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Kelly Willis & Bruce Robison cover ‘Harper Valley P.T.A.’

Peter Blackstock

Editor’s note: This article was originally published February 17, 2014

Following up their “Cheater’s Game” album, one of Austin’s top releases of 2013, husband-wife duo Kelly Willis and Bruce Robison recently issued a curious single: A cover of Tom T. Hall’s classic “Harper Valley P.T.A.,” which Jeannie C. Riley took to No. 1 on both the country and pop charts in 1968.

There’s a story behind how the couple ended up covering the tune, and we’d be hard pressed to tell it better than Willis does herself. So, in her own words:

“I like to make a plan and stick with it, so I rarely veer off the set list. Bruce throws caution to the wind: Four songs into the show and he might stop looking at the set list altogether. Bruce thinks his ability to do this makes him better than me. Not that he has ever told me this, but I just know.

Fact is, we each think the way we do things makes us better than the other one.

One night though, Bruce was the clear winner, when he effortlessly honored a request from the crowd to play “Me and Bobby McGee” – a song I had never seen or heard him play, ever. Why anyone would have requested it is confusing. But they did and just to be a showoff (I’m guessing) he played it and knew every word and killed it. In a really good way. Crowd goes wild. I not only never do that kind of thing, I sometimes can’t remember how my own songs go.

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 PTA’ was just the song.

I emailed the guys in the band my key and told them to be prepared and not to let on. For the rest of the week I practiced that song every time Bruce left the house. My kids were about to kill me because it was never ending. I sang it while walking the dog. I was motivated. Bruce WOULD bow down to my awesomeness!

I asked the Twitterverse to come to the show and please nonchalantly request the song about midway though the show. They did.

What followed was a triumph of the human spirit. … Bruce was impressed and I won the night. But best of all, we won this wonderful song as a part of our show. It’s actually on the set list.”