Billie Jo Spears
Billie Jo Spears
|Birth name||Billie Joe Moore|
|Also known as||Billie Jean Moore|
|Born||January 14, 1937|
Beaumont, Texas, U.S.
|Died||December 14, 2011 (aged 74)|
Vidor, Texas, U.S.
|Associated acts||Margo Smith, Tanya Tucker, Philomena Begley|
Billie Jo Spears (born Billie Joe Moore; January 14, 1937 – December 14, 2011) was an American country music singer. She reached the top 10 of the country music chart five times between 1969 and 1977, her biggest being "Blanket on the Ground", a 1975 number-one hit. She also had a large following in the United Kingdom with two of her singles reaching the pop top ten.
Early life and rise to fame
Spears was born January 14, 1937, in Beaumont, Texas to Myrtie (née Smith), a homemaker who worked as a shipyard welder during World War II, and Carl Wilson Moore, a truck driver. She made her professional debut at age 13 at a country-music concert in Houston, Texas. She cut her first single, "Too Old For Toys, Too Young For Boys", while still a teenager. It was released by independent record label Abbot Records, under the name Billie Jo Moore. She also performed on the Louisiana Hayride at 13. After graduating from high school she sang in nightclubs and sought a record deal. She began performing as Billie Jo Spears after her parents divorced; Spears was the surname of her older half-siblings whose father (also named Carl) had died in 1935, leaving their mother Myrtie a widow.
Her early career was orchestrated by country/rockabilly songwriter Jack Rhodes. Working out of his makeshift recording studio, Rhodes took it upon himself to provide Spears with material and clout in her early years. Spears moved from Texas to Nashville, Tennessee, in 1964. She gained her first recording contract with United Artists Records and worked with producer Kelso Herston. Her first singles brought her little success. Soon her producer moved to Capitol Records and she followed; the label placed her under contract in 1968.
One of Spears' first singles for the label was "Harper Valley PTA", but her single release was beaten off the presses by Jeannie C. Riley's version, which became a monster crossover hit; Spears' failed to chart. Her first hit came in 1969, when her Capitol Records release "Mr. Walker It's All Over" reached #4 on the country chart. It also reached the pop charts at number 80. The song told of a secretary who quit a job where she was unappreciated for her skills and encountered sexual harassment. She gained four more top-40 country hits during the next two years, but by late 1972 she was off Capitol and had two years without a charting release.
Comeback and peak years
Spears possessed an unusually powerful, smoky and flexible vocal range - exhibited for example in the bluesy yearning of her rendition of the song ‘Misty Blue'. In 1975, Spears signed again with United Artists Records, now the home to some of country music's pop-based acts such as Kenny Rogers. She returned to the charts in 1975 with "Blanket on the Ground". The song had been previously turned down by Nashville producers who feared controversy due to the phrase "slip around", though the tune was not about adultery. The expected controversy never materialized, and it became her only number-one song.
In the United Kingdom, the song climbed into the top 10 of the UK Singles Chart in August 1975, reaching number six. Her 1976 country top-five record "What I've Got in Mind" proved to be a second major British pop hit for her, peaking at number four, though it did not cross over to the American pop charts. Spears had a third British pop hit, albeit a lesser one, peaking at number 34 with "Sing Me an Old Fashioned Song", a track that was just an album cut in the US.
Billie Jo Spears was a steady presence on the American top-20 country chart for the remainder of the 1970s with such hits as "Misty Blue" (a remake of Wilma Burgess' 1966 classic), "'57 Chevrolet", "Love Ain't Gonna Wait For Us", and "If You Want Me". The 1981 cover version of Tammy Wynette's 1967 hit, "Your Good Girl's Gonna Go Bad", was her last voyage into the American country top 20.
Later career and life
Spears continued releasing albums in the United States into the 1980s. By the mid-1980s, her overall success had tapered off. However, she retained a following in the UK, and remained a popular live performer there. Spears recorded a number of albums for the British market that had limited or even no release in the US. This level of fame in the UK was summed up by the magazine, Country Music People, during the 1990s, when their article described Spears as "The Queen Mother of country music."
In 1990, Broadland Records produced an ill-fated experimental album where 'wannabe performers' could, for a fee, record the second part of the duet. She told BBC Radio Merseyside personality, Spencer Leigh, in 1994, "The album never got finished and I don't know what happened to the money. It's pathetic and I'm very disappointed."
She recovered from triple bypass surgery in 1993 and continued to tour for more than 16 years.
In 2005, Spears released the album I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry, and toured with the Irish country singer Philomena Begley in 2011. After Spears' death, Begley recorded an original song in tribute to Billie Jo and her career.
- Whitburn, Joel (1996). The Billboard Book of Top 40 Country Hits, p.303-304. ISBN 0-8230-7632-6.
- Beaumont, Jefferson, Texas Birth Records 1938
- "Billie Jo Spears: Country singer who scored her biggest hit with". The Independent. 16 December 2011.
- The New York Times; December 17, 2011
- Whitburn, Joel (1991). The Billboard Book of Number One Country Hits, p.139. ISBN 0-8230-7553-2.
- Spencer Leigh (16 December 2011). "Billie Jo Spears: Country singer who scored her biggest hit with 'Blanket on the Ground'". The Independent.
- "Country singer best known for 'Blanket on the Ground' hit". irishtimes.com. 24 December 2011.