Blues Bytes


April 2009

an associate

Order this CD today

James "Son" Thomas
Beefsteak Blues
Evidence Records

James Son Thomas

James “Son” Thomas didn’t just sing the blues, he lived them. Born in Eden, MS in 1926, Thomas worked as a sharecropper and a grave digger, he was shot by an ex-wife, he suffered from emphysema, a brain tumor, and epilepsy, and he was severely burned when he fell on a space heater. Any one of those conditions would lead most men not to sing the blues, but maybe to step out into oncoming traffic. Thomas persevered through it all, even becoming a sculptor and earning worldwide fame for his replicas of human heads, which used hair from a local barber and teeth from a local dentist.

As a youngster, Thomas was taught to play guitar by his uncle and his grandfather, and he was influenced by Arthur “Big Boy” Crudup and Elmore James. He even played James’ guitar once when James came through town with Sonny Boy Williamson. Frustrated with sharecropping, Thomas moved his family to Leland, MS, where he, his wife, and ten children lived in a 15’ x 45’ house. He began to play with local musicians like Eddie Cusic and Little Son Jefferson at weekend house parties, where the attendees loved his driving rhythms. He played crowd favorites (like “Good Morning, Little Schoolgirl,” “Rock Me Mama,” “Standing At The Crossroads,” “Big Fat Mama,” and “Catfish Blues”) as well as his own songs.

Eventually, he was “discovered” and recorded by William Ferris and became one of the focal points of Ferris’ book, Blues From The Delta. Afterward, he became a favorite at blues festivals all over the world. He also appeared on Charles Kuralt’s “On The Road” TV series, and also in National Geographic, as well as several documentaries of the ’60s and ’70s. He performed for President Ronald Reagan at the White House in 1982. For many years, he was a regular performer at the annual Delta Blues Festival at Freedom Village, just south of Greenville, MS, where I was fortunate enough to see him in the early ’90s.

Thomas was recorded sporadically over the years and Beefsteak Blues (Evidence) ranks with his best work. These songs were recorded at various times and locations. Most of the cuts were recorded live during the American Folk Blues shows in Germany in the early to mid ’80s. There were also two songs recorded in Leland. All were previously released on the L+R label. Nearly all feature Thomas performing solo on guitar, but there is one cut (“Rock Me Mama”) that features accompaniment from Cleveland “Broomman” Jones on broom bass, which involves spreading dirt on the floor and scraping a broom handle across it. Another track (a plugged-in, surprisingly urbane “Stormy Monday Blues”) includes Chicago bass player J. W. Williams and drummer Mose Rutues, Jr.

Thomas was a highly rhythmic guitarist who could boogie with the best of them on tracks like “Rock Me Mama,” “Highway 61 Blues,” or play some impressive slide guitar on “Standing At The Crossroad,” or get down and dirty with Delta classics like “Hoochie Coochie Man/Tune In Next Time,” “Good Morning, Little Schoolgirl,” “Big Fat Mama,” or with two different versions of the Delta standard “Catfish Blues,” one fairly straightforward and the other an “unexpurgated” version which is probably closer to the version he played in the juke joints. His voice was different from most Delta bluesmen, smoother, almost a croon at times as opposed to the rough and ragged vocals often heard with performers of his era.

Thomas’ tough life finally caught up with him in 1993 and he passed away at 66 after struggling with heart problems and a stroke. The headstone on his grave, paid for by musician John Fogerty, includes a verse from “Beefsteak Blues” as an epitaph. Only one of his children carried on his musical tradition; his son Pat, who recently released his first disc, His Father’s Son. Not only did Pat remain faithful to his father’s music, he is a sculptor, too.

James “Son” Thomas was one of the Mississippi Delta’s most beloved treasures. For those not familiar with his talents, Beefsteak Blues is an excellent place to start.

--- Graham Clarke


[Pick Hit][What's New][Surprise][Flashback][Feedback][Back Issues][Home Page]



The Blues Bytes URL... 
Revised: March 31, 2009 - Version 1.00
All contents Copyright © 2009, Blue Night Productions. All rights reserved.