Click on the song titles above for lyrics and songwriting credits
This LP was produced exclusively for Record Store Day 2018.
Bobbie Gentry’s performances and on-screen charisma on variety programmes on both sides of the Atlantic had impressed the head of the BBC so much that early in 1968 she was invited to host her own show on BBC 2 making her the first female songwriter to front a TV series on the network. Together with producer and director Stanley Dorfman, they made six half-hour episodes every year for a total of 18 shows spanning 1968, 1969 and 1971.
Bobbie’s first series at the BBC began on 13th of July 1968, and was an instant success, titled simply Bobbie Gentry it had the slightly long winded (albeit accurate!) subtitle of Bobbie Gentry sings of the fragrance, love, sorrow and humour of the Delta country, and this description fitted the series’ focus on mostly self-penned material taken from Bobbie’s first three albums. This in itself was ground-breaking, as the Bobbie Gentry series wasn’t a conventional variety programme with the usual, multiple guest stars and comedy spots, it was a personal showcase for Bobbie’s work that depicted her in intimate solo performances, big choreographed set pieces, and on location in footage filmed near her childhood home in Mississippi. Each week the show also featured a special guest that would perform one song with Bobbie and one on their own; making an appearance in 1968 were Alan Price, Don Partridge, Donovan, The Hollies, Long John Baldry and Glen Campbell. The series was repeated the following year alongside new episodes that included James Taylor, Noel Harrison and John Hartford.
For someone who later became such a well-known stage performer, it’s surprising that this collection is Bobbie’s first album of live material to be released; backed by Musical Director John Cameron’s adept band it features recordings taken from episodes in 1968 and 1969. Bobbie’s performances of songs like Ode To Billie Joe and Refractions match and sometimes go beyond the intensity of their studio counterparts; and the medley of Nikki Hokey paired with Robert Parkers Barefootin’ feels joyous and inspired, showing just how effective Bobbie could be on more up-tempo material, whilst the sensuous croon of Mornin’ Glory and melancholy chamber pop of Recollection show Bobbie at the peak of powers as a writer and performer.
The Bobbie Gentry series was successfully syndicated all over Europe and in Australia. In 1970, she recorded a programme for Dorfman’s prestigious BBC In Concert series, a show that would go on to feature fellow female singer-songwriters like Joni Mitchell and Laura Nyro. A further series was commissioned the following year titled simply Gentry which was broadcast in February and March 1971. Bobbie felt TV was her medium: “If you’re a performer who likes to do a lot of things, [television is] the best field for you, You can get involved with everything—from writing to set design to choreography.” Director Stanley Dorfman thought Bobbie was as much a part of the shows successful format as he was, telling author Tara Murtha “After a few episodes, she was pretty much co-directing the show because she had such great ideas…(and) she definitely contributed as much as I did creatively to the show.” Musical director John Cameron was also full of praise for her “Working with Bobbie was amazing! She just knew what she wanted, played neat country guitar on that ¾ Martin of hers, and the musicians took to her like a duck to water; she spoke their language! Bobbie was one of the very first of those great female singer songwriters that showed the way in the late 60s, and perhaps the original ‘taking care of business’ female writer/performer that you see nowadays- a real trailblazer.”
Indeed the BBC series’ dramatic interpretation of her music would prove a lasting influence on Bobbie, and instrumental in the development of the elaborate stage shows she produced and choreographed later, which were forerunners of the type of concerts staged by many female stars today. In many ways it was Bobbie’s first series for the BBC that unlocked her potential proving that with her combined talents as a writer, performer and TV star she was always going to be years ahead of her time.
Bobbie Gentry Live at the BBC features selections from the following episodes:
Side A: Recordings from episodes broadcast on: Tracks 1-4 03/08/1968, Track 5 27/07/1968, Track 6 10.08.1968
Side B: Recordings from episodes broadcast on: Tracks 1 & 2 10/08/1968, Tracks 3-6 17/07/1969