When Patrick Ray Odom, 69, brings out his white guitar and begins to sing, the elderly smile, keep time to the music or perhaps drift back in reverie to days gone by and those who are able dance.
For 14 years, Odom has been making the rounds in Tyler and East Texas entertaining at retirement, assisted living and memory care centers. He also performs for dances at Tyler Senior Center, for clients of the Alzheimer's Alliance of Smith County and for private parties, wedding receptions, reunions and other occasions.
Mainly he performs for senior citizens, though. Odom puts a lot of effort, time and his heart into entertaining seniors. "It's really my joy and my passion," he said. As they connect with his music and enjoy it, Odom feels touched and that they are giving back to him.
For Odom, who has developed a bond and personal relationship with many of the people he plays for, it is a ministry.
Upon being invited to his first gig at a retirement center, Odom said, "I took my guitar and sang and we had a big time and I was hooked. I got so much out of it and they got so much out of it and the rest is what they call history."
Odom started building clients. He now performs regularly at about 10 retirement centers across East Texas and plays for the Alzheimer's group.
Odom went through what he called "a learning curve" as he researched and figured out that the best music to reach his audience was songs from the thirties, forties, fifties, sixties, seventies and eighties. He often performs songs sung by Dean Martin, Frank Sinatra and Tony Bennett. He plays classic country, rock and roll, blues and ballroom style.
"I began to build my repertoire of songs and then I could see their faces and see them smiling and enjoying the music more," Odom said, when he played music from the early eras. Some would close their eyes and Odom first wondered if they were going to sleep, but after awhile, he learned they were just relaxing and enjoying the music.
"I think they genuinely like my music and my singing," Odom said. "I got so much more in return than what I had ever gotten from playing before."
As Odom geared up recently to perform for the Wonderful Wednesday Day Club, Shari Hardin, 75, said, "He plays the kind of music I like … tear-jerking, heart-breaking country western."
Odom sings the Patsy Cline song that starts "I fall to pieces each time you pass me by" like he's feeling it inside, she said. "He's good," Hardin added.
Another member of the club, Jean Weatherly, said, "It gets us in the mood … I think he's talented on that instrument."
The Alzheimer's Alliance, club sponsor, arranges for Odom's regular performances because overwhelming research shows music is a great way to reach people with neuropsychological diseases or challenges, Leslie Lindsey, community outreach coordinator, said.
When Odom sings and plays his guitar, Lindsey said, club participants light up, dance, laugh and sing and it brings back memories.
Caregivers leave persons with dementia or Alzheimer's at the club for a few hours for activities such as arts and crafts and games knowing they are receiving good care. Meanwhile, the caregivers use the free time to take care of other responsibilities or simply to get recharged.
Odom has noticed that participants in the day club begin to come out of their shell when he plays music they remember.
He has a list of about 400 songs that he picks from when he plays for the club, assisted living facilities and for dances at Tyler Senior Center. The list includes songs made popular by Marty Robbins, Mickey Gilley, George Strait, doo-wop groups from the '50s and old country artists.
At Tyler Senior Center frequented by people ranging in age from 55 to 95, Odom plays some of the classic oldies and classic rock. "Anyone who comes here and wants to dance, I play something for them to dance to," Odom said.
Odom averages performing about 15 times a month, more in months that have a holiday.
Surprisingly, Odom said he has never had any lessons and that his singing and playing the guitar are "just something that came naturally."
He started as a drummer. "I got the bug back in junior high when I lived in Longview. There was a YMCA dance one night and they had a trio there of older musicians, so they were playing for our party. I just felt that I could sit down and play the drums, so I winked at the drummer and said, ‘Can I sit in?' and he handed me the sticks," Odom said.
Odom went home, took the cardboard cylinder off a coat hanger used for hanging pants, creating a pair of drum sticks that he used to drum on one of his grandmother's roasting pots.
Later as a senior at John Tyler High School, Odom bought a set of drums with money earned working at a music store washing windows and vacuuming. After that, he sold his drums and bought a guitar in college. At that point, he was singing, writing songs and playing the guitar. "I just picked it up," Odom said of learning to play the guitar.
Odom estimates he has written 10 or 15 songs, some he recorded. He said he learned a lot about the guitar from his roommate at Stephen F. Austin State University who was proficient with the guitar.
He tried a brief stint teaching after college, then put his music on the side and entered "corporate America" in Dallas, where he spent 35 years as a sales executive in the software business.
Often flying to make sales calls to national corporations around the U.S., Odom would play and sang with a few bands in bars when he got back to Dallas.
At high school reunions, Odom got reacquainted with a classmate, Kay. They married and moved back to Tyler, where he developed heart problems and retired.
Before he had triple bypass surgery, Odom said, he had "an OK voice." He was in intensive care four days and doctors did not think he would make it. "When I came out of it, my voice had changed and got stronger," Odom said. "I went from an OK voice to a good voice. I am able to reach lower resonance and different registries with my voice that I hadn't been able to reach."
Odom added, "I call it a God thing. I'm going to use this talent that He has given me to bring some joy. At this point in my life, I'm doing God's work and it's in those facilities (for the elderly) where I can reach people."