A Project for Students and Citizens

The Hank Williams of the bayou

In Bayou La Batre on June 28, 2013 at 9:41 pm
Pete O'Dell holds a previous article written about his life as a Hank Williams impersonator.

Pete O’Dell holds a previous article written about his life as a Hank Williams impersonator.

By Nathan Simone / COMMUNITY REPORTER

Ever since Pete O’Dell can remember, he’s been singing Hank Williams.

“I guess I’ve been singing Hank Williams since I was 5 years old,” O’Dell said as he pointed to a stack of records in his newly-created museum, the Hank Williams Museum and Music Hall, next to his home in Irvington.

Open approximately a week at the time of publication, the museum is the next step in O’Dell’s continuous tribute and appreciation of Hank Williams’ legacy. Housed in a moderately sized trailer, the shrine to all Hank Williams is bare on the outside except for a sign announcing the museum’s presence. However, the inside is far from empty.

Hank Williams’ vinyl discography lines the walls, and clippings and articles relating to Hank Williams’ life and legacy are framed. VHS tapes of old Hank Williams concerts and performances by O’Dell as Williams sit on tables and shelves throughout the trailer.

“I built these racks myself,” O’Dell said, laying his hand on some of the plastic-encased vinyl. “Had to make ‘em special.”

O'Dell's museum is host to all things Hank Williams. (Photo by Nathan Simone)

O’Dell’s museum is host to all things Hank Williams. (Photo by Nathan Simone)

Born April 28, 1948, in Sikeston, Mo., as the third child of two carnival workers, O’Dell comes from a performing background. His mother was a Cabaret dancer and his father was a jack-of-all-trades, with talents including knife throwing and sword swallowing.

O’Dell, 65, moved with his family to the bayou when he was 14 years old and has made his home in Irvington, just north of Bayou La Batre.

Since 2000, O’Dell has been dressing up in a blue suit emblazoned with musical notes and country music motifs and singing Hank Williams anywhere he can. Locals can usually spot him at Ole Maria’s near the Bayou La Batre bridge.

Despite being the man who strives to embrace and promote everything about Hank Williams, O’Dell has no problem choosing his favorite song. “Your Cheatin’ Heart,” O’Dell says without hesitation. “Such a sad song.”

The surprising treat that visitors will appreciate upon a visit to the music hall is that only does O’Dell look like Williams, he sounds exactly like him. While visiting the museum with Living Democracy fellow Laney Payne, O’Dell serenaded us with three Williams songs from his personal favorites collection.

O’Dell has received numerous awards from his accurate portrayal of Williams, such as the Hank Williams Legacy Award from The American Music Association and Museum in 2005.

O’Dell has even met Jett Williams, daughter of Hank, and plays a Martin D28 guitar in his spare time.

A certificate of appreciation O'Dell received from the Bayou La Batre/Coden Historical Foundation. (Photo by Nathan Simone)

A certificate of appreciation O’Dell received from the Bayou La Batre/Coden Historical Foundation. (Photo by Nathan Simone)

Admission is free to those who would like to visit the museum, located at 7680 Penny Lane in Irvington, Ala. Guests are encouraged to call 251-824-7953 in advance.

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