The Legendary Stardust Cowboy (born Norman Carl Odam on September 5, 1947, in Lubbock, Texas) is an outsider performer who is considered one of the pioneers of the genre that came to be known as psychobilly in the 1960s. While sometimes considered a novelty artist, he regards himself a serious performer.
Odam was interested in space travel from early childhood, recalling that at kindergarten age he "used to look at the moon and told myself that some day man will go to the moon." As a teenager he combined his interests in outer space and the American west to create the name "Stardust Cowboy," adding the word "legendary" because "I am a legend in my own time." The fact that the initials of "Legendary Star Dust," LSD, referred to a popular drug at the time was coincidental; he claims to have adopted the name in 1961, before the drug was popularized.
Odam took up music in his high school years as a means toward popularity and impressing girls. Inspired by Chet Atkins he took up guitar and also taught himself to play the bugle. After high school he briefly attended college, majoring in electronics.
While in college Odam had the idea of "writing a wild song that would captivate everybody." This led to his writing of a song, "Paralyzed," which he performed at local talent contests. He recorded "Paralyzed" in 1968 in what was apparently a moment of spare time in a recording studio in Fort Worth, Texas. He played dobro and bugle, while T-Bone Burnett played drums. The track features unintelligible snarls, growls, and similar vocalisms, surrounded by frantic strumming on acoustic guitar, Burnett's equally frantic drumming, and occasional yelps of the song's title, "Paralyzed!" The exact words that are uttered change with each performance, and are occasionally somewhat intelligible. The song's title stems from the fact that the utterances resemble what a person who has suffered paralysis in the mouth (such as that from a stroke) and subsequently lost the ability to speak would sound like when attempting to yell or sing; on some covers of the song, Odam can be somewhat clearly heard stating "left me paralyzed."
Five hundred copies of the single were initially pressed and were released on Odam's own "Psycho-Suave" label. The song gained some regional popularity and was picked up by a major label, Mercury Records, eventually entering the Billboard Top 200. The song's popularity earned "the Ledge" (as he is known by fans) an appearance on NBC's Rowan and Martin's Laugh-in comedy television series in which he dressed in his trademark buckskin jacket, boots and spurs, and ten-gallon hat. He performed "Paralyzed" and its B-side, "Who’s Knocking On My Door." During the latter song the Laugh-In cast began cavorting and clowning around him. The Ledge, in his words, "got mad and ran off the set. That wasn't part of the act."
Odam was invited to appear on other programs but these were canceled because of a musicians' strike that halted live television performances. By the time the strike was over, his 15 minutes of fame had lapsed. Historian Rob Weiner of Texas Tech University considers Odam's musical career "a product of desperation," a result of the adage that "there is nothing to do in Lubbock". "Paralyzed" went on to be featured on several Doctor Demento compilations, and it often appears prominently in lists of the worst recordings ever made.
Odam has continued recording intermittently since "Paralyzed" and released several albums and singles. "I Took a Trip on a Gemini Spaceship" was covered by longtime fan David Bowie on his Heathen album. Odam returned the compliment by recording his version of "Space Oddity". Bowie himself has said that the term "stardust" in "Ziggy Stardust" is taken from The Legendary Stardust Cowboy.
A documentary of Odam's career, entitled Cotton Pickin’ Smash! The Story of the Legendary Stardust Cowboy, was prepared during the late 1980s. It remains unreleased commercially but is occasionally viewed non-commercially.
Odam currently resides in San Jose, California, and still performs regularly. Since the late 1990s Odam has played with a backing band called the Altamont Boys, which includes bassist Klaus Flouride (of the Dead Kennedys), guitarist Jay Rosen, and drummer Joey Meyers. In May 2007, he played at the David Bowie High-Line festival in New York City at Bowie's invitation. Weiner said that Odam has never returned to perform in Lubbock, having believed that his hometown, where he first gained experience by playing in parking lots to draw an audience, offered him little encouragement.
College radio station KMSU in Mankato, Minnesota flew the Legendary Stardust Cowboy and his band to Mankato in May of 2010 for a show, at which the Mayor declared, officially, that May 21 is "Legendary Stardust Cowboy Day" in Mankato, Minnesota. Mankato has emerged as a "Mecca" for Legendary Stardust Cowboy fans, perhaps 2nd only to San Francisco, California.
In late 2011, The Legendary Stardust Cowboy released an anthology of his life's work, a double CD on Cherry Red Records from England, titled "For Sarah, Raquel, and David: An Anthology". The first names refer to Sarah Ferguson, Duchess of York, Raquel Welch, actress, and performing artist David Bowie, all longtime fans of The Ledge's work. Rumors of a European tour abound.