Bobbie Gentry’s archivist explores colossal ‘Girl from Chickasaw County’ box set
Bobbie Gentry’s sole chart-topping album Ode to Billie Joe dropped on Capitol and dethroned the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band in August 1967. A singer-songwriter waxing Americana decades before the genre was in vogue, the Mississippian’s sensuous, smoky vocals and mini Martin acoustic guitar riffs powered the LP’s mysterious, swampy, suicide-themed title cut to number one during a month-long sojourn.
Today retro session archivist Andrew Batt exclusively examines The Girl from Chickasaw County — The Complete Capitol Masters, a chronologically sequenced 8-CD box set. Containing all seven original Gentry studio LP’s enhanced by over 75 unreleased recordings including a lost jazz album, the box set persuasively argues that the author of Reba McEntire’s “Fancy” theme song was not merely a one hit wonder but a groundbreaking, multifaceted, and decidedly savvy artist often unacknowledged as her own producer.
A jack of all trades — producer, engineer, compiler, sleeve note writer, website designer — the Generation X Londoner counts Marianne Faithfull, Sandy Denny, Fairport Convention, and Nico among his previous freelance assignments for Universal. While Batt is delicate in revealing whether he reached out to the notoriously reclusive artist — she has not been seen in public since the 1982 Academy of Country Music Awards — he holds court freely on the most startling, ultimately gratifying discoveries he unearthed for the most comprehensive Gentry box set ever assembled.
Batt’s interview sheds light on how Gentry’s poverty-stricken childhood impacted her embrace of glamour as well as her little known post-Capitol recordings — an entire album was cut for Warner Bros. in the late ’70s with “Ode to Billie Joe” Grammy-winning string arranger Jimmie Haskell but shelved. Even the absolute nadir of Gentry’s discography is not spared— the Glen Campbell duets being prime offenders. And are further archival projects on the horizon for Gentry, one of the original owners of the Phoenix Suns basketball team? All is revealed starting now.