Interview: Guitarist Tommy Odom, part 2

Tommy Odom, 2001.

Tommy Odom, 2001. Photo by Keith Cady

Click here to read part one. Harold Thomason Harry Thomas Odom was born in Paris, Tennessee, in 1923. A gifted guitarist, his take off (or lead) playing on records was comparable to the best western swing pickers on recordings. He learned his licks from local jazz guitarist Bob Mitchell, playing jazz standards and country throughout his career. Although he played guitar in Detroit for more than three decades (1940s through 1970s), younger generations recognized Odom for his vocal on a risqué novelty called “She Won’t Turn Over For Me,” which first appeared as a jukebox single on Fortune Records subsidiary Renown, performed by Floyd Compton’s Western Troubadours in 1951 (see discography below). In 2001, when this interview was done at his apartment in Detroit, Odom had suffered a stroke and no longer played guitar. He died September 2010. The following features excerpts from a lengthier conversation. [1]

 

Do you remember making those records with Roy Hall?

Yeah. There was a studio and a guy with the records. I played there sometimes with Roy Hall, and sometimes with Freddie Bach. We made some good records. Five or six, and I just heard them. I never did get one of them, for some reason or another. I never did know what happened to them. There was a woman and a man. That woman, she played them for me. He died first.

Fortune Records.

Yeah, down there on Third Street. …

Listen to: Roy Hall and his Cohutta Mtn Boys, feat. Tommy Odom – Freckle Face Gal

Your playing on some of those records was really hot. It had a lot of punch, and it was clean.

I played different with every band. Every band has different music. You gotta learn … The band where I played better was when I was playing twin guitars with Tommy Craig. Boy, we had some good ones. … I worked every damn bar all over. On Third, Second, Woodward. I used to work that bar over there, where Eddie Jackson used to play a lot.
"My Freckle Face Gal" by Roy Hall and his Cohutta Mountain Boys, Fortune 139 B

The Roxy?

Yeah. His bass player was …

Bob Norton?

Bob Norton. I went down there to stay with him one night, and two or three days later … Bob Norton used to play with me, over at the West Fort when I was playing over there. … He went to the theater and fell dead. [2]

At the movie theater.

Yeah. It was just two or three days [later]. … I knowed Bob Norton’s younger brother. He used to play sax. But he never did work some. He worked at that big company down there … He was an electrician. He made good money. I used to work with Chief [Redbird], he used to work down there. I used to play down on Third with a guy who went back to Texas. His name was … There was so many guys I played with, I just can’t remember all of them.

You sang on one record, “She Won’t Turn Over For Me.” Do you remember that?

Probably that’s me and Frankie [Brumbalough] singing on that.

It was on a guy’s record named Floyd Compton and his Western Troubadours. It was on Renown Records.

Floyd Compton. I remember that name, but I can’t place what he looks like. …

Listen to: Floyd Compton, feat. Tommy Odom – I Can’t Get Her Started

Another guy that played in Detroit for years and years … He played fiddle and steel. Roy Hall played with him, too. I’ll think of it. A car fell on him, out in the garage, when he was working on it.

Oh, Eddie Jackson told me about him, too.
Jazz guitarist Bob Mitchell, 1950s. Syndicated Press Photo

Tommy Odom’s mentor, Detroit jazz guitarist Bob Mitchell, mid-1950s. Source: Keith Cady

… Well, his wife put her boyfriend up to it. He pulled the … car off onto him. … They never did prove it, but they knew damn well it was so. She’d go out and stay about eight hours, and you know if she’s going out for eight hours, she ain’t “going out.” It was a put-up job. What the hell is his name? I almost said it. He played all over. He played fiddle at first, then he played steel. He played on 8 Mile. He was playing in Detroit when I was still working at White Castle. That’s how long ago. [3]

Danny Richards used to tell me about him, too.

Danny Richards. Is he still living? … When I played over at the Roosevelt Lounge, Danny was playing there. And this [other] guy who was playing steel guitar, when he died, we went to his funeral. His brother, he came over here …

Was it Whitey Franklin?

Yeah. He died [in 1974]. I played with him. He was a nice guy. …

[About pianist Freddie Bach …] He really got good on that piano. He could play every damn thing … modern songs. … When we first started at Rose’s Bar, he was playing there and we just couldn’t keep him. And then, later on I saw him, and he was like Liberace. It’s like me. Bob Mitchell taught me all them runs and everything. But his fingers was twice as long as mine. Bob would make a chord, and my fingers could make just half of it. Bob, he’d make them long reaching chords, and I’d have to jump back and forth [on the frets]. I couldn’t play it like him, ’cause he could reach it all. But I could reach some of them. I learned to stretch my fingers.

Last five years, I’d go to [my brother’s] and he’d say, “You can strum on my guitar.” I hurt my fingers when I tried to mash the strings down. I said, “That guitar ain’t no good.” He said, “I can play it.” He could play it okay, and he could mash ’em down. He plays some every day. I couldn’t play it like I wanted to, so I said, “To hell with it.” I could play anything I wanted until that damn stroke. …

Tommy Odom and Frankie Brumbalough, ca. 1950

Tommy Odom (left) and Frankie Brumbalough, around 1950. Source: Craig Maki, courtesy Tommy Odom

For how long did you play with Frankie Brumbalough? Did you guys play together for a few years?

We played together … We went to work at that … eventually it was the Caravan, but it used to be another place out there. I used to go up Livernois and turn right. … They got that highway there.

The Davison?

Davison. There used to be a bar down there. That’s where a lot of them used to play. I think that’s where Eddie Jackson played.

Six Mile and Davison.

Yeah. I played out there. … A brother of mine (he’s dead now), he went in there one time, and he told the [bartender], “Tommy told me to come by here and get fifty dollars.” “Okay.” He didn’t know my brother, but he just give it to him. I didn’t know a thing about it. When he complained to me, “I’m short fifty dollars,” I said, “What the hell are you talking about?” He said, “You sent your brother out here after it.” I said, “My brother? Who?” He said, “Lewis.” I said, “Lewis? I didn’t send him.” I didn’t say a thing, but I knew what was up. He needed fifty dollars [to take a woman out for a date]. And he knowed where to get it. [laughs]

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Discography

Roy Hall and his Cohutta Mountain Boys “The Dirty Boogie” b/w “No Rose In San Antone” (Fortune 126, 1949)
Roy Hall and his Cohutta Mountain Boys “The Dirty Boogie” b/w “Okee Doaks” (Fortune 126, 1949) [4]
Roy Hall and his Cohutta Mountain Boys “Never Marry A Tennessee Gal” b/w “We Never Get Too Big To Cry” (Fortune 133, 1949)
Roy Hall and his Cohutta Mountain Boys “Five Years In Prison” b/w “My Freckle Face Gal” (Fortune 139, 1950)
Roy Hall and his Cohutta Mountain Boys “Turn My Picture To The Wall” (Bullet 712, 1950) [5]
Floyd Compton and his Western Troubadours “She Won’t Turn Over For Me” (vocal by Tommy Odom) b/w “Careless Lover” (vocal by Floyd Compton) (Renown 5002, 1951) [6]
May Hawks “Jealous Love” b/w “Year After Year” (Fortune 173, 1953) [7]

 

Notes

  1. Tommy Odom interviewed by Keith Cady and Craig Maki in 2001.
  2. Eddie Jackson said he thought that Norton had a heart problem that caused his death.
  3. The musician’s name was Taft “Rosebud” Blevins.
  4. Fortune 126 was issued twice, with different songs backing “The Dirty Boogie.”
  5. In Keith Cady’s 2001 interview with Bud White, White said Odom traveled with the Roy Hall band to Nashville for the recording session for Bullet. This track is the only one of four they cut that has audible evidence of Odom’s participation. The rest of the lead guitar work from the session sounds like Hal Clark’s style of picking.
  6. It sounds as though Tommy Odom also played guitar on the Compton record, when he wasn’t singing (between verses, and on the song by Floyd Compton). Around 1941 the Detroit-based Universal label issued “She Won’t Turn Over For Me” (masters 114/115 together on one 78 rpm disc) by local pop singer Chick Fowler, backed by a hot jazz band. The guitarist on Fowler’s record sounded very much like Odom’s friend Bob Mitchell, who may have introduced the song to him. Bob Mitchell’s story is included in the forthcoming book, “Detroit Country Music: Mountaineers, Cowboys, and Rockabillies.”
  7. Due to his association with Roy Hall at the time, Odom could have played on Fortune 173. The band sounds like Hall’s.

2 Comments to "Interview: Guitarist Tommy Odom, part 2"

  • Jerry Odom
    December 13, 2013 at 4:56 pm #

    I don’t remember Tommy telling me about this interview, but his name wasn’t what you have above, it was Harry Thomas Odom, but everything else sounds about right. I glad after all these years that a little bit of info comes out about him. Unless you had the chance to listen to him in person, you’ll never know just how talented he really was. I have my home recordings that I made with him also some with our family. The brother with whom he was referring to about the guitar was me. Anyway, I just wanted to set the record straight about his name, Thanks

    • December 13, 2013 at 9:04 pm #

      Thank you, Jerry! Keith and I both visited with Tommy for this interview. He was a very talented guitarist, and some might say that’s an understatement. I made sure to include some passages about him in the chapter about Roy Hall in the book.

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