On the Road Again

Terrie Odabi takes her blues back to Memphis on the heels of a new release.


Terrie Odabi

Photo by Lance Yamamoto

Terrie Odabi has delved into a variety of musical genres over the past three decades. She did backgrounds locally for soul singers Brenda Vaughn and Rosie Gaines and sang jazz standards with saxophonist Jules Broussard and pianist Richardo Scales during the ’80s, contributed lead vocals to the all-women world-music percussion bands D’CuCKOO and Rhythmix in the ’90s, and reinvented herself as a neo-soul singer during the first decade of the present century.

Over the past couple of years, however, the Albany, Georgia–born, Oakland-based vocalist has found what is perhaps her true calling in the blues. The Golden Gate Blues Society sent her and her band to represent Northern California at the Blues Foundation’s International Blues Challenge in Memphis in January 2014, and although she didn’t make it to the competition’s finals, the nonprofit society’s judges voted to send them back again this coming January.

“I don’t think there’s any music that has more soul than blues, besides gospel,” she says. “I always liked blues, but I never felt like I had a place in blues. I didn’t really know much about the blues culture, other than what was in the Bay Area, and it didn’t seem like it was thriving here.”

Odabi, who works as an employment specialist for disabled students between the ages of 14 and 22 at both Castlemont and Skyline high schools, recently released a CD titled Evolution of the Blues that’s made up of five of her own songs and a chilling rendition of Elmore James’ “The Sky Is Crying.” She uses her alternately breathy and wailing alto pipes with precise enunciation to cut to the core of her at-times erotic odes. “I can’t keep the old men from flirtin’ with me/I can’t keep the young men from hittin’ on me,” she oozes seductively on her hard-shuffling “I Can’t Keep” before telling listeners that “I only freak with my man.”

During appearances at Biscuits and Blues in San Francisco, the Fenix in San Rafael, and the Smoking Pig BBQ Company in Fremont, Odabi has maintained remarkable eye contact with her audiences, giving the uncanny illusion that she was looking directly at each customer. “I try to draw them into what is going on in front of them,” she explains.

Odabi will travel to Memphis in late January with her five-piece band, featuring the dynamic Mountain View guitarist Terry Hiatt this time around, and with her friend, veteran Oakland blues and soul singer-pianist Lady Bianca, who will be competing in the soloist category.

Odabi was disappointed but not devastated by her loss at last January’s International Blues Challenge. “I honestly believe God has a plan, and it wasn’t my time,” she says. “I feel in my spirit that music is what I’m supposed to be doing, and I try to take advantage of whatever opportunities are presented to me.”

As for her upcoming second go-round in Memphis, she says stoically, “I wanna make the best of whatever hand I’m dealt.”

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