Former bodyguard penning tale about
life after accident
By RYAN TRARES
DAilYJOURNAL STAFF WRITER
The death of a rock 'n' roll legend can define an era.
The death of a close friend can define a man.
No matter how many years pass, Gene Odom always will
remember the night of October 20, 1977.
Music fans will recognize the date.
Some where over Mississippi, the airplane carrying rock band Lynyrd
Skynyrd crashed, killing charismatic lead singer Ronnie Van Zant and
Four other people aboard. Odom was on that plane. As the band's security director and Van Zant's personal bodyguard, he helped pull his childhood friend into a plane seat and strapped in the sleeping Van Zant.
"That was probably three seconds beforethe crash," he said.
The rest is rock 'n' roll history.
For Odom, the crash ended the chapter of his life with Lynyrd Skynyrd.
But his story extends further than his association with the famed band.
With the help of Franklin resident Scott Coner,he's telling his own tale.
The two joined forces to write "Theirs Forever: The Ballad of Gene Odom,
"a retrospective of Odom's life,complete with an accompanying album of
original music Coner wrote. Odom and Coner came together through their musical interest and while Odom was doing a favor for one of Coner's friends. The friend, a Lynyrd Skynyrd fan who was suffering from cancer, wanted to see the band's old neighborhood. Coner contacted Odom, who escorted the man through their old haunts. The friendship built from there. Odom has published two books about his time with the band. The first, "Lynyrd Skynyrd I'll Never Forget You,"
was a self-published collection of memories he had growing up with Van Zant. The second, "Lynyrd Skynyrd, Remembering the Free Birds of Southern Rock," follows the same formula, focusing on Odom's time with the band. With this book, Coner felt it was time for Odom to tell his own story. "His life, the interesting portions, didn't stop in 1977.They really started then," he said.
For the past week, the two have been working at Coner's Franklin home and office as Odom tells his story. While not dwelling on it, Coner knows it would be difficult to write the book without starting with the close relationship between Odom and Van Zant. The two were childhood friends. They grew up in the same poor neighborhood in
Jacksonville, Fla., and spent time fishing and hanging out, often wreaking havoc. They stayed friends after Van Zant started playing music. When Lynyrd Skynyrd started its meteoric rise, Van Zant asked Odom to be his bodyguard. Despite all of the tales that come from living with a rock band, Coner was fascinated by the parts that came after the plane crash. He wanted to delve into Odom's rehabilitation from that wreck, which severely burned him and cost him his left eye. After two years spent recovering, Odom went to work as an ironworker. But a work accident in 1990,combined with the injuries sustained in the plane crash, made it too difficult to work. He has been living on disability since then. The book will touch on Odom's divorce in 1989,an event he calls horrendous. He also will write about his two daughters and grandchildren, who are referenced in the title "Theirs Forever." To go with the book, Coner, his musician friend Johnny Burbrink and Odom have been working on an album of original songs.
The lead track is "The Ballad of Gene Odom," a haunting song detailing the fateful plane crash and legal troubles that arose in the 1980s with the surviving band members. adorn still holds some resentment for the current version of the band, which he refers to as "second-class Skynyrd" and "that clown act." Their touring under the Lynyrd Skynyrd name and playing the old songs without Van Zant violates an agreement they all signed after the crash. But Odom tries not to dwell on that. He instead
wants to honor his friend while also saying something about his own life.
Coner hopes they appeal to Lynyrd Skynyrd fans while opening up new veins of music to their ears. The plan is to have the package ready to go by fall. Coner said they hope to have some music available on Odom's Website, www.LynyrdSkynyrdDixie.com
as well as perhaps a sample chapter. "We're going to try and coerce them into taking a step out here in faith and saying maybe there's something outside of Freebird' and 'Sweet Home Alabama,'" he said.