Bluesman Earl Thomas says he was kicked out of the Navy in 1980 for being gay, while 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.”
He started singing professionally in 1987, with the local blues/R&B band Rhumboogies, blending 1950s Chicago, Texas and West Coast blues styles. After playing their first show at Winstons and soon landing a full-fledged residency there, they went on to play up to twenty nights a month to packed crowds all over southern California.
After parting ways in 1989 to allow each musician to pursue other opportunities, the group remained on good terms, coming together for occasional reunion concerts. An Autumn 2013 appearance at the Belly Up inspired the group to plan a special anniversary mini-tour. 2014 included a May 6 show at Winstons, House of Blues Voodoo Lounge on May 8, opening for Gregg Allman at Humphreys on May 18, the 17th annual Doheny Blues Festival in Dana Point on May 17, and a September slot at the San Diego Blues Festival.
Thomas has won several San Diego Music Awards, has released over a dozen albums, and 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.
His band Kings of Rhythm frequently performs tributes to late North County musician Ike Turner, and his band the Blues Ambassadors is known for the classic “I’m Broken Hearted.”
Earl Thomas & the Rhumboogies reunited May 6, 2014 at Winstons, with original members Thomas (lead vocals), Jonny Viau (saxophone), and Eric Lieberman (guitar), along with bassist Scot Smart in place of Greg Willis, drummer Marcus Bashore standing in for Brad Karow, and pianist Taryn Donath playing for Tom Mahon.
In 2017, Thomas announced he was working on a new album tentatively called Dance.