Las Vegas Sun

September 20, 2018

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No Doubting Thomas


B.J. Thomas soared to international stardom in 1969 with "Raindrops Keep Fallin' on My Head," becoming one of the most recognizable entertainers of the 1960s and '70s.

The song, which was the theme for the movie "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid," was sung by Thomas at the Academy Awards telecast in 1970.

The 59-year-old native of Houston, who will perform two shows Saturday at Boulder Station, has had a stellar career during which he has sold more than 70 million records, including "The Eyes of a New York Woman," "Hooked on a Feeling, "It's Only Love" and "I Just Can't Help Believing."

Thomas began performing in the early 1960s with the Triumphs, a country band that played honky tonks and beer joints in rural areas around Houston.

Thomas and his wife, Gloria, married in 1968 in Las Vegas and have three children. He recently spoke with the Las Vegas Sun from his home in Arlington, Texas:

Las Vegas Sun: Were you performing in Las Vegas when you got married?

B.J. Thomas: No, we just came to Vegas because we could get it done quick. We'd been in love and had been going together about a year. I had already asked her to marry me. I had three days off so we came to Vegas and got married at the Chapel of the Bells.

Sun: Have you performed in Las Vegas a lot over the years?

BJT: No, I never played Vegas a lot. Never really wanted to. Never really played there 'til '77 or '78, at the Golden Nugget for Steve Wynn. I worked the Riviera a couple of years ago. I still don't work (in Las Vegas) a lot.

Sun: How did you get started in the music business?

BJT: My brother, Jerry, took me to hear this band in a small town outside of Houston and he got up there to sing a couple of songs and they invited me to join.

Sun: Who has influenced you the most?

BJT: I have to say my dad was a real influence on me. He loved country music. As long as I can remember I heard Hank Williams and Lefty Frizzell and Ernest Tubb and those guys. But I'm like most people from my generation -- Elvis was a huge inspiration.

R&B also influenced me. I always loved the black singers, like Jackie Wilson, Chuck Berry, Little Richard and Bobby Blue Bland. I'm probably a conglomeration of all those influences.

Sun: It seems that half your songs are pop and half are country. Do you have a preference?

BJT: Some people consider me country now, but I don't really try to do one style or the other. When I was growing up Hank Williams was a pop-country kind of guy. Elvis was rockabilly, but he also did R&B and gospel. I'm not comparing myself to those guys, but I'm not just a traditional country singer, though I like to do country music that fits me. I don't put a label on myself. That whole pop scene, where I had most of my hits, is really not there anymore.

Sun: Have the changes in the music scenes affected your career?

BJT: Sure. I still work a lot -- I did 200 dates last year and probably will do 200 this year. But as far as exposure to my recordings, I don't get much even on country radio. If the stations don't play legends like Merle Haggard or George Jones, they're not going to play me.

Sun: When did you begin recording?

BJT: The Triumphs had a few records out here and there, but we had a chance to make a complete album in early '65. My dad asked me to put something country on the record, and I always did like Hank Williams a lot. Anyway, I did his "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry" (a 1949 release). That came off the album and was my first million-seller back in '66.

Sun: At what point in your life did you realize you were going to have a career in entertainment?

BJT: I feel very fortunate and lucky to do what I do. But it might have been in the early '80s, when I was walking down the street in Malibu (Calif.) to a recording studio to make a record. As I was walking I thought, "You know, you're going to get to do this all your life." I kind of laughed about it. I had done it for 20 years before I realized this was what I was going to do. It was sort of an epiphany. I just kind of woke up.

Sun: You have recorded a number of gospel songs over the years. Is religion a major part of your life?

BJT: I'm like most people from the South. If I went to church, I went to the Baptist church. My wife and I and our family had a spirutal awakening, if you will, back in 1977. So that's where the gospel music came from, which is really some of the best music I've made.

I'm not a real religious person. I'm not sure organized religion really works, or if there is one section of people that God is going to bless more than anyone else. I don't think God is going to send Muslims to hell. But our family does have a faith that we live by, and we just believe in trying to treat other people like we want to be treated.

Sun: Your career has touched five decades. What do you consider the high point?

BJT: The great thing about being in music is that there are a lot of high points. There are a lot of low points, too, but it can all come back. Recording "Raindrops" was one, and singing it at the Academy Awards was another. The five Grammys I won five years in a row for my gospel recordings was a high.

I've had hundreds of high points. They have come in some theater in Mississippi or some country bar in Georgia or some fair in California. There are a lot of great thrills.

The real payoff for me is the live show, and what happens in the show -- what happens between me and the people. I always try to be real positive. Without being grandiose about it, I think sometimes music is the only thing that can get through to somebody and help them have an epiphany of their own. A lot of times I feel like if I do my thing just right I can make a difference in people, and that becomes a real payoff for me.