Monday, March 21, 2011

Billie Joe ... Goes Instrumental

In the last post you could hear Bobbie Gentry's »Ode To Billie Joe«, and we pondered the great influence this song had on many other styles of music. Today, I would like to present another example for this fact. It is taken from the album »Doin' Our Thing« (Stax LP 724) by Booker T & The MGs, released in January 1968.

Booker T & The MGs are, of course, well-known. They were one of the most famous formations recording for the Memphis Stax-label during the 1960s and among the most popular instrumental groups in general. The group included organist/pianist Booker T. Jones, guitarist Steve Cropper, bassist Donald »Duck« Dunn (from 1964) and drummer Al Jackson. On their LP »Doin' Our Thing« we find a noteworthy adaption of Bobbie Gentry's »Ode To Billie Joe«. A very calm piece which actually only evokes, rather than adapts, the original song. In fact, it more resembles a impressionistic sound study, quite original by and in itself ... there is a certain Debussy-like quality to the tune, being a collage of melodical moods losely based on the original:

Booker T & The MGs: »Ode To Billie Joe« from the Stax LP 724 (1968):

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I recently came across a notice speaking about the success of Bobbie Gentry's »Ode To Billie Joe« and the subsequent flood of cover versions, both instrumental and vocal. It is from the September 23, 1967, issue of Billboard, page 4:

*** BONUS SONG added March 31, 2012 ***

The Billboard article quotes, among several cover version, the instrumental by the Kingpins (i.e. King Curtis and his band) on Atco # 6516. This version was recorded in Memphis (Aug. 24, '67) at the American Sound Studios (supervised by Chips Moman; incidentally, there was also a recording session of the Sweet Inspirations that very same day!).
The tune did great on the r&b charts and eventually entered the Top Ten, peaking at # 6. It was then included in King Curtis's Atco LP King Size Soul (out in Nov. '67). A Billboard review described this version as »mellow jazz, which is loaded with soul« (Nov. 25, 1967, issue p. 84) and this is about right, I guess. In difference to Booker T's impressionistic rendering of the Ode we have here a smooth, albeit conventional version, actually rather close to the original. And of course the tenor sax makes this version very different from Booker's organ-based fantasie de Billie Joe ...

King Curtis & The Kingpins: »Ode To Billie Joe« from the Atco LP # SD 33-231 (1967):

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