James Oden

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b. 26 June 1903, Nashville, Tennessee, USA, d. 30 December 1977, Chicago, Illinois, USA. He was also known as St. Louis Jimmy, Big Bloke, Poor Boy and Old Man Oden. Although he was a moderately capable…
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b. 26 June 1903, Nashville, Tennessee, USA, d. 30 December 1977, Chicago, Illinois, USA. He was also known as St. Louis Jimmy, Big Bloke, Poor Boy and Old Man Oden. Although he was a moderately capable pianist, Oden’s fame rests mainly on his prowess as a blues singer and composer. His most famous song, ‘Goin’ Down Slow’, has been recorded by many famous blues artists, including an outstanding version by Howlin’ Wolf aided by Willie Dixon, and was something of an anthem among white groups during the 60s. He was born, according to some sources, to Henry Oden, a dancer, and Leana West. Both parents died before he was eight years old and his early life remains a blank, largely because he wished it so, until he emerged in St. Louis, Missouri, at the age of 14, working in a barber’s shop. St. Louis had a thriving blues community during the 20s and Jimmy Oden found himself a niche within it. He taught himself piano during this period but did not play professionally, believing that there were many better players than himself who would be able to accompany him. His main influence would appear to be Walter Davis, although his most constant companions were Big Joe Williams and Roosevelt Sykes. It was in the company of Sykes and violinist Curtis Mosby that he made his first foray into a recording studio in 1932. He moved north to Chicago in 1933 and was active in the blues scene of that city from that time until the 50s, performing, writing, and sometimes managing a band for Eddie Boyd, as well as being involved in the founding of the JOB record label. On one of his later sessions he was backed by the then emerging Muddy Waters and, after his activities were restricted by a serious car accident, he took up lodgings in the basement of Waters’ house, paying his rent by supplying the occasional song. He benefited briefly from the resurgence of interest in the blues during the 60s, recording albums for such labels as Delmark Records, Bluesville and Spivey. His death was the result of bronchopneumonia.