An early Blues pianist with a dry, laconic vocal style, ‘St. Louis Jimmy’ Oden is remembered now more for his songwriting talents than for his records. ‘Goin’ Down Slow’ has been a classic, drag-out Blues piano standard for generations, and Muddy Waters recorded several of Jimmy’s tunes in the 50s.
James Burke Oden was born in Nashville TN in 1903, and must have taken up piano at an early age, because he left for St. Louis as a teenager to make his fortune with his fingers. In the 20s, on the busy circuit of speak-easies, clubs and parties in that ‘wide-open’ city, he met another pianist Roosevelt Sykes
, and Jimmy began to focus on singing and songwriting in their work together. For more than ten years, Jimmy and Roosevelt were at the centre of the scene in St.Louis where the Blues piano of Peetie Wheatstraw
, Walter Davis
and Speckled Red
made the city almost synonymous with tinkling ivories. In 1934, Jimmy and Roosevelt moved their base to Chicago
, where there was plenty of club work, and more recording opportunities. ‘St. Louis Jimmy’, as he was now known, recorded a few tracks for Champion Records in the late 30s, but in 1941 he released his song ‘Goin’ Down Slow’ on the Bluebird label. It was a great song, delivered in Jimmy’s typical downhearted style, and a regional hit, but when America joined WWII his recording career, like so many others, hit the buffers.
1947 version of ‘Goin’ Down Slow’ on Bullet Records;
After the War, Jimmy cut some tracks for the Bullet label, and in 1948 he cut ‘Florida Hurricane’ for Aristocrat Records, which was about to become Chess
. His side-men on those sessions included pianist Sunnyland Slim
and Muddy Waters on slide-guitar, and Muddy later recorded several of Jimmy’s compositions including ‘Soon Forgotten’ and ‘Take the Bitter with the Sweet’. In 1949 Jimmy and his partner Joe Brown set up their own JOB label, but within a year Jimmy had pulled out. His own records appeared throughout the 50s on the Savoy and Parrot labels, and with Roosevelt on Duke Records
In 1957, Jimmy was involved in a serious auto accident which put him out of action for a while, but in 1960 he cut his first album for Bluesville. It had ten of his own compositions, including the title track ‘Goin’ Down Slow’, and Jimmy continued to record sporadically for several labels in the 60s, but failing health was catching up with him. Jimmy had retired from performing by the end of the decade, and passed away in Chicago in 1977.