B.J. Thomas: Career Milestones
• Five Grammy Awards
• Academy Award for "Raindrops Keep Fallin' On My Head"
• Two Dove Awards, Two Angel Awards
• Earned eleven Gold and two Platinum sales Certifications
• Sixteen Top-40 Pop Singles
• Five Top-10 Pop Singles
• Eleven Top-40 Country Singles
• Five Top-10 Country Singles
• Only artist to win "Song of the Year" honors in Pop, Gospel and Country Music -- with three different songs
• Sales of over seventy million records worldwide
• Has enjoyed #1 ranking on Pop, Country, Easy Listening and Gospel charts
• Joined Grand Ole Opry in 1982
"Tomorrow Never Comes" slows down the tempo and is a rather doleful selection distinguished by B.J.'s superior vocal, which builds beautifully throughout the song. The song ends with a grand flourish that fully announced to the world, even this early on, that B.J. Thomas was a flat-out superb singer! "Tomorrow Never Comes" made it into the charts for five weeks in the summer of '66, rising to #80. more...
In addition to being one of the finest singers of the past thirty years, B.J. Thomas is also one of the most enduring, a vocalist who is now in his fifth decade as a performer. His phenomenal career is spiced with all the earmarks of success: an Academy Award, five Grammy Awards, eleven gold and three platinum-selling releases and sales of over seventy million records worldwide as of the end of 1998.
Thomas is also one of the very few artists ever to have racked up #1 records in the pop, country, easy listening and gospel charts. Beginning in 1966 and counting a live album and no fewer than a dozen "Greatest Hits" packages, Thomas has now issued 49 albums for seventeen different record imprints, a total sure to increase as all reports indicate that, at 56, "he's singing better than ever."
As with all the Huey Meaux Crazy Cajun sides acquired, no reliable session credits or recording dates were available, remember that when you read forth and see none of the backing players identified. This writer's guess would peg the recording dates for the material in the pre-1970's, more precisely around 1966-1968. But, bemoaning missing details won't help us, let's move on to the music ' cuz there's some mighty fine stuff awaiting!
We begin our exploration of B. J. Thomas' back pages with "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry", one of Hank Williams' best known songs. Oddly, the song was never a major hit for its writer -- and never charted for Williams until 1966, reaching only #43 then, thirteen years after his death. Who's had the biggest U.S. country hit with the song? None other than three-time Super Bowl winning quarterback Terry Bradshaw, who tallied a #17 hit on it in 1976, besting Charlie McCoy (#23, 1972) and "The Killer" himself, Jerry Lee Lewis (#43, 1982). On the pop side, B.J. nailed a #8 hit on the song, his first national hit record, back in 1966. Johnny Tillotson, Hank Wilson (aka Leon Russell) and Bradshaw all charted but none even approached the Top-40. more...
BJ THOMAS BIO
Billy Joe Thomas was born August 7, 1942 in Hugo, Oklahoma, but his family soon moved to the Houston area, eventually settling in Rosenberg, a suburb a few miles southwest. He became B.J. at age ten due to the fact that there were four other Billy's on his little league baseball team. He developed a passion for country music from his father but also was attracted by such soul and early rock greats as Little Richard, Jackie Wilson and Bobby "Blue" Bland, often sneaking into nightclubs to hear them play years before he was of legal age.
He began his career in 1957, when he joined popular local band The Triumphs. Though he might have thought at the time -- he was all of fifteen years of age -- that he was on his way, the truth of the matter was that a long journey had just begun. It would be nine hard years before he and the band became nationally known as a result of his stunning treatment of one of Hank Williams' best songs, "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry". The recording of a Williams number was out of character for the group as The Triumphs were better known locally and regionally at the time as a rock/soul group, given to high-energy burners and soulful ballads.
As B. J. recalls, recording the Williams selection was both a tribute to the tragic singer as well as a nod to his father, who had told him not to return home from his sessions, "unless you record something country". Despite his love for soul and rock singers, it was Williams whom Thomas feels really solidified his desire to be an entertainer.
"I remember seeing Hank Williams with my father when I was in the third grade. He was unbelievable that night. He came out on stage and was really feeling good. I remember him getting on his knees and playing that guitar. And I'll never forget the look on my daddy's face at that show. I guess that's the night I decided I was going to communicate with my daddy through the music he loved. It was the only way I could communicate with him".
Though the rest of the album, originally released on Pacesetter Records, was composed of solid rock & roll and soul songs, DJ's began playing "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry" and it became a regional hit. Producer Huey Meaux then licensed the material to Scepter Records and, when "Lonesome" climbed to # 8 nationally, Thomas was off and running, eventually issuing thirteen albums on the label. That association yielded twenty chart singles featuring hits such as "Hooked On A Feeling" (# 5, 1968), "Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head" (# 3, 1969), "I Just Can't Help Believing" (# 9, 1970) and "Rock And Roll Lullaby", recorded with legendary guitarist Duane Eddy (# 15, 1972). "Raindrops" featured in the Paul Newman-Robert Redford film, Butch Cassidy & The Sundance Kid, sold a million copies and earned Thomas an Academy Award in 1970; he also sang the song on the telecast.
Unfortunately, despite his professional success, B.J.'s life was a mess in the early '70s. As a product of an upbringing by a sometimes physically abusive father, he lacked self-confidence in himself and, as a result, fell victim to the many temptations that success brings.
"It was stressful and very tense to come out of working a dance in the country for a bunch of kids to playing the Copacabana in New York. It's real hard to keep your roots down and your foundation steady when you get out into the fast lane. All of a sudden you've got a lot of money, and a lot of people wanting to advise you -- people you admire. So if you don't have a real strong foundation, you make decisions that are wrong for you".
You can probably guess the "wrong" decisions B.J. refers to making. He admits taking up to "80 pills in a day, primarily valium and amphetamines" and at one point stayed awake and "wired" for eleven consecutive days. But his favorite drug was cocaine. Remember, it was the '70s and "toot" or "blow" or "the white lady" was considered a "cool" drug. Thomas developed a serious addiction to the powder and in his 1978 autobiography, “Home Where I Belong”, he tells of reaching a point where he was spending thousands weekly on his addiction. "It cost $2,200 or $2,300 an ounce. . . I was so into it that a gram snorted up one nostril wouldn't even wake me up. I had to snort 6 or 7 grams up each side to get a hit. Two ounces in seven days? Often".
Our story could just have easily ended here. Thomas could have, like so many others, continued his downward spiral and ended up broke, busted, disgusted and stripped of all self-confidence, realising too late that he had thrown it all away. But B.J. was a stronger man than he seemed at the time and, following the example and tireless help of his devoted wife and manager, Gloria (they have now been married over 30 years), he dedicated his life to Christ, praying fervently and privately for twenty minutes on January 28, 1976, following a long discussion of his situation with the two missionaries who had converted Gloria, Jim and Micah Reeves. Miraculously, Thomas overcame his drug habits, accepted the Lord and began the long road to recovery, a process he continues to follow twenty-three years later.
In 1975, with the help of producer Chips Moman, Thomas had made a hugely successful comeback -- in the country field. His kick-off single, "(Hey Won't You Play) Another Somebody Done Somebody Wrong Song", written by Larry Butler and Moman, rose to #1 in both the country and pop charts and became Thomas' third million-selling single. It ignited a ten year run in country music that saw Thomas fashion fifteen additional hits, including a couple more #1's, "Whatever Happened To Old-Fashioned Love" and "New Looks From An Old Lover".
Additionally, he rejuvenated his pop career, scoring a Top-20 hit there with a remake of The Beach Boys' "Don't Worry Baby", that lasted seventeen weeks on those charts in 1977. This time he was better prepared to handle success; in addition to his country and pop careers, and, at Gloria's urging, he also began releasing gospel albums, beginning in 1976 with “Home Where I Belong”, the first platinum-selling gospel record, a disc which also earned him his initial Grammy Award.
In addition to eliminating drugs, Thomas changed his entire life dramatically by cutting down on his personal appearances. "I had done about 300 days on the road for almost ten years and I was just tired of the road, so I stayed home, and Gloria and I worked on the family. We had one child, and then we adopted a little girl, and then Gloria had another little girl, so for about five years I didn't do very much. The last three years of that five-year period, I was doing maybe twenty dates a year, every now and then".
Thomas proved his initial success in this new Christian field was no fluke by winning Grammies for Best Gospel or Inspirational recordings for four more years running and also picked up a few Dove Awards from the Gospel Music Association in the process. Strategically, his 1976 move into a new field proved to be a brilliantly-timed manoeuvre. He wasn't able to make much more impact on the pop charts between 1977-1983 and, despite his successful introduction into the country field with the # 1 ". . . Somebody Done Somebody Wrong Song", he climbed no higher than #22, for a cover of Don Williams' "I Recall A Gypsy Woman", between 1975 and 1982.
In 1981 he was invited to join the Grand Ole Opry, becoming its 60th member. And in 1983, just when many industry observers were counting him out again, snickering that he was a "has-been", Thomas came roaring back, racing all the way to #1 on the country charts with "Whatever Happened To Old-Fashioned Love", crafted by Nashville steel guitar innovator and producer Pete Drake. That song ignited a skein of chart successes as B.J. racked up five more Top-20 hits in quick succession, including "New Looks From An Old Lover" (#1 and co-written by wife Gloria with Red Lane and Lathan Hudson), "Two Car Garage" and "Rock And Roll Shoes", a duet with Ray Charles.
Then, when he again cooled off in the country field a few years later, Thomas returned to the pop Top-40 for his recording on the late '80s duet with Dusty Springfield, "As Long As We Got Each Other", the theme song for the hit TV show, "Growing Pains". "It's always nice to hear my records on the radio," he recalled, "But hearing one every week at the start of a TV show -- well, it's opened a whole new world to me".
That success, indeed, secured him a new recording deal with Reprise Records that resulted in the release of “Midnight Minute” and “Back Against The Wall”, bringing him into the '90s. Since then Rhino, Curb and additional labels have issued Greatest Hits packages and other collections. A new Thomas package emerged in early 1999 on the Warner/Resound label, aimed at Christian and mainstream buyers. Thus, B.J. Thomas continues, at age 56, to perform steadily, entertaining audiences of all styles of music with his warm voice and outstanding stage presence.
~John Lomax III, January 1999