The Libel Case Of “Bob Dylan vs Bobbie Gentry” Settles Out Of Court

The Libel Case  Of “Bob Dylan vs Bobbie Gentry” Settles Out Of Court
By Larry Fyffe

In this day and age of ‘Fake News’, now that the court documents have been unsealed, the truth and  details involved in Bob Dylan’s lawsuit against ‘Ode To Billy Joe’ singer Bobbie Gentry is revealed here for the first time.

The court papers show that Dylan, always concerned with his right to privacy, takes issue with Gentry’s intended title for the song, and with some of it’s content.

Gentry’s original manuscript of that song, presented as prime evidence at the trial, indicates the title is to be “Ode To Bobby Blue”, and that it contains what the plaintiff’s lawyers contend are libellous statements.

To wit: “She said Bobby Blue and Suzy Roe were throwing something off the Tallahassee Bridge”, and that “Today Bobby Blue jumped off the Tallahassee Bridge”.

Lawyers claim their client Bobby Dylan and Suze Rotolo were indeed in Florida at one time, but that the plaintiff’s injuries were sustained as a result of a motorcycle accident; not from  jumping off of a bridge.

The defendant’s lawyers counterclaim  that Dylan himself confirms the incident, and they produce the following documented evidence.

“Call your Ma in Tallahassee
Tell her baby’s on the line
Tell her not to worry
Everything is gonna be fine”
(Bob Dylan: Got My Mind Made Up)

And that there is reference, in another song to a ring, clear evidence as to what Suze and Bobby were throwing off the bridge that day. And the reason as to why: a love relationship gone sour.

“She wears an Egyptian ring
That sparkles before she speaks
She’s a hypnotist collector, you are a walking antique
Bow down to her on Sunday
Salute her when her birthday comes”
(Bob Dylan: She BelongTo Me)

The lawyers for the defence also present the following documented evidence.

“I must have been mad
I never knew what I had
Until I threw it all away”
(Bob Dylan: I Threw It All Away)

The unsealed court documents reveal that Bob Dylan’s lawyers insist that the red Egyptian ring was given to Joan Baez by their client, and not to Suze Rotolo, and that the defendant Bobbie Gentry should therefore be instructed by the judge to substitute the following words, submitted to the court by their client, that change the title, and the geographical location of Gentry’s song. To wit:

“Mama, of course, she said Hi
Have you heard the news, he said with a grin
The Vice President’s gone mad
Where? Downtown. When? Last night
Hmm, say, that’s too bad”
(Bob Dylan: Clothes Line Saga)

To cut a long story short, the two parties reach an out-of-court settlement, that places the story of one “Billy Joe”, not “Bobby Blue”, in the Mississippi county of Tellahatchie, and not in the State of Florida, as stated in the Gentry’s original song lyrics.

“And then she said, I got some news this mornin’ from Choctaw Ridge
Today, Billy Joe McAllister jumped off the Tallahatchie Bridge
….He  said he saw a girl that looked a lot like you up on Choctow Ridge
And she and Billy Joe was throwing something off the Tallahatchie Bridge”
(Bobbie Gentry: Ode To Billy Joe)

At a news conference pertaining to the recently released court papers, Joan Baez swears that she and  Bob Dylan had never been to Tallahassee.


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  1. As an aside from the article itself, “Ode to Billie Joe” is one of those songs a person like me could write a book about, in terms of analysing what and where and how and why and when… It truly is one of the most remarkable of pop songs and, certainly from this side of the Atlantic came out of nowhere.

    I did some reading about Bobbie Gentry a while back, to try and understand a little more about how such a composition suddenly emerged, and found it hard to explain. I do seem to remember that Ms Gentry appeared to have been married three times and that each marriage lasted only around a year, which suggests are certain restlessness of spirit if nothing else.

    Perhaps part of the clue to the songs enduring qualities is that no one can quite agree what happened in the song, and maybe that gives us a clue in part to why so many people like Dylan’s work… it is not clear.

    If that is the case, it is surprising perhaps that more songwriters don’t make their work slightly less obvious.

  2. What did Dylan have against Bobbie Gentry? That snarky answer song, Cloths Line Saga, showed it clearly ruffled his feathers. Gentry laughed all the way to the bank. 200 covers, 50 million records sold, 4 grammys( including the hall of fame award in 1999) and a place on Rolling Stones top 500 songs of all time. She would score another classic with Fancy( 25 million records sold on over a dozen covers) but why would perhaps the greatest songwriter of the 20th century have it in for this woman who gave us such exquisite slices of Americana?

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