Country soul is one of the tastiest of all the sub sets of the genre – there’s something about hearing a gosple based vocalist singing heartbreak lyrics that really grabs you. The pitfall of course is that if great care isn’t taken, it’s pretty easy just to make a country disc, leaving the soul too far out of the picture. And that’s what happens to Joe Odom sadly. Too many of his tracks are just the wrong side of the divide for me. But when it all came together Joe showed he had a complete mastery of the country soul sound.
A Georgia native, Odom spent all of his career under contract to Bill Lowery who released his material on his own 123 label, as well as leasing sides out to Capitol. Odom recorded at Bill’s Atlanta studios, but several of his tracks came from the McRee-Thomas-McCree Grits 'N' Gravy studios near Jackson, MS. I like their production of It's In Your Power very much, the melody is good and the pedal steel guitar is balanced by the fine horn section. Sadly “Let Me Go Gradually” is the wrong side of the divide for me, and the inclusion of a hokey banjo on “Think And Do” rules it out completely. Sweet Angel Child is much better, a stone country ballad beautifully sung by Joe with a hint of grit in his voice, which features some lovely guitar picking.
The switch to the major Capitol label started with the southern funk of “God Bless The Po’ Folks” which has kick both in the rhythm and also in the hard hitting lyric. The flip has another socially conscience slant to it but it lacks the melody of the other side. This 45 was recorded in Georgia where the session men developed a rather different groove for Joe to deal with. The next 45 came from Mississippi and it was right back in the country soul bag with the delicate “Baby” backed with the excellent plodding mid paced utopian fantasy of Cabin Of Love, his best Capitol track for me thanks to its great horn arrangement and Joe’s commitment in the vocal.
“The Greatest Love”, recorded in Nashville, is a pleasant but unremarkable piece of pop soul, as is “Angel Child” but If You Knew Her Like I Do is much better. This sounds like a renegade from a Joe Simon LP as Odom phrases the song so carefully, with a hint of a rasp in his tone, over a gentle orchestra with some lovely “liquid” guitar fills. A fine way to sign off.
UPDATE ~ I am delighted to have been contacted by Joe's son Christopher who writes "'I came across your site while searchinhg for Joe Odom (my father, R.I.P.) and really enjoyed your article. It was good to hear someone give a break-down of my father and his skills. I appreciate it." While I'm very sorry to hear that Joe has passed on I am pleased that Chrisptopher likes this page devoted to his fine singing.
UPDATE ~ Mr George Bryan has very kindly written to me with his personal recollections of Joe Odom whom he knew well. George writes:-
"I think Joe was originally from Augusta Georgia and was born in the early 1930's. He did serve for a while in the US Army and performed with various bands during this time. After he left the army, he was with Gene Krupa's band for a while and toured with Mitch Rider and the Detroit Wheels.
I came to know him when he and his family moved to Coats, North Carolina in the late 1960's. I was sax player for a group named The Assembly of Soul. We hired Joe as our lead vocalist. It was an unusual situation in that all the members of the band were teenagers and Joe was in his mid thirties. We also were very unique for the still somewhat segregated South as we were a white group with a black lead vocalist. Joe went about arranging all of our music, helping us develop our talent, and honing our stage presence. We stayed busy playing club dates primarily in the Carolinas and Georgia. We performed in both predominately white and black venues.
When General Norman Johnson left the Showmen to become a song writer in Detroit, Joe was asked to replace him as lead vocalist. He turned the offer down as he wanted to pursue a solo career. If Joe had taken the offer, I think the Showmen would have continued their success.Joe had a stage presence like that of the General.
We recorded demo tapes for with in 1968 at a small studio in Raleigh NC. Robert Honeycutt (who managed the Williams Lake Dance Club )became Joe's business manager. Robert took those tapes to a number of record companies and finally got Joe signed with Bill Lowery. OC Smith had a smash hit with Little Green Apples and Lowery felt Joe could have similar success with "country soul". I would have to say that most of the released recordings did not truly showcase Joe's tremendous talent.
When he was no longer recording with Bill Lowery, Joe performed for a number of years with Herb Reed's New Century Platters. When he left the Platters, Joe entered into a career in law enforcement. I think he relocated to Florida. I lost touch with him after that.
On a personal note, Joe was one of the finest people I have known in my life. He was intelligent, articulate, and respected by all who came to know him. Joe had strong moral and family values. He was an excellent role model and knew how to bring out the best in people."
I'm really grateful to Mr Bryant for this excellent background info on Joe - and for making sure that the pic at the top of this page really was Joe.
Big love / It’s in your power ~ 123 1710 (1969)
Let me go gradually / Think and do ~ 123 1721 (1969)
It keeps me movin’ / Sweet angel child ~ 123 1731 (1970)
God bless the po’ folks / Mixing colors ~ CAPITOL 3151 (1971)
Baby / Cabin of love ~ CAPITOL 3311 (1972)
The greatest love / If you’re ready to be loved ~ CAPITOL 3464 (1972)
Angel child / If You knew her like I do ~ CAPITOL 3633 (1973)