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The Legendary Stardust Cowboy

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A true rock & roll primitive even wilder than cult legend Hasil Adkins, the Legendary Stardust Cowboy played a crude brand of rockabilly obsessed with the Wild West and science fiction, and filled with vocal effects ranging from rebel yells and war whoops to a startling array of animal noises. Norman Carl Odam was born in Lubbock, TX, in 1947; a shy and eccentric child, he began developing his idiosyncratic vocal style at age 14, soon started guitar lessons, and also taught himself bugle and harmonica, among other instruments. Odam became notorious for performing in public spaces — every morning on the steps of his high school, on the roof of his car near local drive-in restaurants and hangouts, at parties he wasn't invited to — and attracted a mixture of affection and harassment. After high school, he traveled to California hoping to land television bookings, but found no takers; upon returning to Lubbock, he worked in a warehouse while playing occasional gigs at honky tonks, where audiences were frequently hostile (often assuming he was a hippie making fun of country music).

In 1968, inspired by Tiny Tim's appearance on The Tonight Show, Odam decided to drive to New York to do the same thing. He stopped in Fort Worth, where he caught the attention of two vacuum cleaner salesmen who knew a local club owner. Impressed by the amateurish abandon of his performance, the salesmen took him to a recording studio the next morning, where the Legendary Stardust Cowboy recorded his debut single, "Paralyzed," with engineer T-Bone Burnett. Local promoter Major Bill Smith somehow sold the single to Mercury for national distribution. "Paralyzed" actually made the lower reaches of the Billboard singles charts and the Ledge (as he was later nicknamed) was invited to appear on Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In. Although the show's cast laughed at him, not with him, the performance caused a stir; offers from other variety shows poured in, but unfortunately, a musician's union strike prevented all TV airings of live music for a period. By the time the ban was lifted, the Legendary Stardust Cowboy had disappeared from the public's mind. A couple of other singles flopped and Mercury dropped him; moreover, Smith attempted to steal a tape of over 50 new songs recorded at Burnett's studio, which the Ledge eventually stole back and destroyed.

The Ledge remained silent for quite some time, until a Las Vegas DJ and longtime fan named James Yanaway offered him the chance to record for Yanaway's new label Amazing. And so finally, in 1984, the Legendary Stardust Cowboy released his first album, Rock-It to Stardom, which also marked the first time he'd recorded with a full band. However, the Ledge still had his heart set on The Tonight Show and left Amazing when nothing of that sort materialized. In 1986, now living in the Bay Area, he recorded another album with a group of local musicians; titled Retro Rocket Back to Earth, it was initially released on Spider and later on the French New Rose label. The same group recorded a follow-up, The Legendary Stardust Cowboy Rides Again, but were unable to find any interested American labels; it too was eventually released on New Rose in 1990. Aside from occasional singles for Norton (also the modern-day home for Hasil Adkins, like the Ledge a forefather of the contemporary psychobilly movement), the Stardust Cowboy was silent for much of the '90s, living in San Jose and working as a security guard for Lockheed-Martin (designers of the spacecraft that landed on Mars). However, he did return in 1998 with the album Live in Chicago (on Bughouse), recorded with a backing band of guitarist Frank Novicki, ex-Dead Kennedys bassist Klaus Fluoride, and drummer Mike Burns.

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Grand Prarie, TX

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