Country star Billie Jo Spears died of lung cancer at her home in Vidor on Wednesday at the age of 73. Billboard called Spears a “husky-voiced singer who became one of the most respected female artists of the 1960s and 1970s in country music.”
Spears, who grew up in a working-class family in Beaumont, recorded her first song at the age of 13, moved to Nashville in 1964, and eleven years later, “Blanket on the Ground” hit the top slot on U.S. and international charts.
Spears’ songs often tackled uncomfortable and unconventional subjects, making her “a pioneer for the working girl,” the Beaumont Enterprise wrote. “She recorded further ‘issue’ songs such as ‘Pittsburgh General,’ about working as a nurse; ‘Stepchild,’ about an abuse victim; and ‘Marty Gray,’ the story of a young girl’s unwanted pregnancy,” the Guardian wrote. Her other chart toppers included 1977’s “If You Want Me” and 1969’s “Mr. Walker, It’s All Over.”
The Enterprise‘s Julie Garcia tracked down a number of Spears’ friends and relatives in Vidor, who described her as “feisty” and a “heck-of-a-great fisherman.”
Spears had a large following across the pond and in the ’90s was named the “Queen Mother of Country Music” by Britain’s Country Music People, according to Billboard. She regularly toured in Britain and even had some dates scheduled there in 2012. According to the Guardian‘s obituary:
Spears’s 1975 recording of “Blanket on the Ground,” a wife’s warm invitation to her husband to blow on old flames – “just because we are married, don’t mean we can’t slip around” – was a top 10 hit in Britain, remained in the charts for several months, featured on the soundtrack of the 1978 film Convoy, and for years afterwards was a staple of radio request shows, proving itself to be one of those songs that perfectly encapsulates what reticent lovers really want to say to each other.
Watch Spears perform “Blanket on the Ground” below.