There arent many areas of popular music B.J Thomas hasnt impacted. Since the mid-1960s when he became one of the most successful artists on the American musical landscape, he has recorded an incredible string of successes in several genres -15 Top 40 pop hits, 10 Top 40 country hits, five Grammys, two Dove awards, 2 platinum and 11 gold records, and chart toppers on the pop, country, gospel and adult contemporary charts. Along the way, he has become one of the most recognized and respected voices of his generation.
Almost 50 millions records after his initial success, B.J.s versatility is still as much of his approach as his wonderfully expressive voice.
"I love singing all of it," he says with the same enthusiasm be brings to his high-voltage stage show. "Ive always enjoyed singing country – my first hit was country – gospel and old hymns means a lot to me, and I still really enjoy doing rock and roll. I really dont think its that important what kind of song you sing as long as the attitude that comes through is good."
In fact, B.J. Thomas has always chosen to present positive, uplifting material, no matter what genre hes been working in. "As a singer, youve got the chance to make peoples spirits – and their lives a little better."
Its an attitude people have noticed. Fans and concertgoers frequently approach B.J. to thank his for the impact of songs ranging from his megahit "Raindrops Keep Fallin On My Head" to country smashes like "New Looks From An Old Lover."
That fact is testimony not only to B.J.s talent and believability, but also to the fact that he is a survivor, someone who has overcome adversity and addiction, who has weathered personal and profession storms to emerge, if anything, stronger than ever both personally and musically. He is still recording records at a time when most of his contemporaries have long since passed from the scene, and his newest release, "B.J. Thomas Still Standing Here," featuring the self penned "Back Against The Wall," is yet another strong addition to his recorded legacy.
Billy Joe Thomas (he chose B.J. at 10 because there were five Billys on his Little League baseball team) was born in Hugo, Oklahoma, and grew up in Houston. He moved with his family to Rosenberg, Texas, at 15 and was, according to friends a "charming, energetic cut-up." He picked up an interest in country music from his father and developed a passion for R&B on his own. He was influenced by artist ranging from Ernest Tubb to Jackie Wilson and Little Richard, and though he was a member if both his high school and church choirs as a teenager, hes also sneak into night clubs to hear blues great Bobby "Blue" Bland.
One major turning point came at a concert he attended as a boy. "I remember seeing Hank Willliams with my father. He was unbelievable that night, he came out on stage and was really feeling good. I remember him getting on his knees and playing guitar. And III never forget the look on my daddys face at that show. I guess thats the night I decided I was going to communicate with my daddy through the music he loved. It was the only way I could communicate with him." Indeed his relationship with his father was always a stormy one, leaving scars that would haunt B.J. for many years. Music became a highly important outlet.
B.J. made his biggest local splash as lead singer for the Triumphs, a six-piece rock and roll band that started out playing dances and a Saturday morning radio show, and wound up becoming one of the biggest acts in Texas, opening at the Houston Coliseum for headliners like Roy Orbison, the Dave Clark Five and the Four Tops.
The group released a couple of well-received local singles and then, in 1965, went into the studio to record an album of vintage rock and roll. The band needed one song to finish the project and B.J., whose father told him, "Dont come back unless you record something country," suggested Hank Williams "Im So Lonesone I Could Cry." It was recorded at 5 am after an all night session.
The band took the album to Houston DJs, who picked up on "Im So Lonesome I Could Cry" and made it a regional hit. The records producer leased the master tape of the single to New Yorks Scepter Records, which has success with acts like The Shirelles and the Isley Brothers. It went to number four on the national pop charts and sold more than a million copies, something none of the other four or five dozen covers of the song have ever done.
Several of the other band members were married or in college, and unable to begin touring, so B.J. took off by himself, doing the grueling "Dick Clark Caravan of Stars" bus tour and signing with Scepter.
By 1968, he had four gold records – "The Eyes Of A New York Woman," "Hooked On A Feeling" abd "Its Only Love" being the other three – and label mate Dionne Warwick, whod been working with the Burt Bacharach/Hal David song writing team, recommended his for "Raindrops Keep Falling On My head" which was written for the motion picture Butch Cassidy & The Sundance Kid.
"I was at the tight place at the right time, and probably got their best song ever." "Raindrops" was Bacharach/Davids first million-seller, it won an Academy Award and B.J. sang the song on the 1970 Academy Awards telecast.
B.J. would go on during the early 70s to record hits like "I Just Cant Help Believen", "No Love At All" and Rock and Roll Lullaby," scoring a dozen gold records. Throughout this period he sold tens of millions of records and appeared regularly on TV programs like the Ed Sullivan Show and in top nightclubs and concert halls. The period
"It was stressful and very tense," he says, "to come out of working a dance in the country for a bunch of kids to playing the Copacabana in New York. Its real hard to keep your roots down and your foundation steady when you get out into the fast lane. All of a sudden youve got a lot of money, a lot of people wanting to advise you – people you admire. So if you dont have a real strong foundation, you make decisions that are wrong for you."
In 1976, he released the first of several gospel albums, "Home Where I Belong," which went platinum, making him the biggest contemporary Christian artist of the period. Over the next several years, he received a couple of Dove awards. Gospel fans, though, sometimes reacted badly to the fact that he sang his older pop hits as well, and he moved to the friendlier confines of country music, where he hit the Top 40 ten times with its like "What Ever Happened To Old Fashioned Love," "New Looks From An Older Lover" (which Gloria wrote with Red Lane) and "The Whole Worlds In Love When Youre Lonely."
His country success led him to become, on this 39th birthday, the 60th member of the Grande Ole Opry.
B.J. has also been active in work for various causes. In particular, his song, "Broke Toys," written by his wife Gloria and Nashville writers JD Martin and Gary Harrison, has been adopted by child abuse agencies throughout the country as their theme song. From the same album on which that song appeared, "Throwin Rocks At The Moon," came "As Long As We Got Each other," the theme song for the ABC sitcom "Growing Pains." A later version of that song, recorded with Dusty Springfield, hit #5 on the Adult Contemporary chart.
As the tours and records keep coming, B.J. maintains his reputation as a singer at the peak of his craft – "one of the greatest all-time singers of today," according to Nashville songwriter, Mark James, sho wrote "Hooked On A Feeling" and Elvis "Suspicious Minds," among others.
B.J. has always given a great deal of the credit to the writers hes worked with.
"The sings still stand up," he says. "Thats a sign of a great writer. Im like the mailman. I deliver what the guys write and hope it has a lasting effect when I get it there."
As a man who has seen both the good and the bad that life and career have to offer, B.J. places more importance than ever on his marriage of 25 years and his family life.
"The real answer for me," he says, lies in trying to be a good husband to my wife and a good father to my kids (he has three daughters – Paige, Nora and Erin) and live up to my responsibilities. Thats the bottom line right there. I really believe that just being a regular guy and tryin to do the best you can is the essence of having peace of mind in this life."
Its an attitude that helps him keep his storied career in perspective.
"Singing has always been something I do, its not who I am. I realized a long time ago that I was a guy who loved his wife and kids, so its not always been real important for me to be number one."
And yet hes never far from that drive that has helped pull him form one bit of success to the next. "Ill be honest with you," he adds, "when I do music, I do so with everything I can give it. And Im sure I always will."