An Interview with BJ Thomas
Posted on 03/11/2020
All Access talks with Golden Oldies Spectacular co-headliner, BJ Thomas! BJ chats with us about his acclaimed career, starting out as a teenager in the music industry, and some background on his biggest hits like "Hooked on a Feeling." Catch BJ, Jay and The Americans, Lou Christie, Dennis Tufano, and 1910 Fruitgum Company on August 29 at 7pm at the Golden Oldies Spectacular!
read the transcribed interview below
with Kelly from All Access and special guest BJ Thomas
Kelly: And we're back on All Access with State Theatre New Jersey. I'm your host, Kelly Blithe, and coming up on Saturday, March 21,* 7pm, is Golden Oldies Spectacular! We are so excited! It's a phenomenal lineup featuring Jay and the Americans, BJ Thomas, Lou Christie, Dennis Tufano (former lead singer of The Buckinghams), and 1910 Fruitgum Company. You can get your tickets at STNJ.org and with us today is one of those acts, BJ Thomas! Welcome BJ!
BJ Thomas: Hello Kelly! How are you?
Kelly: Good! So exciting to have you on All Access. Thank you so much.
BJ Thomas: [Laughs] Thank you!
Kelly: Golden Oldies Spectacular, people look forward to this every year. Do you look forward to this every time you're here at the State Theatre in New Jersey?
BJ Thomas: [Laughs] Well, you know I do! I've worked with all these guys, you know, since I did that first Dick Clark tour in '66 and worked with Lou Christie, and I've worked with all these guys. Of course, I've admired Jay and The Americans since we started our band and also the 1910 Fruitgum Company and really I love all of these guys and I'm looking forward to the show.
Kelly: Yeah, we're looking forward to it too. It's just so exciting, I feel like this is multiple concerts in one. That's what I always tell people.
BJ Thomas: [Laughs]
Kelly: It's like, it's you, it's Lou Christie, and you each put on almost a full concert, it feels like a full concert, and it's so exciting. For you, when you first started out to now, did you think that you would still be putting on these full concerts, and going out on tour and doing all of this? Was this what you dreamed of since you were a little kid?
BJ Thomas: Well, you know, I really never thought of having a musical career until just one day, my brother had some friends that were just starting a band, they were all my age and he took me over because I could sing a little bit and I wasn't all that anxious to do it. But, he convinced me to go and then that resulted in the four of us starting a band and you know I never had any thoughts about how long I would do it or whatever, you know. I pretty much just stayed in the moment and enjoyed myself. Of course, when I first started, we didn't play nightclubs because we were so young, but we worked the big dance-offs out in the boondocks and you know, it was a lot of fun, it was just like partying. That's the kind of way I looked at it, and of course I thought of the longevity of it the older I gotten, and so I really appreciate that now and I'm glad to see that most of the guys I started with are still there so, hey who knew. [Laughs]
Kelly: [Laughs] I mean in your career, two Dove awards, right, gospel, 15 pop hits, 10 top 40 country hits, and 70 million albums sold. So, for not being sure where you are going with this, that's a pretty awesome career!
BJ Thomas: Well, you know, it turned out pretty good. I got very lucky, some of my friends that I've known since I was 14-15 years old, became great songwriters, and I've been very fortunate in that sense that I have worked with some of the great writers and composers of my time, really. Burt Bacharach, Hal David, Mark James, Barry Mann, Cynthia Weil, and so I've been very fortunate in that I've worked with some of the great writers and been lucky enough to have their material.
Kelly: Indeed. And of course, the famous Burt Bacharach and Hal David song, "Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head," which classic, of course also featured in the hit movie, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. I mean, that song still continues, I still hear that song, and I think it's one of those songs that everyone can relate to right?
BJ Thomas: Yeah I think so, you know, Hal David always wrote very simple lyrics, but they were always very meaningful. And of course, "Raindrops" has a simple lyric and kind of a different, quirky little melody, those kind of melodies that Burt Bacharach would always write. And of course, it's got a truism, I mean, even if the rain is falling on us, as long as we are free, we're okay. You know, it's just got a great feeling to it, and everyone kind of hopes that they have that signature song, that one song that people will always remember, and I've been very fortunate to have "Raindrops" and I've appreciated it greatly.
Kelly: Yeah. So take us back to where you were first hitting the charts. Was that a shock? And what was the song that you first hit the charts with?
BJ Thomas: Well, my first hit record came out in '65 and became a million seller in '66. There was a song, I always idolized Hank Williams, and my dad loved country music and he loved Hank Williams and all those great old country singers from my childhood. "I'm So Lonesome, I Could Cry," was a song that actually came out from Hank after he had passed away but all my life, I've look up to Hank Williams and idolized him and loved his music and just the feeling of it, and so I was very fortunate there to have that, that was my first hit record. And I idolized all the music, I think our music was probably the best of all time between the 60s, 70s, and 50s. You know, the African American entertainers and singers were doing it better than anyone, so I had inadvertently become a friend of Bobby Blue Bland's, and I'd admire all of those guys and he had an influence on the way I sing, and he mentored me a little bit and so I always admired those guys and I put a little R&B feeling into "I'm So Lonesome," and maybe that's why it became a hit. There's nothing like it, it's right in the middle of Motown and stacks, and you know, The Beatles and all that. So, it was just another great thing that has happened to me and I've been very lucky in my career.
Kelly: Yeah. And of course, you went on to gain mainstream success with "Hooked On A Feeling."
BJ Thomas: Yeah, I cut "Hooked On A Feeling," in Memphis, Tennessee. My buddy called me, one of my best friends, a guy named Mark James, who is a great songwriter, he wrote "The Eyes Of A New York Woman," and "Hooked On A Feeling," for me, wrote "Suspicious Minds," for Elvis' big comeback song. He wrote, "You Were Always On My Mind," he is one of the great writers of all time, and he called me and he said, "Hey man, what are you doing?" and I said, "Well nothing, I'm just traveling virtually everyday," back in the beginning of my career and he said, "Man, why don't you come up to Memphis?" I was living in Houston at the time, and he said, "Come up to Memphis. There's a bunch of songwriters up here and there cutting hit records up here on everyone," and that was all I needed. My brother, Jerry, and I moved up to Memphis and one of the first things I recorded was "Hooked On A Feeling," and Reggie Young played the electric sitar and Trips Moman, was my producer at American Studio with the American Studio group. That probably is one of the most popular songs, everyone always remembers "Raindrops," but them seem to always love hearing "Hooked" more than anything.
Kelly: Yeah. And also, it's had a resurgence through the years too being featured on movie soundtracks and I think it was Guardians of the Galaxy I think that featured it?
BJ Thomas: Well that was the cover record by a group called Blue Swede. Which I didn't appreciate it that much but it was a great production and they did a great job and the song is just a great feel good song and hey God bless them. My buddy Mark wrote it and I'm sure he appreciated it being in that movie and I was happy for him. [Laughs]
Kelly: [Laughs] So tell me, through the years, what inspired you to, I guess it was just a natural flow of the genres, right? The pop, the country, the gospel, is it just whatever comes to you in that time you record?
BJ Thomas: Yeah, you know, a good song is a good song. When we started the group I mentioned, known as The Triumphs by the way, when we started that group, it was right at the inception of the top 40 radio. The second and third top 40 radio stations of all time were in Houston and the first one was in Dallas, so we would just go by that chart and of course, top 40 meant that they played every genre. There wasn't a different station for each genre like there is now. So, we would take our material and our songs from the top 40 chart for our dances and whatever we were playing for. I always had done different genres without really even knowing the meaning of the word genre. I never really intended to do this and do that, it wasn't a calculated thing, it was mostly a top 40 influence and that's how that came about.
Kelly: I like it. We are talking to BJ Thomas who is coming to the State Theatre on Saturday, March 21,* a 7pm show with Golden Oldies Spectacular. Also in the lineup is Jay and The Americans, Lou Christie, Dennis Tufano, and 1910 Fruitgum Company. So BJ, we see at these Golden Oldies Spectacular concerts, we see generations come to these shows, you know. We see the parents, the grandparents, the kids, the grandkids. Do you see that all over wherever you go? That people are introducing their kids and grandkids to this music?
BJ Thomas: Yeah, that's a great thing, isn't it? That's kind of how it was when I was growing up. My dad introduced me to Hank Williams and the great country stars and as a kid I remember hearing the Jackie Wilson song, "To Be Loved," when I was about 13 or 14 and that really opened my mind to what music could do in an emotional sense. Just the feelings of the songs. So I think that's great that they bring their kids to the show. My dad took the whole family to the Grand Ole Opry performance. I was eight years old in Houston, Texas way back and it had a profound effect on me and I think anyone who is gonna end up having that burning desire to do music, needs to see the entertainers that come through. So the parents who take them to see these great entertainers and shows need to be commended because there's a lot of musicians, singers, writers, and music people who are there and they don't know they love music that much until they see an artist and hear a certain song that inspires them and lights that fire that's within you. I think you must have to have that burning desire to have this as a career because it's not as easy as it looks. [Laughs]
Kelly: Right, right. I agree with you, keeping the music alive and teaching the new generations the music of every age and getting out there and hearing it live, hearing the music live.
BJ Thomas: Absolutely. I love all the genres. I like hip-hop music, I like some of all music. Symphony music, opera, you know there's Édith Piaf, great singers who are in different genres that I can't do or I am not motivated to do, they are out there. So the people who take their children to witness these things, that's a great thing.
Kelly: Yes, kudos to them for sure. BJ Thomas, Golden Oldies Spectacular. See him live, Saturday, March 21,* 7pm. Remember to note that, it's an earlier concert. Again, the lineup is Jay and The Americans, Lou Christie, Dennis Tufano, 1910 Fruitgum Company, and of course, BJ Thomas. Thank you BJ so much for being on All Access, and we look forward to seeing you on March 21!*
BJ Thomas: Kelly, thank you so much! I'm really excited about coming up there. I want to thank your listeners for keeping me around all this time. God bless them, and all my love.
* = this show has since been rescheduled to Saturday, August 29, 2020 at 7pm