John O'Daniel Memorial
December 9, 2018
Review by David Simers
Photos by Chuck Flores
Hundreds Pay Homage To Late Singer!
It's difficult to honor a man who means so much to the music community, but friends, family and extended family do so with a memorial to the late John O'Daniel. Big John, as many call him, would love the musical tribute by members of his two prominent bands – Point Blank and The Stratoblasters.
Long-time friends fill the Anatole Hotel ballroom and begin to share stories from their past with music as the central theme. Although it's an emotional time, they see familiar faces from the past and are happy to relive some great memories, even though some of the memories were struggles at the time. The thoughts and words they share bring the friends as close together as they were when they saw each other every week at the concerts.
A video of pictures plays on the screens on either side of the stage that show John's life in music, as a child, with friends and his love for his beautiful wife, Robin. As everyone settles into a seat, host Jimmy Wallace tells of his personal friendship and working relationship with John, then invites the crowd to enjoy some of the wonderful music that bears O'Daniel's name.
Former members of Point Blank take the stage to play a few of the songs that John's magical voice made even better. Mouse Mayes talks of the tremendous task to emulate John as the band dives into “Back In The Alley.” Mouse and Buddy Whittington tell more stories in between songs and trade licks on guitar during the songs. It reminds everyone of original guitarists Rusty Burns and Kim Davis and the Southern Rock and Boogie the band parlayed into six albums during their heyday of 1976-1982.
Mike Gage, Larry Telford, Kirk Powers continue the driving beat on “Bad Bees” and “Stars and Scars” as Mouse and Buddy talk of Point Blank being the first band they knew to get a record contract. It's easy to see how people thought they were ZZ Top upon first hearing them when they energized the fans on “How Blue Can You Get.”
They talk of reuniting for a benefit for one of the crew members and reuniting to tour and put out their seventh album before igniting the audience with “Mean To Your Queenie.” The emotions get to them for “Free Man,” the final Point Blank song of the day.
Wallace tells more stories, talks of the silent auction and the donations that can be made during this sendoff of a fellow entertainer and friend of over 30 years with The Stratoblasters. Jimmy speaks directly from the heart with a lump in his throat and tears in his eyes about John being playful, generous and genuinely nice, although not the most patient man. That brings up more stories that has the audience nodding their heads in agreement.
Wallace brings The Stratoblasters Blue Team to the stage (Wallace and Big John were the only members of both the Blue and the Red Teams). Mike “Jr.” Clark sounds great singing “Before You Accuse Me” and “Hand Jive,”but it's impossible to not picture and hear Johnny O's passionate voice. Shawn Phares, Mike Arnold and Bobby Chitwood from the Blue Team continue the driving beat to “Midnight Rider” and “Unchain My Heart.” Emotions and memories make the set sound as though Big John is in the room.
The Red Team takes over with Jerry Don Branch, Matt Tapp, Mike Gage, Danny Ross and Randy Cates joining Wallace. Starting with “Sweet Home Chicago,” Branch unleashed his hearty pipes that has been perfected by years of working with O'Daniel. The solid set continues with “Palace Of The King” and “Willin'.” Jr. Clark, Aram Doroff and Mike Morgan joins the group and turns it into a jam. It reminds everyone that as great a singer as John was, he always let everyone else in the band shine, the mark of a true superstar.
Tapp told the story of the night as a heckler once gave John fits during a show. During a quick guitar solo, Big John went to the side of the stage, as always, and the heckler followed him to give him more grief. The non-music lover crossed the line, though, when he brought up O'Daniel's family and John took the opportunity to swing away, knocking the heckler off the stage, but still getting back to the microphone to finish the song without missing a single beat. Laughter and “That's John” rang throughout the room.
Danny Sanches make it a real Guitar Army for “Stand By Me” before Jimmy nails an “Amazing Grace” intro to “Big Legged Woman” and Farther On Up The Road.” Many more come on stage to pay tribute to the late vocalist, including Mouse Mayes, Donnie Pemberton and teenagers Reece Malone and Kelci Kee. John always loved that the music industry would be well represented by these young people and they proves it with Reece's licks and Kelci belting out “Whipping Post.”
Wallace and others again pay homage with emotional words that touch the heart of the many friends who know John is in the room. The newer friends get to learn what a great legacy John leaves while the older friends and band-mates get the closure they need. It is indeed a wonderful memorial to a wonderful man!