By Phill Marder
B.J. Thomas hasn’t had a hit record in roughly 30 years, but one wouldn’t have known it from the reception he received August 16 at this packed boardwalk venue at the Jersey shore.
Just nine days past his 68th birthday, Thomas wowed his obviously devoted followers with a 90-minute set that read like a greatest hits package of the ’60s and ’70s. His voice, one of the more distinct in American pop music, was as strong and clear as ever, and his appearance has changed little since his prime, his thinning curly hair and a few addition facial wrinkles being his only apparent concessions to his senior citizen status.
Backed by his four-piece group — bass, drums, guitar and keyboards — Thomas reeled off highlights from his varied repertoire, which includes country hits and gospel successes as well as his wealth of pop treasures. Mixed in were anecdotes offering interesting and sometimes humorous tidbits regarding some of Thomas’ greatest successes.
He introduced “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry,” noting the cut was done at four in the morning after everything else on his first album had been completed. Thomas, simply trying to appease his father, who told him not to come home if he didn’t record something country, turned in the definitive version of the Hank Williams classic, and it soared to No. 8, carrying Thomas with it.
“Raindrops Keep Fallin’ On My Head” saw a laryngitis-stricken Thomas and composer Burt Bacharach not exactly hitting it off, but one can’t argue with the end result of their collaboration, which, in 1969, became Thomas’ first No. 1. He returned to the top in 1975 with the country flavored “(Hey Won’t You Play) Another Somebody Done Somebody Wrong Song.” In addition to these three gems, Thomas treated his followers to “Mama,” “The Eyes Of A New York Woman.” “Hooked On A Feeling,” “I Just Can’t Help Believing,” “Most Of All,” “No Love At All,” “Mighty Clouds Of Joy,” and “Rock And Roll Lullaby” and others.
Thomas also included his 1977 smash cover of The Beach Boys’ “Don’t Worry Baby,” in which he flashed a remarkable falsetto, also evident in his group’s outstanding rendition of The Temptations’ “Just My Imagination (Running Away With Me).”
With a limited tour schedule kicking in (it can be found at bjthomas.com) and occasional film appearances — 2008’s “Jake’s Corner” gave him a prominent role — Thomas appears plenty busy. It’s unlikely he’ll ever return to previous heights, but with the right song — longtime drummer Larry Chavis indicated a coupling with Stevie Nicks could be in the works — it’s not inconceivable.
On this summer night, Thomas proved he still can deliver the goods.
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