Jeannie C. Riley Biography

Jeannie Carolyn Stephenson, 19 October 1944, Anson, Texas, USA. Stephenson wanted to be a country singer, and after marrying her childhood sweetheart, Mickey Riley, she persuaded him to move to Nashville. He worked in a filling station, while she became a secretary on Music Row for music publisher Jerry Chesnut. She also recorded demo records for his writers and her voice appealed to record producer Shelby Singleton, who felt that Alice Joy’s voice was too smooth on the demo for Tom T. Hall’s song of small-town hypocrisy, ‘Harper Valley PTA’ (which owed much to Bobbie Gentry’s ‘Ode To Billie Joe’), and was more suited to a female singer than Hall himself. Riley recorded the song in one take and then rang her mother to tell her she had recorded a million-seller. It was an understatement, as ‘Harper Valley PTA’ topped the US charts and sold over six million. It was also a UK hit but only reached number 12. With her miniskirts and knee-length boots, Riley acted out the central character of ‘Harper Valley PTA’, and also recorded a concept album about others in Harper Valley. Her singles include ‘The Girl Most Likely To’, ‘There Never Was A Time’ and ‘The Back Side Of Dallas’, but she had no other substantial hits. She started drinking and her marriage ended in 1970. By 1976, she was a born-again Christian and she and Mickey had remarried. A successful film based on the song was produced in 1978 and led to a television series, both starring Barbara Eden. Riley will not work in clubs that serve alcohol and although she has made Christian albums, everyone remembers the day she ‘socked it to the PTA’, hence her record ‘Return To Harper Valley’ in 1987.

Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.

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