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After living in Northern California for four years, blues singer Earl Thomas is moving back to San Diego to join Ike Turner’s band, the Kings of Rhythm. (Turner died in San Marcos on December 12, 2007.)

Guitarist Seth Blumberg, bassist Armando Cepeda, keyboardist Leo Dombecki, sax player Ryan Montana, and drummer Bill Ray are the Kings of Rhythm. The band played with Turner on Risin’ with the Blues, which won the Best Traditional Blues album at last year’s Grammys.

“Ike would want us to continue on,” says Bill Ray. “We’re like a fraternity. We all went through the ringer that was Ike.”

“He was a pariah,” says Thomas. “He was like O.J. Simpson. Most people think he’s only the character in the movie [What’s Love Got to Do with It]. But he was so much more. He was a genius musician.”

Ray says Europeans were a lot kinder to Ike.

“We were never looked down on in Europe, that’s why Ike always liked to play there. The crowds there never judged him. They looked at him as the man who created rock and changed our culture.” In the U.S., “People would always sneer at him, but he’d always smile back.… People wouldn’t let him live down his worst mistake, his worst moment in life.”

Ray was in Turner’s house when he died.

“[H]e was surrounded by his closest friends. That screwed me up for a couple months.… Ike said he was tired and he just wanted to go.”

The Kings of Rhythm with Earl Thomas debut April 6 at Winstons.

– Ken Leighton

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