It’s really not nice to tell an artist “ I remember hearing your songs when I was growing up”, for lack of better conversational skills, but when someone in the music world has contributed so much to the landscape of our lives, it becomes a fact that cannot be left unmentioned. Such is the story of BJ Thomas, a man who has had many major hit singles and platinum albums, the man who has won several Grammy’s and most recently been given the Grammy Hall of Fame award. For over five decades the Pop Icon who was born in Hugo Oklahoma, Billy Joe “BJ” Thomas has been dancing to the beat of a different drum, never mimicking a trend, rather setting them.
In the early days of his career he was often mistaken to be a black R & B singer when people would hear his records, but that didn’t dismay him in the least because BJ Thomas loved all the great artists of the early days such as the great Jackie Wilson, Otis Redding and others. To be accidentally placed into the category of such company was an honor to Thomas. Eventually he became such an international superstar that there would be no hiding his gleaming blue eyes and Texas-toned white skin. His records would be purchased by people of every color and on every continent of the world.
His voice is so distinctive with it’s beautiful timbre and a trailing vibrato at phrase endings, singers around the world would aspire to the high bar that BJ Thomas would set, but try as they might, they would never quite reach, for BJ Thomas’ voice has a character that can only be acquired through disciplines and the natural processes of aging. Many vocalists, particularly male Rock singers will develop style in one direction or the other whereas BJ Thomas learned to work his voice in multiple genres from R & B to Pop and Country and does it all with finesse and grace. Make no mistake, this velvety-smooth singer has got range that will make some of today’s best Rock or Soul singers go back to a serious voice coach!
Recently I attended a BJ Thomas concert performance at Centralia College in Washington State, and thanks to Bobby Roberts Talent in Nashville and to his manager Tim Bowers, we were treated to a brief backstage conversation with Mr. Thomas right after his show. By the time the ninety-minute concert was over I was actually so vastly impressed that I damn near forgot how to act as a professional journalist! Every part of the hour and a half show was on such a high level from the musicianship of his four-piece backup band to BJ Thomas’ charismatic entrance and command of the stage that I nearly stood up and shouted out that everyone should have paid four times the ticket price to get in!
All kidding aside, BJ Thomas took us trough a journey of wonderful music, which included hits like Eyes Of A New York Woman, Somebody Done Somebody Wrong Song and the mega-hit Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head from the Academy award winning Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Even with the big hits overshadowing some of the lesser-known numbers, every song was performed with dynamics and emotion – pure Art! He also sang one of my all-time favorites that he and Elvis Presley each had done – Suspicious Minds. Hearing BJ’s rendition of it Live made the song come back to life all over again in a new way, easily released onto Pop radio today and would be in my opinion, widely accepted.
His delivery of each and every note throughout the entire performance was nothing short of masterful. His appearance, from the suit, kerchief, shoes, tasteful jewelry and watch, styled hair and a beardless face were all part of neon sign that read First Class Act Now Appearing! But it is how BJ Thomas connected with the audience that really made me appreciate his professionalism; he talked to us in between songs, brought us into the story of the music with examples like when he went out to California to meet Burt Bacharach, composer of “ Rain Drops Keep Falling On My Head “. We were there with him that first awkward night in the living room as they discussed the song for the movie that would make history.
A storyteller, singer, songwriter and amazing performing artist BJ Thomas passed through a little western Washington city one night to sing his heart out for about five hundred select fans who braved the twenty degree temperature in line before the show. They stood on their feet and cheered, they danced in the aisles, they cried when they saw him wipe his eyes when he reflected about his beautiful redheaded wife of forty-five years. The blue-eyed troubadour may never pass this way again but he will never be forgotten. He and his four-piece orchestra gave us a show worth a million dollars and enough memories for a hundred years. When I, this fan-publisher stood at his side and we posed for a picture or two, I asked him if there was anything that he wished that journalists would finally say, maybe something that someone else had missed over the years that needs to be put in print. He smiled a beam of warmth at me and said, “ No, just say what’s in your heart “. I have done just that.
by Bruce J Maier