrown off the bridge really isn’t that important.

“Everybody has a different guess about what was thrown off the bridge—flowers, a ring, even a baby. Anyone who hears the song can think what they want, but the real message of the song, if there must be a message, revolves around the nonchalant way the family talks about the suicide. They sit there eating their peas and apple pie and talking, without even realizing that Billie Joe’s girlfriend is sitting at the table, a member of the family.”



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Date: 5/5/2015 5:16:00 PM
I always did like that song... that line about pass the biscuits, please, always did freak me out. Because I have read mysteries since I was 8, I did focus on what was thrown off the bridge... thanks for sharing, Tim. Enjoyed the walk back in time... haunting lyrics... disturbing... hugs, Cyndi
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Cyndi MacMillan
Date: 5/6/2015 4:25:00 PM
I think what also makes this rich is that it retains its "voice," in other words, the feel of the piece is kept from beginning to end, it sounds so authentic. Why this reminds me of "to kill a mockingbird, suddenly, puzzles me... ???.... the tonality?
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Tim Ryerson
Date: 5/5/2015 5:44:00 PM
Thanks my friend! I just noticed that each verse is a 6-line series of 'perfect rhyme' couplets...WOW
Date: 5/5/2015 10:20:00 AM
My baby brother was named Billy Joe. He was electrocuted at age 14 and that song always reminds me of his dying so very young. Always thought Bobby Gentry was hot and extremely talented. Good to know she is still alive. Her song lyrics are pure poetry.
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Tim Ryerson
Date: 5/5/2015 5:48:00 PM
Thanks Robert - SO very sorry about your brother...I read that she moved to Los Angeles to study philosophy...Amazing lady!
Date: 5/4/2015 11:12:00 PM
I had such a crush on Bobby Gentry when I was a kid and I often still listen to that song. She and Raquel Welsh were something else - smokin!
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Tim Ryerson
Date: 5/5/2015 5:56:00 PM
Yes indeed Keith! I had a crush on her too as well as Raquel who I have heard STILL looks as sexy as ever...Bet Ms. Gentry does too who would be 71 now...
Date: 5/4/2015 8:30:00 PM
Have always loved this piece, and who wouldn't ?? Could there ever be a more haunting story of troubled youth, than this tale of heartbreak, confusion, death and grief? Thanks for sharing this memory, Tim!
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Tim Ryerson
Date: 5/4/2015 9:02:00 PM
Thanks my friend...I was sure you would find this interesting because of our mutual love of ALL good music...
Date: 5/4/2015 6:28:00 PM
Footnote: At the beginning of the above video, that's an actual picture of Bobbie Gentry running across the Tallahatchie Bridge...
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Date: 5/4/2015 5:56:00 PM
SPOILER ALERT: yes, I got it right. He threw himself off the bridge because he hated himself for giving into his feelings of homosexuality when all he wanted was to be able to have the girl (not subconsciously of course). What was thrown off before that was probably nothing important. but I sure would like to know if Bobbi gentry had the gay plot in mind when she wrote that song!!!
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Tim Ryerson
Date: 5/4/2015 6:23:00 PM
I think it will forever remain a mystery which I'm sure was Bobbie's intent...That's one of the things that makes the song intriguing in my opinion...
Date: 5/4/2015 5:50:00 PM
Tim, I saw the movie and I can't even remember what was thrown off the bridge. hahaha. Maybe we were still not given to know. I can't even remember the plot really well about Bobby. I think maybe he was gay?? Why is that in my head. I don't know. Anyway, I ADORE this song. Also the Night the Lights went off in Georgia. Such cool stuff!!!
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Date: 5/4/2015 4:45:00 PM
I go to a blues club once a month there is an amazing singer who sings 'ode to Billie Joe' it gives me a shiver down my spine ever time she sings it - thanks for a great blog:-) Hugs Jan xx
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Date: 5/4/2015 5:07:00 PM
Yes this is just Kelly singing and one guitar accompanying her:-) Hugs Jan xx
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Tim Ryerson
Date: 5/4/2015 4:57:00 PM
Thanks Jan - To me, what makes the song so compelling is that it is accompanied only by Bobbie strumming her guitar and those eerie strings
Date: 5/4/2015 4:20:00 PM
Life is life, whether in a back-woods or an inner city.It's something none of us can hide from...I spoil my grand-daughters and you are right its our job...
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Tim Ryerson
Date: 5/5/2015 6:00:00 PM
Ooops! Misspelled your name...Sorry!
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Tim Ryerson
Date: 5/5/2015 5:58:00 PM
Agreed Fredrick...Thanks for the comment!

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