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Baker's Dozen

Escape To The Country: Willy Vlautin Of Richmond Fontaine's Favourite LPs
John Freeman , April 6th, 2016 09:55

Following the release of Richmond Fontaine's tenth and final album, You Can't Go Back If There Is Nothing To Go Back To, the singer and author talks to John Freeman about his favourite albums of storytelling escapism


Bobbie Gentry – Ode To Billie Joe
Bobbie Gentry would probably be a little like Neko Case in the current era. She was an amazing songwriter and she wrote the majority of the tunes on Ode To Billie Joe. She is one of the best story songwriters I have ever heard. For me, 'Ode To Billie Joe' is one of the best songs ever written, let alone one of the best story songs. The power of that song is that the production and her arrangement means she can tell this really complex story. It is unusual that such a mysterious, compelling song became a commercial hit.

Bobbie was a young girl who could really write songs. People knew it and they didn't try to fuck her songs up. A guy called Kelly Gordon produced the album and it is one of the cooler productions for a country record.

I have a fact for you – did you know that this album unseated Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band from the number one spot in the US album charts?

No shit! I am not saying it is as good as The Beatles, but it is not an embarrassing thing for that to happen. That's a really cool fact – here was a woman who was writing lots of different kinds of songs – and really literary songs – and the album is a success. You would think of Loretta Lynn and Dolly Parton as great songwriters and strong women – and Bobbie Gentry is up there with them.

I have a tenuous connection with her. She married a guy who owned a casino in my hometown of Reno. His name was Bill Harrah and he was obsessed with cars. He had acres and acres of fancy, weird cars and my mom would take my brother and me to check out the cars when we were little kids.

During that time, Harrah married Bobbie Gentry. He had to be almost 60 when they got married and the marriage only lasted about six fucking months. Bobbie Gentry was one of the most beautiful women, especially during that era. I loved the way she played guitar too and I have always been in love with her. I remember thinking that if I was Bill Harrah, and Bobbie Gentry took my fucking casino and all my cars and left me with nothing but a bad tooth and ten bucks, I would still marry her for six months if she liked me for five of them.

Therefore, Bobbie Gentry was probably walking around my town – maybe I even ran into her somehow. I am bat shit crazy and I think about that a lot – how I could go back in time, hook up with Bobbie after she took Bill Harrah for all his money.

After this album, the next record, The Delta Sweete was pretty cool, but after that, she put out too many records. She was a pop star and she got ruined.