By Carol Anne Szel
He’s garnered two Platinum and 11 Gold records, won five Grammy Awards, and has earned 15 Top 40 Pop/Rock hits. After four decades in the music business and selling more than 70 million albums, B.J. Thomas (born Billy Joe Thomas) continues to sell out club venues across the country and around the world. With songs like his huge pop hits “Hooked on a Feeling” and “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on My Head,” Thomas was a main attraction with legendary Scepter Records from 1966-1972, in the network of name producers like Huey P. Meaux and Chips Moman, and helped master work from songwriters such as Burt Bacharach and Hal David.
“I think now it’s more of a high tech thing, it’s not a record shop thing,” B.J. Thomas told us when we caught up with this effervescent 68 year old singer-songwriter related of today’s world of the music business. “Although they say now that like country fans are big on going to a record shop and getting the album and now they’re making more albums on vinyl. That whole experience with the big cover, bringing it back and putting it on the player, that’s what used to be part of the party back in the day. Now it’s more of a download situation. I don’t think there’s any kind of negative about it; I think it’s just new. You know technology is always expanding, that’s just the new way they do it, and so you’ve got to go with it.”
Thomas recorded such great songs as "Another Somebody Done Somebody Wrong Song," "Don't Worry Baby," "Whatever Happened to Old Fashioned Love,” “I Just Can’t Help Believing,” and so many more. We asked B.J. Thomas what albums influenced him.
I was a huge fan of Bobby Blue Bland “Two Steps from the Blues” was an album that was incredible to me.
Elvis album, the one with “Hound Dog.” That was a huge album for me.
James Brown “Live At The Apollo”
I was a huge fan of Jackie Wilson; I had as many records as I could get a hold of.
And during that time there was Little Richard, there was Chuck Berry, these people were very important, and of course when I was first starting I couldn’t even imagine singing their songs, but I listened to them a lot.
I was just a huge fan of the R&B singers, and of course Ray Charles was right in there. You know I really never did openly do a country song until years later when I had “Somebody Done Somebody Wrong Song” in ’75.
I always wanted to be more of an R&B singer even though I guess the things I did were a little smoother and a little different. In listening to these guys, it just sounded to me so much like ... not so much with Elvis — even though he made some beautiful records, I don’t think he ever mis-recorded anything or made anything that was really bad — but especially listening to Jackie Wilson and Ray Charles and Bobby Blue Bland, and especially I guess Bobby Bland, he just sounded like he believed every word he said. I would go see these guys perform live, they used to call them soul singers, and they just looked like they were actually baring their souls and believing every word they said.
That was something I took on, I said that was important to convey a real belief in what you are singing so people can really believe that, or really feel that you believe what you’re singing. So I think that was a real big element in my vocal work.