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Published: September 28th 2019
The Tallahatchie Bridge was pretty new when Bobbie wrote the song. It is really called the Ashland Bridge.
There is a little place called Money, Mississippi in Carroll County. It is not very much of a place but it was where girl named Bobbie Gentry hailed from. Bobbie was gifted songwriter and she had a fine singing voice. One of the songs she wrote and sang is called Ode to Billie Joe:
“It was the third of June, another sleepy dusty delta day,
I was out chopping cotton and my brother was bailing hay.
And at dinner time we stopped and walked back to the house to eat,
And mama hollered out the back door, y’all remember to wipe to your feet.
And then she said I got some news this morning from Choctaw Ridge.
Today Billie Joe McAllister jumped off the Tallahatchie Bridge.”
The song maunders on with haunting lyrics to its completion. Apparently Billie Joe could not swim a lick and he drowned. Since the song came out thousands of kids younger than Billie Joe have jumped off that bridge. They just swim back to shore, climb out, and go back and do it again. The bridge is low, the river
BILLIE JO - DON'T DO IT.
Tallahatchie Bridge. Hard to kill yourself by jumping off it.
is wide and deep, and moves along slowly. It presents very little risk of drowning. Since I was in the area I decided to go see it. Bobbie Gentry married a rascal named Jim Stafford who also sang a few songs. He was nowhere as gifted as Bobbie was though. When they were married he acquired the publication rights to her music and stole all of her royalties. Bobbie has since faded into obscurity, except for those of us who adored her. I have no idea where Choctaw Ridge might have been.
Just across the bridge on the other side of the river from Money there is a little roadside church with a historical monument sign. I stopped to read the sign and it turns out that the little cemetery by the church is thought to hold the bones of Robert Johnson in an unmarked grave. Robert was a blues guitarist of some renown among the many fans of the blues. He was thought by many of his contemporaries to have sold his soul to the devil in order to have acquired those amazing guitar skills. Maybe it is true. As I was reading the sign a
bolt of lightning flashed nearby and scared the crap out of me. Seldom have I heard thunder that loud. Robert died in penury and dissipation of a broken heart because the woman he loved believed those rumors about the devil and would not marry him.
Hollywood made a movie called The Crossroads
that was about Robert Johnson. They also made a movie about Billie Joe McAllister. The devil episode supposedly took place at a street crossing on a railroad line near Clarksdale, Mississippi. There are plenty of such crossings in Clarksdale. I chose the one by the Baptist Church near downtown. John Lee Hooker has some sort of connection to Clarksdale too. The Hooker Hotel is just across the street from the Blues Museum, which sadly is now out of business. John was another blues guitarist.
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