BILLIE JO SPEARS PASSES ON
Country Singer and Vidor resident Billie Jo Spears has passed away. Her oldest son Tim Pierce says she died at her home in Vidor Wednesday morning. Billie Jo was 73 years old.
Spears, who had her biggest Country hits in the 1970s, was born in Beaumont. She has called Vidor her home for the past 10 years.
She had 5 songs reach the top-10 of the Country music charts between 1969 and 1977. Her her biggest hit, and only song to make #1 on the Country music carts, is "Blanket on the Ground" which she released in 1975.
Arrangements are being handled by R.S. Farmer Funeral Home in Silsbee. A memorial service will be planned but the date has not yet been set.
Although Spears had her biggest country hits in the 1970s, she sounded more earthy and more grounded on records than other country music singers during that time. This was because during the height of Spears' career in the 1970s, country's sound moved more pop-sounding. This new type of Country was called countrypolitan, and the popular singers of this genre at the time were Crystal Gayle, Lynn Anderson, Kenny Rogers, Ronnie Milsap, and Mac Davis. However, Spears, unlike so many of her contemporaries, did not follow the trends of the day, and proved to Nashville that country music can still have a more earthy sound.
Spears was born in 1937 in Beaumont, Texas. She made her professional debut at age 13 at a country music concert in Houston, Texas. She cut her first single while she was still a teenager called "Too Old For Toys, Too Young For Boys". The single was released by the indie label Abbot under the name "Billie Jean Moore". She also performed on the Louisiana Hayride at 13. After graduating high school, she sang in nightclubs and sought a record deal. Spears' early career was orchestrated by famed 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 got her first recording contract with United Artists Records, and worked with producer Kelso Herston. Her first singles brought her little to no success. Soon her producer moved over to Capitol Records and Spears followed. She earned a recording contract there in 1968.
Height of her recording career
Spears' first hit came in 1969, when her "Mr. Walker It's All Over" reached number 4 on the Country chart. It also reached the Pop charts at #80. The song told of a secretary who resigned a job where she was discriminated against. She gained four more top 40 country hits during the next two years and then went four years without a hit. During this time at Capitol, Spears recorded some cover versions of popular Country hits, like "Ode to Billie Joe" (originally by Bobbie Gentry) and "Harper Valley PTA" (originally by Jeannie C. Riley). She also recorded novelty songs, like "Get Behind Me Satan and Push". According to the book Country Music: The Rough Guide, her vocals in that song sounded similar to that of Loretta Lynn. Soon however, she decided she would have more success it she switched record companies.
In 1975, Spears returned to United Artists Records, which was now the home to some of country music's pop-based acts, like 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 with the chorus line "slipping around", even 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 ten of the UK Singles Chart. An album of the same name was released that year, which was also a success.
Spears' followed up "Blanket on the Ground" with the Top Ten "What I've Got In Mind." The track did even better across the Atlantic, turning out to be a top five British hit. Spears had successes with "Misty Blue" (a song covered by numerous other artists, including Wilma Burgess in the '60s, who made the song a Top ten Country hit), "'57 Chevrolet," "Love Ain't Gonna Wait For Us," "If You Want Me," and others. 1981's cover version of Tammy Wynette's 1960s hit, "Your Good Girl's Gonna Go Bad," was Spears' last voyage into America's country top 20. Her Greatest Hits album was a Top Ten best seller, and furthered her fan base.
Later career and life today
By the mid 1980s, her success in the United States had tapered off. However, she retained a following in the UK, and remains a popular live performer there. Spears has 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." She continued releasing albums in the United States throughout much of the 1980s. However, by the late '80s, she did not record as much. She recovered from triple bypass surgery in 1993, now makes her home in Vidor, Texas, and continues to tour.