Odell Harris is real. I met him once – on the night this disc was recorded. I haven’t seen him since, and I’m not sure if I will again.
Those who know him well say that’s just how he is. He wanders in and out of contact as it suits him, and it usually suits him to stay lost.
Until now, those who have been able to hear Odell play, have been limited to a small-but-fortunate few. He played on a small stage at a Delta blues festival once a few years back and he has occasionally dropped in unannounced to jam at a Mississippi juke. Mostly, though, his performances are no more public than a spontaneous set in a friend’s living room or front porch.
I made the decision to record Odell without ever having heard him play. The reports of his talent were too good to be ignored and the tales of his unreliability were so pervasive that I knew I might not have the chance again. We spoke by phone a couple of times and he assured me he’d be there for an all-night session we had scheduled on the gulf coast of Mississippi.
I didn’t believe a word of it.
When we pulled up to the recording site, we were all surprised to see an older, wiry black man in a dirty white cap and blood-shot eyes leaning against an old pick up truck with a battered guitar in his hands.
The rest, I figured, would be easy.
Christ, was I wrong.
In fairness to Odell, it wasn’t entirely his fault. For lack of a readily available recording studio, we were allowed to set up a makeshift studio at a local blues club that was closing early for the night. Unfortunately, the crowd never thinned out completely and those who stayed behind had no intention of keeping quiet. Throughout the session car keys were dropped, chairs clattered and drunken voices chattered on. Our efforts to minimize the noise were met first with blank stares, then visible contempt and eventually threats of physical violence. Being more of a lover than a fighter, I decided I could live with a little background noise. Hope you can, too.
As for Odell, well, he’s not a man who takes instruction well. Simple requests like “Try singing into the microphone” or “Stop talking shit about everybody in the middle of a take” were met with bemused smirks.
The session dragged on all night. It was grueling. Incredible performances were abandoned in mid-take. Others devolved into chaos. Given the already hostile environment in the club, I considered pulling the plug at several points. Maybe we could try again at a later date.
But then around 4 a.m., everything seemed to lock into place. Like some kind of vampiric bluesman afraid of what dawn might bring, Odell suddenly got serious. Songs he had been taking half-passes at all night suddenly morphed into works of primal beauty. The shapeless jams of hours earlier became powerful hill-funk workouts as daylight approached.
The session finally ground to a halt at around 7:30 a.m. and only because we had run out of tape.
We left that morning with shattered nerves, sleep-deprived brains, alcohol-damaged livers and hours of tape. The CD you hold in your hands offers a strong distillation of what we captured that night. I think you’ll agree it was worth the effort.
Since leaving that session, I have spoken with Odell a couple of times by phone, mostly relating to a scheduled appearance at a festival in Clarksdale. It surprised no one when he failed to show.
This disc may be the only way you ever have a chance to hear Odell. But if you do happen to see him, ask him to call me. We need to do this again some time.
- Jeff Konkel/Broke & Hungry Records
released November 14, 2006
Odell Harris - guitar & vocals
Bill Abel - guitar
Lightnin' Malcolm - bass & drums
Produced by Jeff Konkel
Recorded and mixed by Bill Abel
Production assistance and "shushing" by Roger Stolle
Mastering by Mark Yoshida, Audiographic Masterworks
Art direction and design by Joey Grisham
Photography by Jeff Konkel
Recorded July 1, 2006 in Ocean Springs, Mississippi