Kelly Willis exacted revenge with “Harper Valley P.T.A.,” but not by marching into a high school to confront her hypocritical neighbors. Instead, she secretly asked her friends on social media to casually request the 1968 country classic at a concert with her husband Bruce Robison.
Although Willis has maintained an admirable solo career for about 25 years, lately she’s been recording and touring as a duo with Robison. One night, she was stunned when Robison — an easygoing guy — effortlessly fielded a request for “Me and Bobby McGee,” a song she’d never heard him sing. He nailed it. The crowd went nuts.
Willis was impressed, but a little irritated.
“I not only never do that kind of thing, I sometimes can’t remember how my own songs go,” she wrote in an essay. “So the next day, I took to Twitter/Facebook to hatch a plan to get him back. I asked for suggestions for the perfect extremely wordy country song I could secretly learn before our next gig. The minute it was suggested, I knew ‘Harper Valley P.T.A.’ was just the song.”
She told the band to rehearse the song — written by Tom T. Hall and made famous in 1968 by Jeannie C. Riley — and to keep it a secret. Sure enough, someone nonchalantly asked for it halfway through the show. Lo and behold, Willis had her moment to shine.
“What followed was a triumph of the human spirit,” she wrote.
Willis and Robison’s rendition of the tune will be featured on Our Year, a new album scheduled for a May release. Now let them tell you all a story about a Harper Valley widowed wife.