Ain’t That Lovin’ You
I dedicate this album to my parents, Phil and Hilda Thomas. My earliest memories are of being four or five years old and surrounded by extremely tall people playing musical instruments.
I vividly remember being woken up one night by a wild party downstairs. I crawled down the stairs, banged on the door, and announced “Mum, I can’t sleep.” I was allowed to come into the living room, where I sat on Brownie McGhee’s knee while he played guitar as Sonny Terry played harmonica into my ear. It was unbelievably beautiful.
Dad played banjo and Mum played guitar in a folk band called The High Riggers. Our home was always full of music.
Mum was a very good classically trained pianist and singer. My sisters both played classical piano. By the time of my first piano lesson, I was already playing, by ear, the pieces my older sisters played. I didn’t mention this to my piano teacher, so when she featured me in a recital before all the piano teachers on the West Side of Vancouver, I blew it. I couldn’t remember anything, and was immediately discovered to be a fraud. At my next lesson, she used her pointer to force me to follow the music in time. When I went ahead of the time, she smacked my knuckles with the pointer, and I screamed out obscenities. I was subsequently kicked out of piano lessons for good!
After that, I listened constantly to my dad’s records and took guitar lessons from Barry Hall. Barry was into Thelonious Monk. My parents, fans of Oscar Peterson, wanted to get me one of his albums for my tenth birthday, but I told them I wanted a Thelonious Monk album.
That album, Monk’s Dream, was the soundtrack of that year. Charlie Rose’s beautiful composition and saxophone solos expanded my appreciation of jazz improvisation. Around this time, my sisters were listening to the Beatles. Pop music on the airwaves was an incredible mix of Phil Spector, the Stones, the Animals, Motown, and Nashville.
I began actively collecting albums, haunting secondhand stores for new additions. My first purchase was Sam Cooke’s Live at the Harlem Square Club, 1963 with “Bring It On Home To Me” and the mambo version of “The Tennessee Waltz.”
Around this time, I discovered my dad’s collection of 78 rpm records in the basement of our family home. They included rare 78s by Bessie Smith, Ma Rainey, Billie Holiday, Fats Waller, Benny Goodman, Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald, Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Django Reinhardt and Stéphane Grappelli, Adrian Rollini, Joe Venuti, Eddie Lang, and many many more.
Dad gave me permission to move these records into my bedroom, where I mined this fantastic collection. I was particularly blown away by the Benny Goodman Sextet, formed in 1939, and featuring Charlie Christian, of whom my father possessed an album of six 78s.
Charlie Christian had an influence on my guitar playing and soon after I discovered him, I discovered Wes Montgomery. On my eleventh birthday, my mum took me to see the Montgomery Brothers at a jazz club only six blocks away from our home at Alma and Broadway in Vancouver.
Soon afterwards, I began sneaking out of the house in the middle of the night to go to the Blue Horn, formerly the Flat Five, where I washed dishes in exchange for a root beer sundae and a chance to hear some of the best jazz in the world. I watched the Charles Mingus Sextet, Stan Getz, trombonist and singer Big Miller, and many, many more.
One rainy night, I discovered the club was closed. I was picked up by the police who drove me home and lectured my parents that at my age they should know where I was at night. My parents hadn’t noticed that I had escaped via my bedroom window, climbed down the vines to the ground and then back again almost every night for months. Needless to say, I was grounded!
Around this time, I saved my money to see Duke Ellington at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre, along with Count Basie, Tony Bennett, and Sarah Vaughan. They were incredible.
I joined my first band, King Luxsak, led by the fantastic harmonica player and singer, Winslow Yerxa. The band also included friends Gordie Bertram and John Doheny, playing saxophones, and Drew Neville, playing trombone. One particularly memorable gig was the Easter Be‐in at Stanley Park, where we warmed up for Fireweed and Chief Dan George.
Blues and rock and roll became an obsession, and I was practicing 6‐7 hours daily, emulating my heroes Jeff Beck, Jimmy Page, Jimi Hendrix, Otis Rush, and Hubert Sumlin.
Skipping forward several years and bands later, I teamed up with Herald Nix (John Wood) and Jimmy Roy (James Kinloch) and formed the Blue Flames, a band with a repertoire that spanned Jimmy Rogers, Hank Williams, Sam Cooke, Little Walter, Sonny Boy Williamson, Slim Harpo, Bobby “Blue” Bland, and Sun Records recording artists Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Junior Parker, Johnny Cash, Howlin’ Wolf, and Muddy Waters.
Around this time, in the early 1970s, a club opened on Beatty Street in Vancouver called The Egress, where I saw Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, Johnny Shines, Junior Wells, and Buddy Guy live!
I was lucky to see Bobby “Blue” Bland at the Commodore Ballroom in Vancouver.
After the show, I went backstage and befriended
the guitarist, Wayne Bennett, who gave me some pointers on blues guitar, including his turnaround on the song “Stormy Monday” which I still play today. I asked him where the band’s next gig would be and he gave me the directions to a small club on the north side of Seattle where they were going to play the following night.
So I set out to see the gig. I took a Uher portable reel‐to‐reel tape recorder along with me, but no headphones. At the show, while I was checking to see if it was recording, one of the band members heard the playback. He confiscated my tape recorder and stated that I could get it back after the show.
Bobby “Blue” Bland never sounded better. His 12‐piece band was something for the ages, and Bobby set the room on fire. After the show, I went backstage, where I found myself the focus of a band tribunal. They were trying to decide what to do with me and my tape recorder. Fortunately, my backstage visit in Vancouver saved me. Bobby said to the others, “This kid’s a musician. He’s not going to make a bootleg. Give him back his tape recorder.”
Jazz and R&B were smokin’ hot at that time. World‐famous artists came to Vancouver. Tower of Power and Ike and Tina Turner were playing at The Cave and Oil Can Harry’s. James Brown was in town, too. James Cotton was at The Commodore, and many others, including Jimmy Smith, Joe Henderson, and Al Jones were at Lucy’s Jazz Alley. Big Mama Thornton, Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee, and John Hammond Jr. played at the River Queen on Davie Street.
I feel blessed to have heard these great musicians in person. Eventually, I discovered my voice and began singing. So I owe a huge debt to all the singers and songwriters who I have had the privilege to hear.
These talented voices, minds, and fingers have influenced me and inspired me continually, throughout my life.
First and foremost, I want to thank my wife Kathy, not just in regard to this album, but for all the support she has given me over the years!
Thank you to all the wonderful people, including fellow musicians, promoters, fans, friends, and family, who believe in me and have supported my continued musical work, and without whom I would not be playing.
LONG LIVE MUSIC!