B.J. Thomas is best known for his huge pop hits like "Hooked on a Feeling" and "Raindrops Keep Fallin' on My Head." But few realize that his support network during his years on Scepter Records (1966-'73) included legendary writers and producers -- people like Huey P. Meaux in Houston, Chips Moman and the American Studios session team in Memphis, Buddy Buie and the future Atlanta Rhythm Section in Alabama and Burt Bacharach and Hal David in Los Angeles/New York.
The result of this journey -- eight albums on Florence Greenberg's legendary Scepter label -- will be reissued on November 10, 2009 as four individual re-mastered CDs with liner notes by music journalist Michael Ragogna.
The eight albums come formatted as four twofers: I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry/Tomorrow Never Comes, On My Way/Young and in Love, Raindrops Keep Fallin' on My Head/Everybody's Out of Town and Most of All/Billy Joe Thomas. Each twofer also crams on rare single b-sides and unissued masters to create four 26 song CDs.
The story starts with the Houston-based Thomas and his band, the Triumphs, heading to Huey P. Meaux's studio in Pasadena, Texas. Their first single A-side, "Hey Judy," initially released on Meaux's regional label, did nothing on the charts, but its flipside, a cover of Hank Williams' "I'm So Lonely I Could Cry," scored #10 in Thomas' hometown. Thomas' longtime friend and producer Steve Tyrell took the song to nationally distributed Scepter Records, where it was included in the album I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry, released in 1966, and would chart #8 on the pop charts. Along with "Lonesome" the LP contained other charting singles: "Mama" and "Bring Back the Time." Meaux also produced the 1966 follow-up Tomorrow Never Comes, using Houston session players in place of the Triumphs.
A stint on Dick Clark's tours with James Brown, Gene Pitney and Chad & Jeremy won Thomas an audience outside of Texas and poised him for future success.One of the best career moves Thomas ever made was his fateful trip from Texas to Tennessee -- specifically to Chips Moman's storied American Studios in Memphis, around the corner from Sun Studios. Moman convinced Thomas that if he moved to Memphis, Moman would keep him in mind for hit songs.
Thomas soon sported a 901 area code, and recorded with the Memphis A-team: Reggie Young and Tommy Cogbill on guitars; Bobby Woods, piano; Mike Leech, bass; and Buddy Emmons, drums. Among the contributing songwriters was Wayne Carson ("The Letter"), who co-wrote "You Were Always On My Mind" for Thomas with Mark James.
From the sessions for the 1968 album On My Way came more Mark James compositions: "Eyes of a New York Woman" and Thomas' career-defining "Hooked On a Feeling." Its CD twofer partner, the 1969 album Young and in Love, contained three more James compositions: "It's Only Love," "Living Again" and "Pass the Apple Eve." The album also includes the Nick Ashford and Valerie Simpson song "Never Had It So Good."
Soon after the Memphis sessions, Scepter Records' Paul Cantor called Thomas and announced, "You're goin' to L.A. We got your ticket." Thomas would find himself in the company of Burt Bacharach and Hal David, who co-wrote and were about to produce what would become the artist's biggest single ever, "Raindrops Keep Fallin' On My Head," featured in the film Butch Cassidy & the Sundance Kid. Thomas came to L.A. with laryngitis but recorded anyway. Eight weeks later, it was re-cut with new vocals and the signature horn solo ending. The single was an amalgam of three different studio takes.
The title track of Thomas' fifth album, the song charted #1 and went on to win an Academy Award. Much of the rest of the album was cut in Memphis and included a notable version of "Suspicious Minds," intended for Elvis Presley, which Thomas was initially angry he couldn't record first.
The Raindrops Keep Fallin' On My Head album is bundled on CD with Everybody's Out of Town, which features Brill Building denizens Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil's "I Just Can't Help Believing," another classic B.J. Thomas hit.
Having recorded in Houston, Memphis and Los Angeles, Thomas recorded the Most of All album at Studio One in Doraville, Alabama, home to recordings by the Classics IV and, later, Lynyrd Skynyrd. His new musical team was headed by Buddy Buie whose house band -- guitarist J.R. Cobb and drummer Robert Nix -- went on to become the Atlanta Rhythm Section. Buie wrote "Most of All," and they recorded the Wayne Carson-penned "No Love At All," a #16 hit for Thomas.
On CD, Most of All cohabitates with the 1972 album Billy Joe Thomas -- the artist's final Scepter release and recorded in New York. The album's concept is that contributing songwriters would appear on the album; they included Stevie Wonder, Carole King, Jimmy Webb, Barry Mann & Cynthia Weil and Paul Williams. Featured was the song of which Thomas is most proud: Mann and Weil's "Rock 'n' Roll Lullaby." To get a guitarist who "sounded like Duane Eddy," Thomas and his producers summoned the real Duane Eddy. Famed backing group the Blossoms also appeared on the track, which charted #15. Among the bonus tracks are Thomas' 1971 hit "Mighty Clouds of Joy" and a previously unissued Mann & Weil composition, "There's No Holding You."
1972 marked the end of Thomas' Scepter era, but the B.J. Thomas saga continued with more hits ("Another Somebody Done Somebody Wrong Song," "Don't Worry Baby," "Whatever Happened To Old Fashioned Love") on the pop, country, adult contemporary and gospel charts.
Most recently, B.J. has recorded an album of Brazilian music.
Thomas reflects, "I've had a different kind of career . . . And I'm not one of those guys who likes to be on stage all the time. So a lot of things that would have helped me have a bigger career were not in my capacity to do."