Odus Maggard

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One could certainly say young Joseph Odus Maggard was born into a musical family. His mother, Malinda Wells Maggard, was related to Kitty Wells, one of the most famous female country & western singers.…
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One could certainly say young Joseph Odus Maggard was born into a musical family. His mother, Malinda Wells Maggard, was related to Kitty Wells, one of the most famous female country & western singers. Maggard learned both guitar and banjo as a young boy, apparently playing tunes even before he was big enough to actually hold the instruments on his own. He was entertaining at local square dances when he was five years old. Whoever was interested in booking him, usually a neighbor, would come by and pick up the massively underage picker, promising to have him back in his parent's arms by a certain time. He would then be delivered after the event, his pockets stuffed with change he had received as payment. As a teenager he hooked up with Woodrow Roberts, who also sang and played guitar. They began performing as a duo and in the mid-'30s they joined forces with a fiddler, Pat Hill. This group secured a gig broadcasting on WOPI out of Bristol, TN, and began calling themselves the Southern Melody Boys. The radio spots led to gigs all around the region and as the band grew more active they replaced Hill with fiddler Joe McConnell. In 1937 Maggard and Roberts went to Charlotte, NC, to cut some sides for the RCA Victor Bluebird line. Some of these titles were released on the Montgomery Ward label and sold in the chain's stores and through their catalogs. In 1938 they recorded in Charlotte again, this time for Decca. It was the rowdy, hard-drinking atmosphere of the early bluegrass and old-time music scene that led Maggard to drop out of performing, as he didn't approve of either. A brawl at a gig he was playing in Harlan County, KY, was the last straw, probably literally as the band was playing for a square dance. After a few years of working as a pipefitter, Maggard went to barber school and wound up opening the Style Barber Shop in Kingsport, TN. Music never dropped out of his life, however. He kept his instruments alongside his scissors, razors, and brushes and would be playing old-time tunes whenever the supply of customers dried up. Maggard has been highly praised for his songwriting skills. His songs include "Down in Baltimore," "Sweet Locust Blossoms," and the lonely "Back in California." Fans of banjo playing treasure his early recordings, and feel that he could have been one of the greats if he had decided to pursue banjo picking, instead of hair cutting, as his life's career. He recorded the album Southern Melody for the June Appal label in the '80s, and it was re-released on CD in 1995.