Next week Earl Thomas becomes the most prominent member of the San Diego music scene to enter a same-sex marriage.
It just so happens that his genre doesn’t seem gay-friendly.
“Blues is [woman] chasing music. I honestly don’t know of any other gay blues man, now or in the history of blues. From the time I started singing professionally [in 1987, in the local blues/R&B band Rhumboogies], I’ve been an openly gay man. But I’ve always had respect from my peers. I’ve been out my whole life. This ‘closet’ thing I know nothing about. I was a lucky child. I had a family that loved me unconditionally.”
Thomas has four San Diego Music Awards, has released 14 albums, and says he has averaged two European tours a year since 1992. His songs have been covered by Etta James, Solomon Burke, Screamin’ Jay Hawkins, and Tom Jones. He has performed to raise money for a proposed Blues Hall of Fame in Memphis.
Next week, Thomas, 53, and Michael Malvestuto, 54, will make it official at the county courthouse. A private celebration will follow in October.
“I’ve been with Michael for 15 years,” says Thomas.
Being gay got Thomas kicked out of the Navy in 1980 when he was working as a dental assistant at Camp Pendleton.
“That was the best thing that happened to me,” says Thomas. “Two days later I got a job as a dental assistant making three times what I did in the Navy.”
Although he may be a rarity, Thomas makes it clear he does not use his sexuality to fan his career flames. “I don’t go on as a gay man. I go on as a bluesman. I’m part of a blues bloodline. My father was a bluesman like Muddy Waters. My [deceased] mother sang gospel like Mahalia Jackson or Clara Ward.”
Thomas admits he makes most of his dough in Europe. “It’s helped me pay off my mortgage. Europeans see it as a cultural exchange. Seeing Earl Thomas in Poland is like seeing Cirque du Soleil here.”
Thomas says Malvestuto is more of a behind-the-scenes kind of guy. “He’s just your average guy. I compare this to Dolly Parton and her husband.” Malvestuto works at a coffee-roasting company.
In November, Thomas plays his first tour of Eastern Europe with dates in Poland, East Germany, Slovakia, and the Czech Republic. That tour will also swing through Norway and the U.K. A Belly Up show is scheduled for February.