Blog, Music

Leon Russell/Joe Cocker, “Delta Lady” (1969-70)

If you had been leafing through Rolling Stone in 1970, this A&M Records ad for the latest Joe Cocker single might’ve caught your eye:
Delta Lady ad 1970

The visual pun stuck in my mind; years later I googled and found the image (it doesn’t seem to be online any more). The song, written and recorded by Leon Russell the year before, fits in two traditions, which can also be thought of as two fantasies:

1. Back to the Garden, which in ’69 would’ve meant Eden/Woodstock, Nature.

Please don’t ask how many times I found you
Standing wet and naked in the garden…

The country vs. the city (countless songs about this at the time) was a big part of the Garden myth:

There are concrete mountains in the city
And pretty city women live inside them
And yet it seems the city scene is lacking
I’m so glad you’re waiting for me in the country

2. You’re far away; I’m missing you (“I’m over here in England*/And I’m thinking of you love”). Oh what the heck, why beat around the bush: “You’re not here, and I’m horny.” “Now I’ve found you” = I have your image in my mind. Could be a long-distance call we’re listening in on:

And I whisper sighs to satisfy your longing
For the warmth and tender shelter of my body…

“Please don’t ask how many times I found you” seems like an odd question for the singer to ask his love, unless you think of the whole song as the fantasies of an absent lover. [Biographical “evidence” backs this up, as Rita Coolidge, the real Delta Lady, says she was never actually naked in Leon Russell’s garden.]

Other faraway-lover fantasy songs: Billie Myers’ “Kiss the Rain” (“If your lips feel lonely and thirsty… If you feel you can’t wait till morning/Kiss the rain… whenever you need me”); Roy Orbison’s “All I Can Do Is Dream You” (“I’ve been away from you for so long… But all I can do is dream you… I close my eyes/I don’t even have to try/It comes so easily”); The Band’s “Chest Fever” — which turns the whole thing into an off-color joke (“It’s long, long when she’s gone/I get weary holding on”).

The A&M Records ad plays up the fact that “Delta Lady” is one of the most openly erotic songs to hit the charts:

Woman of the country now I’ve found you
Longing in your soft and fertile delta
And I whisper sighs to satisfy your longing
For the warmth and tender shelter of my body

The river (in this case, Mississippi) delta got its name from the triangle shape of the Greek letter delta — a visual analog of a woman’s pubic hair, AKA Anais Nin’s Delta of Venus, which brings us to the audacious print advert. The image above was the entire ad — no text needed; if you “got” the multi-layered visual pun, message delivered.

But “Delta Lady” is no cheap grab at titillation; it’s a beautiful, “warm and tender” expression of love.

… I think of days and the different ways I held you,
Held you closely to me, as our heart was beating

Our ONE heart was beating. Doesn’t get more profoundly romantic than that.

play Leon Russell’s “Delta Lady” on YouTube

play Joe Cocker’s “Delta Lady” on YouTube

A side note: Dusty Springfield’s fantastic “Magic Garden” (1968, written by Jimmy Webb) uses the garden myth in the same way, with the same explicitly erotic imagery:

There is a garden
Something like the shadow of a butterfly
It lies beyond the gates of dark and light
And darling, it belongs to me …

The magic garden
Has a way of making you feel free …

And when your dreaming vanishes
Like snowflakes in the summer sky,
Melts away in darkness
And you don’t know why,
The magic garden
Waits with all the gates wide open
And darlin’, I’ll be standin’ just inside

It’s so soft and warm
Behind those hedges
No hard edges
No hard edges


*”I’m over here in England” is Leon Russell’s original lyric; Joe Cocker, being English, changed it to “when I’m home again in England.”