In Pikeville, Tennessee, near the Blue Ridge Mountains, Earl Thomas is money. It is a small town, explains his friend Michael Kinsman, and aside from a bluegrass performer or two, no one has ever made it out of there. “He’s a blues celebrity,” says Kinsman. “And he’s big in Europe.” Kinsman, a former Union-Tribune music writer who produced the San Diego Blues Festivals for some years, booked Earl Thomas to play at a 2001 show. They became friends and eventually traveled to Thomas’s hometown. “People would light up when he walked in the room,” recalls Kinsman. “Apparently, they talk about him when he’s not there, and they idolize him when he is there.” Thomas lived for a while in San Diego before moving to Trinidad, a small town of several hundred in Northern California. “He’s a country boy,” says Kinsman. The blues is a hard master, he explains, and not always the most popular of genres in the U.S. “He gets overlooked, but he’s a tremendous talent.”
Thomas hasn’t been overlooked by everyone. He has written songs that have been recorded by soul man Solomon Burke, blues powerhouse Etta James, and contemporary blues singer Janiva Magness, and he wrote “Git Me Some,” performed by Las Vegas mainstay Tom Jones. Jones’s management gave Thomas tickets, a backstage pass, and a spotlight.
“I’m sitting there in my seat watching the show,” emails Thomas, “and Tom Jones says, ‘I’d like to do some blues for you now. It is a song by a man called Earl Thomas, and he is sitting right there.’ ”
Thomas, who has recorded a dozen albums of his own, is currently on the road with the late Ike Turner’s band, the Kings of Rhythm. “I learned something that night,” he says. “There are Tom Jones impersonators just like there are Elvis impersonators — I had never seen them before.”
- Thursday, April 22, 2010, 7:30 p.m.
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