Liner Notes - Texas Singer Deluxe

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" and "Tomorrow Never Comes", as well as seven additional selections, originated on B.J.'s 1997 Crazy Cajun album, “Luckiest Man In The World”.

"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.
"She's Riding High" presents a midtempo tale of a former girlfriend who's "got a line of boys that just won't wait", while he's unable even to "get a date". It's not a particularly excellent song but B.J.'s fine vocal salvages, if not all, at least part of the day.

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.

"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.
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.

It's impossible to overstate the influence Bobby "Blue" 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.

"Pretty Country Girl" relates the age old tale of a naive country girl in the city who falls for an older man who has his way with her, "then he said 'it's over', he tipped his hat and walked out the door". B.J. urges her to go back to her home town as "he's just a love bandit. He stole your love and walked away". Sure enough, there's a guy back home who "really loves you. . . he may not be good lookin', he'll do good looking after you". A nice slice of '60s teen angst and all of us fervently hope she did take his advice though the song never resolves this, just dissolves into a bunch of closing oooohhhs.

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.

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.

"Wishful Thinking", written by Charron, is another lightweight mid-tempo selection with a wistful attitude as the singer longs for a woman and hopes that "it's not wishful thinking (that) you could care for me."
Charron also contributes "Bright Lights", a tune about a fickle woman subject to departing when confronted with any shining illumination. A pretty nifty, pinched-tone lead guitar and B.J.'s yeoman-like vocal try manfully, but ultimately unsuccessfully, to salvage a rather lame song.

Our set's most bizarre intro introduces, "I Don't Have A Mind Of My Own". It starts like "Down In The Boondocks" but ten seconds in has transformed into a classic Four Tops riff. Piano, synthesizer, background singers (credited on all Crazy Cajun albums as "The Merlene Singers") and B.J. all work hard to make a silk purse from this sow's ear of a song. It's actually fairly darn appealing if you don't listen to the words, just pretend they're in a foreign language.
This brings us to "The Rains Came", a song 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 Houserockers charted in 1962.

Did you like "Lazy Man", the opening track? I hope so 'cuz an abbreviated version follows, slightly different from the leadoff cut. Hey, we needed something with a kick to follow the mellow lugubriousness of "The Rains Came", OK?
You want sadness, try another Mark Charron song on for size. On "I Wonder", B. J. sings of a man who's lost it all, his mother, father, friends, "the girl I had" and says "they don't care if I die. Neither do I." It's all couched with nifty organ touches, stately and sparse piano plus some eerie feedback. A powerful Thomas vocal wrings the emotion from the song without wallowing into a maudlin state.

B.J. sails straight into "You're The One", our second and last trip to the musical land of soulmaster supreme, Bobby "Blue" 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.

"Bobbi" also has a slightly unfinished feel to its mournful theme of a departed lover. "Please come back just one more time, 'cause if you don't I'm gonna lose my mind" goes the refrain. Hey, it's a "girl" song, they aren't supposed to have deep lyrics. And she "never gave a reason why we should part". Well, that's life, on to "Plain Jane".
Remember all the great "death" songs like “Tell Laura I Love Her", "Last Kiss" and "Patches"? Well, "Plain Jane" belongs in that category, if not atop if for its sheer perverse ghastliness. In it Jane is invited to the Junior-Senior Prom, her first date ever, as a prank. Though she's not pretty and the subject of ridicule around the school, she is "gentle as a kitten's purr". Naturally she gets all excited and dolled up as she prepares for an escort who never arrived. The vicious kids at the Prom think it's all hilarious until the next day they find that Plain Jane has . . . .welI, I won't spoil it, you gotta hear it to believe it!

"I Know It's Wrong" returns B.J. to more familiar territory. It's a heartfelt ballad in waltz tempo, with the signature Gulf Coast sound: muted saxes, chiming guitar, rhythmic piano and mournful lyrics. Think Cookie & The Cupcakes and "Matilda" or "Talk To Me" by Sunny & The Sunliners and you'll be in the sonic ballpark.

"Walkin' Back" closes the original version of the “Luckiest Man In The World” album and there's plenty of evidence to support its being sequenced last. Pretty schmaltzy lyrics and very intrusive background singers combine on a Charron tune that doesn't have much to say beyond, "never been so all alone, I wanna go home".

"Loving You" finds B.J. in a reflective mood on this subdued avowal of love from a man on his wedding day. Surely the album's strangest arrangement, "Loving You" is ornamented only by Spanish-style acoustic guitar pickin', autoharp strums and clarinet-like tones that could be from a synth. Somehow it all works and gorgeously frames the touching lyrics.

Our closing number, "I Blame Me, Not Mount Kilimanjaro", is absolutely one of the oddest tunes to pass by these ears. Not many people pick an African mountain for a song setting, then try to work in a rhyme for Kilimanjaro but here we are presented with "for what happened to Carol" as the first two lines and it gets weirder from that point onward. It's a death song, of course, but not a particularly well done one, nor is the music especially distinguished. But it's quite interesting as a bizarre item of curiosity and hopefully leaves the listener wanting more.

Ultimately, despite lackluster material in many cases and at best workmanlike backing, the listener can certainly understand why B. J. Thomas has been able to craft a 30+ year singing career. It's simple, he's a very good singer and you can hear that in these, his first recordings, waxed in the mid-'60s, just before he scored his first hit with The Triumphs on a terrific remake of Hank Williams' masterwork, "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry". His warm baritone washes over you and he makes it float enough to keep the songs moving along. Listen and enjoy, here be 34 year old slices of vintage B.J. Thomas!

~John Lomax III, January 1999