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Terrie Odabi at Porretta Soul Festival (photo by Pertti Nurmi)

  An almost ominous cloud of mystery was hovering in the air from the first chanting bars of Wade in the Water, and the mysterious but fascinating “voodoo” feel remained intact till the wailing end of the song.  The singer was Terrie Odabi, and this performance took place was on Friday evening, July the 20th in 2018, at the Porretta Soul Festival in Italy.  Terrie: “It’s an old Negro spiritual.  It goes back to slavery.  It was a code song to help lead slaves, who were running to freedom.  It’s just a song that I always thought was very beautiful.  I like to be connected with the past, and I wanted to pay tribute to where the music comes from.” 

  Backed by the excellent Anthony Paule Soul Orchestra, next in the concert tempo was picked up for the jazzy Live My Life and for the funky Man Size Job, written and first cut by Denise LaSalle in 1972.  The deepest and the most thrilling part of Terrie’s 35-minute stint came next, when she delivered her version of O.V. Wright’s mid-1960s gem, You’re Gonna Make Me CryGentrification Blues is an upbeat blues number with a social message and below in this article Terrie tells more about the history of the song.  The arousing Don’t Play That Song closed her set on Friday, but two nights later she returned for a duet with Wee Willie Walker called Lovey Dovey, a cover of Ike & Tina Turner’s Funkier than a Mosquito’s Tweeter and a rerun of Wade in the Water.


Terrie Odabi interviewed in Porretta, Italy (photo by Pertti Nurmi)

  Terrie Juanita Wright was born in Albany, Georgia, on April the 7th in 1963.  “My father was in military.  I don’t remember Albany, because we just moved soon after I was born, I guess, to California.  I was still a baby.  I remember living in California and Turkey.”  From the age of four until she turned six Terrie was living in Turkey.  “I do remember Turkey.  At the time it was a stark contrast from the United States.  I remember the smells, a different language and I remember the curse words (laughing) – because the taxi cab drivers always cursed – and the babysitters, Turkish women, who were very nice to us.”

  “I moved to Oakland, when my father retired from military.”  At that point Terrie was ten years old, and she’s been living in the Bay area ever since; more precisely in East Oakland, next to San Francisco.  She has one 33-year-old daughter, who, however, is not involved in music.  “My very first idol was Aretha Franklin, and early on I really loved Natalie Cole and Chaka Khan.  In my twenties I started really loving jazz and singing jazz - so Sarah Vaughan and Ella Fitzgerald – and later I became a fan of Dianne Reeves.”

  “I did not grow up singing in church.  In my high school choir at East Oakland’s Fremont High School a lot of the people were very heavy in church, and so I started singing gospel with them - we also visited Walter Hawkins’ church – but I did not actually sing in church.”  Terrie took her first singing lessons from one of the top tenors those days, Mr. John Patton Jr. (1930-2005), an authority on spirituals, black art songs and classic music... “and jazz, a lot of jazz.”

  “I started in a local theatre in Oakland, where I performed.  Actually Larry Batiste was one of the music directors and he told me that I should start singing and performing professionally, and probably at 17-18 I was sneaking into clubs – sneaking, because I was supposed to be 21 – and sometimes I would sing background but sometimes I would sing by myself and I would do jazz.”


  Rosie Gaines ( was born in 1960 in Pittsburg, California, about thirty miles from Oakland.  She released her debut album in 1985 and six years later she became a member of Prince’s New Power Generation and sang duet with Prince on Diamonds and Pearls.  One of her best-remembered solo singles is Closer than Close in 1997.  “I knew her before she was popular.  I think I recall when Prince saw her in San Francisco.  I sang background for Rosie Gaines for a little while, when I was doing my sneaking into clubs.”

  Brenda Vaughn was born in Mississippi but resides these days also in Oakland.  “I used to sing background for her quite a lot.  She was at the same time as Rosie Gaines.”  Besides domestic, Brenda has tasted a lot of Oriental success, too.  She became very popular in Tokyo and her voice is featured in many Japanese commercials.  Back home, in 2007 she received the Living Legend Award at the Bay Area Black Music Awards.

  “When I was in my early twenties, I would sing with Jules Broussard, and Richardo Scales was around the same time.”  The 81-year-old jazz saxophonist Jules Broussard ( was a member of Santana in the mid-1970s and he has played with a number of luminaries during his career.  The pianist Ric(h)ardo (, also known as “Black Liberace”, has released at least 25 CDs so far.

  “My first group was Nitelife in the early 1990s.  There were six of us.  Joseph Rasheed was the leader of the band and Joyce Harris was the other lead singer.  We did r&b covers, and the group existed for about five or six years.”


  “In 1993 I was hired to sing on D’CuCKOO’s CD called Umoja – just chanting and wailing – and they liked me and kept asking me to do performances with them... until I was a part of the band.  Umoja is the first CD my voice is on.” 

  This so-called multimedia ensemble was formed in the mid-1980s and the number of members ranged from three to ten ladies, including Tina “Bean” BlaineUmoja on RGB Records was their second album, and the group disbanded in 1998.  Their music is described as a mixture of African choral and Asian harmony, even techno-tribal, interactive funk.  “It was world music.  They were ladies, who were very intelligent and very smart.  They designed instruments that looked like marimbas and drums, but they were digital.  Before I was with the band, they performed with Grateful Dead, and so we had a big following.  I was with D’CuCKOO for quite awhile.”


  “Right after D’CuCKOO broke up, RhythMixx was formed.  It was an acoustic version of D’CuCKOO.  We played together in RhythMixx with Carolyn Brandy.”  Carolyn is an acclaimed percussionist, who started playing congas in 1968 and has played with many groups in the Bay area.  Her 1995 CD is called Skin Talk and today she’s the President of Women Drummers International.

  Layce Baker ( is a blues guitarist, who was born in 1955, has played blues for about 40 years and one member in his Black Diamond Band was his own son.  “I worked with him, I would say, in 2005 and ’06.  Layce Baker passes away December 2, 2016.”


Terrie Odabi with Heikki Suosalo interviewing (photo by Pertti Nurmi)

  For the next ten years, starting from 2005 Terrie sang neo-soul.  “I was a solo artist and I worked with a lot of musicians.  I was the band leader, so I hired musicians for the gigs.”

  Besides music, Terrie’s main interest is to work with disabled students, mostly in Castlemont and Skyline high schools in Oakland.  “I’ve been doing this since 1991, and it’s always been a full-time job.  I started off as a paraprofessional and have been working as an employment specialist since 1999.  I work with students, who have disabilities in high school, and young adults.  I help them create goals of what they want to do in life and, if possible, I help them get job experience or direct them to education like college.”

  In January 2014 and 2015 Terrie entered International Blues Challenge (IBC) in Memphis, and made it to semi-finals.  “When I competed for the IBC, a gentleman by the name of Angelo Rossi saw me.  He had a recording studio and he asked me, if I would be interested in coming to record in his studio.  I wanted to record in a studio, but I could not afford it, but he helped me to create the CD.  Through Angelo I met Kid Andersen.  After the first guitar player quit, he went and got Kid.”

  As a result of this meeting, in January 2014 in The Cave Recording Studio they recorded Terrie’s first solo CD, a six-track EP called Evolution of the Blues.  The only outside song is Elmore James’ slow and mournful The Sky Is Crying.  The rest five songs were newly written with IBC in mind.  “I like the song that Kid and I did together, I’ll Feed You Real Good, and I think my next favourite would be The Sky Is Crying.  I love Daddy-O, because I wrote it about my father who had passed away in 2011.”  Both I’ll Feed You Real Good and Daddy-O are more frisk blues romps, as well as I Can’t Keep, whereas the title tune and Liar are slow numbers.


Terrie Odabi performing at Porretta Soul Festival (photo by Pertti Nurmi)

  Terrie’s first full-length CD called My Blue Soul was released in April 2016.  Produced by Kid Andersen, engineered and mixed by Kid and Angelo Rossi and recorded at his Cave Studios, besides Kid on guitar, organ and bass, among other eleven musicians you can spot such names as Derrick “D’Mar” Martin on drums, Kirk Crumpler on bass, Ken Cook on keys and Terry Hiatt on guitar.  Add to that still a 3-piece horn section and three backing vocalists.

  Terrie wrote or co-wrote 11 songs out of the 13 on display, and they range from such jazzy numbers as the swinging Live My Life and the slow He Wouldn’t Let Go to blues and rhythm & blues by way of the slow When You Love Me and Life Is So Good and a live scorcher named Born to Die.  If your preference is soul music, look no further than the mid-tempo How Dare You, the inspirational Hold up the Light and the deep and impressive Will You Still Love Me.  “I think the CD presents my influences.  I’m not one-dimensional.  All of those influences play a wide role in who I am as an artist.”

  The two outside songs are Wade in the Water – arranged by Terrie herself - and a cover of Big Mama Thornton’s 60s slow blues called Ball and Chain.  The opening song on the set is the mid-tempo Gentrification Blues.  “The CD was pretty much finished.  I was going to the studio to just listen to the different takes with Kid.  Oakland is culturally very diverse.  There’s a place called Lake Merritt, and there used to be drumming on the lake.  Someone, who had recently moved there, did not like the drumming and called the police on the drummers.  Then there’s a church that had been in Oakland for 67 years and people, who recently moved there, started calling the police on the church and they were fined for making too much noise.  It was something they’ve been doing for a very, very long time, which is worshipping.  So this really upset me, and I wrote Gentrification Blues, and Kid said ‘okay, let’s do it.’”

  Besides Anthony Paule and his orchestra backing Terrie up on festivals, she has her own 6-piece band.  “I don’t tour a lot.  I do a lot of concerts in the area that I live in, but as far as touring in Europe... maybe once or twice a year.”  Terrie is scheduled to perform at the Blues Heaven Festival in Denmark in early November this year (, and hopefully soon after that we are treated to a new CD.  “Kid and I have been talking about doing something else.  I would like to do an acoustic project with him, but we still have to talk.”

(Interview conducted on 21.07.18 in Porretta, Italy; acknowledgements to Terrie, Christine Vitale and Lee Hildebrand).


(solo projects)

EVOLUTION OF THE BLUES (Soul Blue Records) 2014

Evolution Of The Blues / I’ll Feed You Real Good / I Can’t Keep / Daddy-O / Liar / The Sky Is Crying


Gentrification Blues / Live My Life / Will You Still Love Me / He Wouldn’t Let Go / Born To Die (live) / Life Is So Good / How Dare You / Ball And Chain / I Bet You Think I Don’t Know / I Can’t Keep / Wade In The Water / When You Love Me / Hold Up The Light

© Heikki Suosalo

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