Liner Notes - Earliest Hits and Great Covers

B.J. shows his country influences clearly here, giving the song a simple but very compelling reading. A languid dobro takes a few lazy rides and the female chorus helps build a solid background for B.J. to construct his soulful, almost reverent vocal.
All Texas entertainers during the '50s, '60s and '70s had to deliver a few waltzes in live shows so those in attendance could rest up a bit by clutching each other tightly and shuffling around the floor, fantasies racing through their heads. "Mama", a Mark Charron song, delivers the goods here as it gives a strong lyric in the same vein of Harlan Howard's "No Charge". It's a tribute to the most important woman in all our lives and B.J. gives a fine reading while the band offers appropriate restrained backing. The song followed Thomas' breakthrough with "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry and climbed all the way to #22, his best chart showing until "Hooked On A Feeling" nearly three years later. "Mama", the title cut and "Tomorrow Never Comes", as well as four additional selections, originated on B.J.'s 1977 Crazy Cajun album, “Luckiest Man in the World”.
Mark Charron also contributes "Bring Back The Time", the first real power ballad on this set. It you want early hints of the hit pop singer B.J. was to become, "Bring Back The Time", offers them in spades. Thomas drops to a whisper before building up for the grand finish and then nails it perfectly. "Bring Back The Time" bumped into the charts, reaching #75 in late 1966.
"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.
Although "I Can't Help It (If I'm Still In Love With You)” is one of Hank Williams’ best known songs, it's never been a major pop hit despite chart versions by Margaret Whiting (#74, 1958), Adam Wade (#64, 1960), Johnny Tillotson (#24, 1962), Al Martino (#97, 1969) and Thomas, whose version barely cracked the "Hot 100" in 1967. As you probably know, the country charts tell a different story: Williams scored a #2 hit on the song in 1951 and Linda Ronstadt fared equally well with it in 1977. B.J. floats effortlessly through this reading, his voice soaring beautifully.
Curley Williams' "Half As Much" went to #2 on the country charts for Hank in 1952, followed closely by a million-selling #2 pop cover by Rosemary Clooney, which was also a substantial hit in Britain. Additionally, Ray Charles recorded a stunning version on his seminal “Modern Sounds in Country & Western Music” in 1962. Driven by some fine electric guitar lines, B.J. brilliantly invests the song with the proper pathos, smoothly delivering one of the finest vocals on this set.
"Cold, Cold Heart" was one of Hank Williams' most successful songs, hitting #1 for him in 1951 and sticking on the charts for 46 weeks. Master crooner Tony Bennett followed with his own interpretation four months later and earned a #1 on the pop charts, lasting 27 weeks there. Jerry Lee Lewis and Dinah Washington, respectively, posted country and pop chart versions. Again, B.J. plainly shows that, rock and pop hits notwithstanding, country -- and especially Hank Williams -- was music he grew up hearing.
"Lazy Man" is a hard-driving tune that takes us all back to '60s Texas: burping saxes, Jerry Lee-ish piano and B. J.'s young and strong voice. It's vintage uptempo Lone Star state stuff that will have you strutting while he sings about what a "Lazy Man" he is, a sentiment belied by the some 35+ years of a very full career which was to follow. "Lazy Man" was cut with his original band, The Triumphs, straight out of Rosenberg, Texas, a Houston suburb. Listening to this boppin' track, you can easily see why The Triumphs and Roy Head's Traits ruled the South Texas rock scene during that period.
But country was certainly not the only music B. J. Thomas listened to, as you'll hear on his take on "It's Not Unusual" a major pop hit in the U.S. and England back in 1965 for Tom Jones, in fact it was his breakthrough single. Written by Jones' manager, Gordon Mills, and band director Les Reed, Thomas handles the song's odd meter with his usual aplomb, showing traces of the future success he was to enjoy in Las Vegas. Muted horns add a bit of a continental touch.
Texas' infamous "Garner State Park" is located twenty miles north of Uvalde and just ten miles west of Utopia and it was the place to be for lusty young bloods of both sexes during '60s and '70s summers. Utopian pleasures like swimming, dancing and necking were the major activities back then in the days before drugs. "Everything's great in the dark, when you're at Garner State Park", goes the chorus of this regional hit. B.J. breezes through this lightweight paean to youthful pursuits but is backed by a more driving, rocky arrangement than on earlier cuts.
Soul wasn't off limits to Thomas either as witnessed by this excellent take on the Wilson Pickett-Steve Cropper classic, "In The Midnight Hour", one of the most popular songs of the '60s and still very much alive today in the repertoires of countless bar bands. Pickett had a U.S. and UK hit with it in 1965 and three later versions also landed on the pop charts. Heck, the song was so good it even withstood a country cover by Razzy Bailey in 1982, reaching #14 on those charts. "In The Midnight Hour" has been certified as a "Million-Performance" tune by BMI here. Additionally, the song got a new lease on life by being included in The Commitments, Alan Parker's unforgettable 1991 film. Thomas' passionate delivery shows that he, like fellow Texan contemporary Roy Head, was as comfortable with soul standards as he was with country, rock and pop chestnuts.
Composer Buddy Johnson had the first hit on "Since I Fell For You', enjoying minor success back in 1945. Nine years later the Harptones revived it and had a hit on the R'n'B charts. Another nine years passed and Lenny Welch enjoyed his biggest pop hit as "Since I Fell For You " raced to #4. Nine years later, sure enough, it was back on the pop charts for Laura Lee. Charlie Rich posted a Top-10 country version in 1976 and Knoxville's Con Hunley scored a Top-20 country hit in 1979 on this enduring lament which is surely ripe for yet another revival. Thomas gives us a dreamy vocal here that makes you want to find your lover and start cuddling immediately. This, my friends, is a lovely vocal (complete with a velvety sax solo) that shows why people have been paying to hear B.J. sing for 40 years.
"I Know It's Wrong" reunites B.J. with The Triumphs and is a gorgeous time warp back to a '60s last dance feel. The sax takes most of the instrumental load here while Thomas glides across the notes, stretching "cried" into four syllables on a song that wouldn't have been out of place in Bobby "Blue" Bland's repertoire back then.
It's impossible to overstate the influence Bland's classic early '60s Duke recordings had on every singer in the Texas-Louisiana region. Here Thomas tries on "I Just Got To Forget You", a Bland album cut that B.J. does creditably though I don't get the sense that the entire band was on the same page.
B.J. sails straight into "You're The One", our second and last trip to the musical land of soulmaster supreme, Bland. Thomas' vocal suits quite well, the same cannot be said for the intrusive background singers. The track's brevity (1:34) and the way it runs out of gas at the ninety second mark, leads one to posit that this was a work tape for a song they never returned to complete and polish. Nevertheless, Thomas sings this classic Bland anthem with style and subtlety.
"Miller's Cave", written by the legendary Jack "Cowboy" Clement, was a Top-10 hit for Hank Snow in 1960 but if the song is familiar to you it's probably because of Bobby Bare's Top-5 country, Top-40 pop version four years later. Morbid death songs have always been a part of the country canon and here, within the space of less than 3 minutes we get two corpses and one soon-to-be corpse, all food for "the bats and the bears in Miller's Cave". Country experts will note the plot and melodic similarities to Merle Kilgore's "Wolverton Mountain", taken to the top of the country and pop charts by Claude King in 1962. B.J. adds plenty of his own special flourishes to this version, note especially his handling of the spoken word section and the tag, when he vamps us to the close of this chilling ballad.
1957 was one heckuva year for James Joiner, writer of "A Fallen Star". The song hit the pop charts in four separate versions, topped by Nick Noble's Top-20 effort. That same year Grand Ole Opry star (and subject of an earlier Edsel reissue, “The Cajun Country of a Louisiana Man” [EDCD 572]), Jimmy "C" Newman had a Top-30 pop hit and reached #2 on the country lists while Ferlin Husky also tallied a Top-10 country hit on the song. The absolute beauty of "A Fallen Star" is confirmed within the first lines as it begins, "A star fell from Heaven right into my arms. A brighter star I know I've never seen" and B.J. delivers full justice for this Joiner gem. Lines such as "you must have strayed from the Milky Way" never sounded better.
B.J. next presents a fine version of the 1957 Five Keys hit, "Wisdom Of A Fool". Awash in strings and piano, this is an outstanding power ballad, the kind of material that fits B.J.'s soaring voice like a light bulb fits a socket. Keen B-3 washes lead the way as B. J. urges her to "go back to the arms that you know are waiting". Altogether, an excellent track.
"Treasure of Love", a remake of Clyde McPhatter’s 1956 hit, sounds melodically similar to the classic "Sea of Love", a 1959 hit for Phil Phillips. The song, written by McPhatter, features strong singing and cool B-3 backing. While the melody is a bit derivative, the lyrics fit B.J.'s virile delivery like white suits a dove. Piano plinks along nicely, too. This is a really fine song, one that could be covered to good result by mainstream country artists today.
We return to a bit brighter theme with "Luckiest Man In The World", title cut from one of B.J.'s 1977 Crazy Cajun releases (though doubtless recorded much earlier as Thomas at the time recorded for MCA as well as gospel label Myrrh). It's far "poppier" than anything so far and even includes a trumpet ride here and there. It's got a kinda samba tempo and B.J. sings it well but the song, another Charron entry, is shallow as a driveway puddle.
This brings us to "The Rains Came", a tune that appears on numerous Crazy Cajun albums sung by a broad array of artists. Meaux, the major crazy cajun himself, wrote and published the song and, following its success with Sir Douglas Quintet (#31 pop in 1966), could justify cutting it on anyone who came by the studio. B.J. does a fine job here, wisely eschewing the Tex-Mex groove of the SDQ in favor of creating almost a recitative mood. The result sounds like some of Brook Benton's best work, all smooth and sincere. Strings and a lazy, liquid, languid electric piano set B.J. up succulently. "The Rains Came" actually predates the SDQ cut as an earlier version by Big Sambo & the Housewreckers charted in 1962.
Reminiscent of Jimmy Webb's best stuff, "Didn't It Rain", credited here to Mark Charron and Meaux, bounces along perkily, driven by an insistent muted snare. There's not much to the song but B.J. nonetheless gives it his all. "Didn't It Rain" was the title cut from yet another of the 1977 Crazy Cajun albums released on Thomas. Ultimately, despite workmanlike, as opposed to inspired, backing, the listener can certainly understand why B. J. Thomas has been able to craft a 40+ year singing career. It's simple, he's an extraordinary singer, that fact comes across loudly and clearly on these, his first recordings, waxed in the mid-'60s, just before he scored his first hit with The Triumphs on our leadoff track, "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry". His warm baritone washes over you as he floats and glides smoothly through each of the twenty-two songs, most of which are popular classics. So, sit back, listen and enjoy, here be beautifully aged slices of vintage B.J. Thomas!

~John Lomax III, Nashville, TN., April 1999
Those who would like to hear more of Thomas' early work can find eleven additional sides on Texas Singer Deluxe (EDCD 594).