This is a story from about a year ago.
I went out to meet a friend for drinks at Pepper’s, a local bar. I nodded to a couple of people I’d seen before and settled myself in my corner spot at the bar. A jazzy CD was playing and I was comfortable in the place I consider my “Cheers.” My friend arrived and we started a pretty good conversation.
I glanced away from my companion for a moment and noticed that M.L. the serious DJ and Karaoke master of the joint had arrived and was actively recruiting singers for the evening. $75.00 was to be given away in a drawing of all participants to the lucky 3 that were chosen. Being highly skilled at math I realized the potential prize total immediately and decided that $25.00 was positively worth an adventure.
I took my time checking first the artists, then song titles available and decided to do a song as a joke. I filled out my slip and M.L. had a good long laugh when he read my song choice, “Ode to Billy Joe”. Maybe the song plays well in certain venues – a primarily African American club isn’t usually one of them.
I waited for my name to be called entertained by those ahead of me. The funniest singers to me are the ones who sing as if they’re auditioning for something- the ones who really believe they can sing.
Finally M.L. called my name and I walked to the front of the room, smiled at the crowd and started singing. Had to stop and start again since I was singing (well to be kind you might call it that) over the intro. Way to go Jali.
I won’t print all the lyrics, but I’ve gotta share just a portion.
“It was the third of June, another sleepy dusty Delta day. I was out chopping cotton and my brother was bailing hay.”
As I sang this first line for the second time, I glanced up to see a thirty-something professional give me the gas face. Was the “chopping cotton” line a little to hard to take? “Damn,” I thought, don’t misinterpret and judge me that way.
I looked around the room to gauge my reception – one or two people were singing along with me but the “Buppies” in their 30’s seemed to take offense. How dare I sing a country song that mentions cotton?
My history with this song was of a 45 RPM record being played repeatedly on a Saturday morning. My father, a fan of Jazz, the blues and Ole’ Blue Eyes was the house DJ. He heard this song on the radio while changing stations and had to have it. Once he had it, he had to play it.
I was a kid and didn’t realize how sad the song is. The music is moving – the lyrics and rhymes are simple but enhance the mood of the song. Bobbie Gentry’s ( the singer) voice was strong, clear and compelling. The song has stayed with me for 40 years and I’m glad to have sung it one more time.
I had the opportunity to speak to the thirty-something professional, my gas face giver and I asked if the lyrics of my song offended her.
“No. You just can’t sing for shit!”