Sing Me An Old Fashioned Song: Billie Jo Spears

Billie Jo Spears

Billie Jo Spears’ mother was a shipyard welder and played guitar in the Light Crust Doughboys. Was there ever any doubt Billie Jo would grow up to be a hard talking, tough country singer? In 1950 she got her start singing in clubs in Beaumont, Texas . She was 13. She would have heard women like Kitty Wells, Wanda Jackson, Molly O’Day, Ann Jones, Betty Cody and The Davis Sisters on the radio, just like Loretta Lynn,¬†Jeannie C. Riley and Dolly Parton would have and somewhere that something inside of her clicked. By the end of that year she would be performing on the Louisiana Hayride.

In 1969 she had her first big hit with a Gene Crysler song called Mr. Walker, It’s All Over. It sounds suspiciously like Tom T. Hall’s Harper Valley P.T.A. that Jeannie C. Riley had a # 1 hit with a year earlier, but the sentiment rang true as women were getting fed up with being second hand working citizens. Billie Jo sells it too. She had a wonderfully raspy twang perfect for the period and strong enough to rise above when the production fell flat.

Mr. Walker, It’s All Over, Billie Jo Spears

She’s a great jukebox singer. The rhythms and melodies would keep feet tapping and beer selling with a ballad to punctuate from time to time. The themes nostalgic and easy to smile to.

Sing Me An Old Fashioned Song, Billie Jo Spears

’57 Chevrolet, Billie Jo Spears

Blanket On the Ground, Billie Jo Spears

Old times not forgotten isn’t all that she should be remembered for though. In 1969 she also had a barely charting hit with Dallas Frazier’s odd murder ballad Stepchild.

Stepchild, Billie Jo Spears

Personally, my favorite records of hers though were the sultry late night ballads. They sound somewhere between Sammi Smith and Dusty Springfield – if they were singing in a neon signed honkytonk in the middle of nowhere. That is to say she’s lonesome and at her best makes me feel it in my bones.

Tips and Tables, Billie Jo Spears

I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry, Billie Jo Spears

Billie Jo would have turned 75 today. She died of cancer on December 14th, 2011.


About Iaan Hughes

Iaan Hughes is a deejay on 91.3 KBCS in Seattle. He plays country & western music.
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