One song at a time: Carbondale musician plays the blues to inspire others with disabilities

Joey Odum sings the blues

CARBONDALE, Ill. (KFVS) - Before the pandemic, any given Friday or Saturday night, you’d find 30-year-old Joey Odum of Carbondale on stage somewhere singing the blues.

“I was drawn to the blues because it’s pure, it’s real,” said Odum. “Everybody’s faced it. You know. Whether you like the blues or not, you’ve lived it.”

Odum said he’s lived through his fair share of heartache from love gone bad and written plenty of songs about it. But the thing he does not lament in either his music or his daily life is that he’s a little different.

“I was born with a form of cerebral palsy called spastic diplegia. Basically, what that means is my legs are extremely weak and I have some cognitive issues. It’s very painful as well,” said Odum. “But that pain – I transform into energy to create better music. It’s my mission to get up every day and do something positive and accomplish something and I’m not going to let a disability get in my way.”

From a young age, Joey Odum was determined to play music even if it meant he couldn’t play it the traditional way. (Photo Courtesy of Joey Odum)
From a young age, Joey Odum was determined to play music even if it meant he couldn’t play it the traditional way. (Photo Courtesy of Joey Odum) (Source: Joey Odum)

Odum takes the stage in his wheelchair, and said he sometimes has trouble sitting up straight due to his condition.

However, he’s never really let his physical limitations get in his way. From a very early age, Odum was determined to play music. Even if it meant he had to play it in a slightly unorthodox way.

Joey Odum had a passion for music from a very young age, and was determined to play guitar in spite of his cerebral palsy. (Photo courtesy of Joey Odum)
Joey Odum had a passion for music from a very young age, and was determined to play guitar in spite of his cerebral palsy. (Photo courtesy of Joey Odum) (Source: Joey Odum)

“My left hand which is the hand I’m fretting with is very tense and my fingers, I can’t straighten them out all the way,” said Odum. “I developed my own style of playing lead guitar when I’m playing solos. It’s derived from a jazz player named Django Reinhardt. He had a factory accident and these two fingers were fused together due to a fire. So, he only had these two fingers to play with. I normally use two fingers to play solos. It’s a modified style that works for me.”

As the frontman for the Joey Odum Band, Odum sets the tone for the rest of the group, and he admitted because of the pain of his condition, at some gigs, he just can’t be at his best.

“Some nights I can play fine, and other nights I’m just fighting for every note you know, every lyric. I’m just glad the band is supportive of that, and they understand that my health is questionable at times, and sometimes I have a bad night – and they don’t judge me for that.”

“Last year we played 80 gigs, and some of those gigs were two a day,” said drummer Peter Julian. “It’s the most I’ve ever played in a year.”

Julian said before the pandemic, the band was on track to play 100 shows this year. He said Odum’s passion for his music never fails to entertain crowds; and he said his songs seem to seep into your soul and stay there.

“Joey’s an amazing songwriter,” said Julian. “I find myself singing the songs all the time. There’s time where I’m like ‘okay mind, shut off,’ and it’s like ‘No, we’re going to sing “Fallen” whether you like it or not.”

Joey Odum (right) strums his new song “Fallen” alongside drummer Peter Julian at an impromptu jam session in Julian’s Carbondale apartment in February, 2020. (Source: KFVS)
Joey Odum (right) strums his new song “Fallen” alongside drummer Peter Julian at an impromptu jam session in Julian’s Carbondale apartment in February, 2020. (Source: KFVS) (Source: KFVS)

Odum has moved away from the blues a bit. He said he’s branching out, writing songs with a brighter beat. He said he’ll keep fighting through the pain, and the exhaustion to continue to make the music he hopes will brighten the lives of others.

“I wanted to be a voice for the disabled community – to tell them that you can follow a dream no matter what hand you’ve been dealt,” said Odum. “People have a lot of battles that they fight and I’m just one of those people that decided rather than let the battle take over I want to be a voice for people that you can overcome anything. I’ve worked really hard for years to keep on that track and try to change lives you know – one song at a time.”

When social distancing canceled all of their shows, Odum turned to Facebook to host what he calls “Quarantine Survival Sessions,” strumming the songs he hopes will brighten the lives of others in a time when so many are living the blues.

“People have a lot of battles that they fight and I’m just one of those people that decided rather than let the battle take over I want to be a voice for people that you can overcome anything. I’ve worked really hard for years to keep on that track and try to change lives you know – one song at a time.”

While isolating at home, Odum has been keeping busy writing new songs. He plans to host another Quarantine Survival Session live on his Facebook page Saturday, May 9 at 2 p.m. Click here to find details about the all-online event.

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