We’re gonna miss him. (I've been listening to his music virtually non-stop since we first heard about his passing last weekend.)
Today, Forgotten Hits Readers share more thoughts and memories of the great B.J. Thomas …
In December of 1969, I was in my second year of college in Rockford when an incident happened that drastically changed my life at the time.
An acquaintance approached me and asked me if I would be interested in a job. As I was slowly draining the savings from my summer job, I agreed to look into it. Basically, the job consisted of being a night supervisor for maybe 15 - 24 troubled adolescents, approximate age 8 - 16, in a group home environment. I agreed and my life as a freewheeling college student was over. I now went to school all day and worked in this environment from 4 - 12 pm every night. And I mean every night.
For the first six weeks, you had to work every weekend night. I was firmly convinced that the only reason I got the job was because the rest of the staff at night consisted of females, roughly my parents’ age and at times the job could get physically dangerous. My acquaintance who got me the job worked the rest of the night from 12 - 8 am. So basically, for the rest of the 1970 school year, and several years after that, I had no life, but I had money. No time to spend it, but you had it.
I don’t remember the exact night, but I think it was in 1970 and it was a cold and dreary Sunday night. It could have been ‘71, maybe up to ‘72, but I don’t think it was that late. When I came to work one Monday night, the staff that had worked on Sunday night, the night before, came up to me and asked me, “Who is BJ Thomas?” I told them that he was a reasonably popular singer and that on the previous Sunday night had played at the Coronado Theater in Rockford, IL. This is way prior to the theater being completely restored.
Apparently at some point in time, prior to the show, he had appeared and knocked on the door. Now this place was a sprawling facility on the North edge of town and at night it was typically dark. I have no idea how he found the children’s section on his own. In addition, the front door to the place was like 100 feet from where the kids and staff actually were and it was hard to get into ... but somehow, he got in and met with the kids and the rest of the staff.
Now as the kids were maybe 8 - 16 and the staff was somewhere near my parents’ age, no one had any idea who he was. They all knew that I would know who he was, but for whatever reason, I was not there on that specific night. As the story was relayed to me, when he got to the venue that afternoon, he asked the locals if there were any group homes in the area where kids lived. Now in the early 70s there were maybe three of them and they weren’t well known and hard to find. But BJ Thomas made the effort and found this one and paid an unsolicited visit to see the kids. Hopefully, this unknown story will give some insight into his character.
I never had the opportunity to meet him but I have heard stories like this many times over the years. A very humble and deeply caring man, always looking to brighten someone else’s day. That’s a rare breed in any vocation … but especially so in the “Me Me Me” world of entertainment. He will be missed. (kk)
When we first heard about B.J. Thomas’ bout with Stage Four Lung Cancer, Ron Onesti of The Arcada Theatre wrote a beautiful piece that was published in The Daily Herald. (B.J. had performed at The Arcada numerous times over the years and the two became close friends.)
Naturally, we were all shattered to hear the news … and saddened further that the end came so soon … barely two months after he first went public with his announcement.
I am rerunning Ron’s piece here as I think it will touch the hearts of all of us who loved B.J.’s music and incredible vocal talent. (kk)
PRAYERS FOR B.J. THOMAS
It was announced this week that legendary vocalist B.J. Thomas has been diagnosed with stage four lung cancer. He and his doctors have a positive outlook as treatments have begun.
B.J. has always been there for us, appearing at The Arcada on numerous occasions. It seems almost everywhere you turn these days, dark clouds loom. But, thanks to the guy who gave us "Raindrops Keep Fallin' on My Head," we can remain having a positive outlook.
Growing up and absolutely loving music, I have so many memories of just simply hanging out in my room staring at album covers and listening to the pop/rock stars of the Seventies. The memories consist of bands and songs, but some memories are of the voices themselves. One of those distinctive voices for me was that of B.J. Thomas.
Although he was born in Oklahoma, B.J. (Billy Joe) Thomas was brought up a Texan. His mainstream singing career began as B.J. Thomas and the Triumphs, but when Dick Clark asked him to be a part of his Caravan of Stars tour, Thomas went out on his own.
"I was part of this tour with people like Roy Orbison and the Four Seasons," B.J. said. "It was kind of a grind -- very little sleep and we never really ate well. But the back-of-the-bus stories were incredible!"
One of his first singles was a cover of the Hank Williams' classic "I'm So Lonely I Could Cry." The record went gold and he was on his way. A couple years later, he broke out again with his timeless hit and his second million record seller, "Hooked on a Feeling." That is when I got "hooked."
Soon after, his fellow Sceptor Records recording artist and friend, Dionne Warwick, introduced B.J. to her intimate friend and songwriting kingpin of the day, Burt Bachrach. He tapped Thomas to sing "Raindrops Keep Fallin' on My Head" for a film he was writing the score for, entitled "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid." B.J. became a worldwide sensation … everybody was singing that song!
The song won an Academy Award and he actually performed it on the Oscars in 1970. He went on to earn five Grammy Awards and continued with hit records, including another classic, "Another Somebody Done Somebody Wrong Song," but then he fell into the common entertainer abyss of the day: drugs and alcohol.
"We really didn't understand what we were doing, or how dangerous it was," B.J. said during a recent interview for WGN-FM radio. "It was something that happened and nearly killed me and I almost lost my wife (singer / songwriter Gloria Richardson)." B.J. and Gloria stuck together, found God, and they have been happy ever since.
"I have a fabulous life now," he said. "I have great fans, a great wife and three grandkids! God has definitely intervened, but it's not like I am extremely religious, just living right."
I found B.J. to be a very humble and sincere person who really loves his fans. At The Arcada, he did four encores for a very appreciative, standing-ovation crowd and everybody was loving it. He shared stories and songs that took the audience through his life of rock, pop, Christian and country music. But ironically, as he had hits in all those genres of music, his biggest influences came from early R&B artists.
"My idol was Jackie Wilson, and I toured with James Brown. The label I was on had Dionne, the Shirelles and several other R&B artists. I loved guys like Ray Charles and I tried to convey that soulful sincerity that they had. Many people early on actually thought I was a black performer!" B.J. said. "So that was who I toured with mostly."
As I was standing backstage watching him touch his audience, I couldn't help but think about the 50-year career of this talented fellow. I thought of the places he has performed, from the high school rock shows in Houston to those eventful bus tours, "The Ed Sullivan Show" to the Grand Ole Opry … to The Arcada! And as he sang song after song, that light in his eyes was still there. He gave it his all and I really felt the sincere love he had for his fans.
His voice was still very much there, and I STILL have those songs stuck in my head! Raindrops keep … Hooked on a … Done somebody wrong song … ah!
The feeling we all were hooked on, was the one B.J. Thomas gave us with hit after hit after hit. And as the song "Raindrops …" boldly states, "But there's one thing, I know, the blues they send to meet me, won't defeat me …"
Pretty profound, B.J., pretty profound.
Ron Onesti – President and CEO of Onesti Entertainment and The Historic Arcada Theatre in St. Charles, IL
Jeff March and Marti Smiley Childs were kind enough to allow us to run part of their outstanding B.J. Thomas interview (from their book “Where Have All The Pop Stars Gone, Volume 3”) on the site last week. This is a piece that has always stuck with me, ever since I first read it way back when … and I really wanted to share it with our audience. So thank you both again.
But then they went ahead and ran a BEAUTIFUL tribute to Forgotten Hits on THEIR website … which, I have to admit, came as a wonderful and heartfelt surprise.
So thanks again, guys, for your kindness and love of this great, great music.
(Their books are available thru their site as well as the usual places like Amazon.com.)
We are hoping to share more from their vaults in the months to come. (kk)
In his terrific Forgotten Hits blog, music historian and aficionado Kent Kotal has posted a touching tribute to singer B.J. Thomas, including an excerpt about B.J. from “Where Have All the Pop Stars Gone? -- Volume 3,” one in the series of books that we wrote. B.J. died this past Saturday, May 29, at the age of 78 due to advanced lung cancer. Kent Kotal’s illuminating Forgotten Hits blog (https://forgottenhits60s.blogspot.com/), widely read by oldies radio broadcasters, musical performers and fans, is a treasure trove of information and insight for devotees of music of bygone eras. We are pleased and proud that he thinks so highly of our work, and of the performers about whom we have written. We encourage you to visit the Forgotten Hits blog site: https://forgottenhits60s.blogspot.com/
Check out ALL of the volumes in this great book set … here … https://www.facebook.com/WHATPSG
I couldn't agree with you more regarding the two B. J. Thomas songs you posted today … both are favorites of mine, especially MIGHTY CLOUDS OF JOY.
You know, it just seems like yesterday (1966) that we heard on the pop stations I'M SO LONESOME I COULD CRY as well as MAMA. Got a question for you and I think I already know the answer. Between Thomas' I'M SO LONESOME I COULD CRY and MAMA, the song BILLY AND SUE made the charts as well as the survey in OKC.
Now this record was released on Hickory Records, somewhat similar to Tom Jones' IT'S NOT UNUSUAL and, I believe, WHAT'S NEW PUSSYCAT, there was a record in between called LITTLE LONELY ONE that was released on Tower Records. Now, why were these records released on different labels? Apparently both artists recorded songs for these labels. Owner of the labels thought that the songs weren't going anywhere, but decided differently when their first charted records were doing well on the charts. What say you?
I can't tell you how many times I have played MIGHT CLOUDS OF JOY this morning!
Yeah, that one’s probably my favorite, too … and you hear it so rarely. (Maybe we’ll hear it a bit more often now with his recent passing.)
B.J. went thru a bit of a lull after his Top Ten Hit “I Just Can’t Help Believin’” reached #9 in 1970. (If you can call three more straight Top 40 Hits a “lull” … but it just seemed that way … like he had fallen out of favor with Top 40 Radio, despite the fact that “Most Of All” (#22, 1970), “No Love At All” (#14, 1971) and “Mighty Clouds Of Joy” (#33, 1971) were all TREMENDOUS records. (He’d bounce back the following year with “Rock And Roll Lullaby,” #11, 1972, but then chart nothing of significance until he topped the charts again in 1975 with “Hey, Won’t You Play Another Somebody Done Somebody Wrong Song.”) It’s a shame because even some of B.J.’s lower charting releases were still great records.
As for charting on a couple of different labels, that was not at all uncommon in the ‘60’s … and you pretty much nailed it. If an artist had a flop or two and got dropped by a label … but then struck gold somewhere else … EVERY good reputable radio station around would go digging through their vaults try to cash in and capitalize on that artist’s sudden success. Thus you had B.J. Thomas, Tom Jones and Donovan (who immediately came to mind) charting on a couple of different labels at the same time. (Heck, they even did it to Neil Diamond … who, after leaving Bang Records for greener pastures at Uni / MCA, saw half a dozen of his album tracks hastily released with a little bit of “sweetening,” some of which did VERY well. (“Shilo,” “Solitary Man,” “Do It” all made The Top 30 … and Diamond’s “Red Red Wine” went on to become a pop standard and #1 Hit for UB40! (kk)
A few more favorites ...
"I Just Can't Help Believin'" became a Top Ten Hit in Billboard in 1970. (It went all the way to #2 here in Chicago.)
B.J.'s 1968 hit "Hooked On A Feeling" (the one without the "Oooga-Chugga"'s) featured some very slick and fashionably timely sitar playing by Reggie Young and made The Top Five. It has literally never been off the radio for the past 53 years.
But B.J. Thomas' biggest hit, of course, was the Grammy and Oscar winning chart-topper "Raindrops Keep Fallin' On My Head" from the film "Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid."
Here's a great video of B.J. Thomas, circa 1972, performing his hit “Rock And Roll Lullaby” live in the studio. (Very special thanks to FH Reader Clark Besch for this one!)
1972's "Rock 'n' Roll Lullaby," a collaboration between B.J. Thomas, Duane Eddy, The Blossoms and Dave Somerville (of The Diamonds) is also my favorite B.J. Thomas hit. It's the one I played on the air and dedicated to my Mom the night after she passed away in 1987.
I interviewed B.J. several times and he surprised me one day by showing up at my office while I was the Music & Entertainment Editor of Reader's Digest in New York. He was just in the area and wanted to hang out!
Like Roy Orbison, B.J. was a kind and humble man, a person who radiated a friendly charm one could not help but be captivated by. He told me once that his favorite of all his recordings was not one of his pop or country hits but instead this one -- which is all the more poignant now that he is gone.
"The History of Rock 'n' Roll"