Memphis. Tupelo. Jackson. To the people who live there, real places, where they live, love, work, go to school, have barbeques at the weekend. But to people who listen to rock’n’roll, blues & country, they are another place, a mythic slice of the Deep South. Here names resonate, made familiar by song and story. Out on Highway 61. Traveling Highway 49 with Jackie Brenston & Ike Turner in their Rocket 88. Going with Johnny and June to Jackson. The crossroads where Robert Johnson made that last fair deal, the same road where Emmett Till had his fateful meeting at Bryant’s Store. Stovall’s Plantation and Parchman Farm. Clarksdale, Greenwood and the Tallahatchie Bridge.
Bobby Gentry, hair piled high framing her face, long false lashes, lips you know tasted so good. You couldn’t see her choppin’ cotton. But she drew you into that story and you believed every word. Decades later I still ponder what it all meant, questions unanswered & leading only to more questions. Another sacred text.
This song became a cult classic made-for-television movie when Herman Raucher gave his own version detailing the reasons Billie Joe McAllister, played by Robby Benson, jumped off the Tallahatchie Bridge.