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Jesse Thomas 1948 - 1958

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Album Review

This 28-song compilation is a serious listening workout, in the best possible meaning of the description. Assembled here are all of the post-World War II sides by Jesse Thomas, recorded variously for Miltone Records, his own short-lived Club label, Freedom, Modern, Swing Time, Specialty, Elko, and Hollywood, across a period of ten years. This was a period in which Thomas embraced a vast range of sounds, all of them with remarkable effectiveness but without a lot of consistency. One of Thomas' virtues and problems was that he may have been too versatile for his own good — based on the evidence of this collection, on which no two groups of recordings, even done within the same year (albeit for different labels) sound the same, he seems not to have stuck with a sound long enough to have built an audience. The Miltone sides which open this set, all done by Thomas solo on vocals and electric guitar, are a case in point — his singing is fine, and the second Miltone side, in particular, "D. Double Due Love You," is notable not only for the vocal acrobatics in which Thomas engages, but also his guitar pyrotechnics anticipate elements of Chuck Berry's playing a decade hence, on numbers such as "Guitar Boogie" (which, itself, became the basis for the Yardbirds' "Jeff's Boogie"). But when Thomas cut sides for release on his own Club label, he was accompanied by a pianist (identity unknown); and these show him in a much more interesting role, playing off of the unknown pianist on the instrumental "Melody in C," while "You Are My Dreams" captures him stretching out better as a singer than the Miltone sides; and "I Wonder Why" and "Another Friend Like You" demonstrate Thomas developing a much more accessible edge to his singing, closer to RIB than pure country blues. And on the Freedom sides, which follow, he's working with saxmen Sam Williams and Conrad Johnson, and he's reaching for notes and effects as a singer that seemingly weren't in his repertory a year or two before. But then, on the early Modern sides — two of which were unissued until the release of this CD — he's working solo again. Finally, on Swing Time two years later, in 1951, he's plucking along with a small band working in dance rhythms, and he's never sounded better. But by this time, anyone who'd heard Thomas' previous records might wonder precisely what he was offering musically. And, amazingly, what he was offering by then happened to be amazingly close (for 1951) to what soon became rock & roll — even the appropriately titled "I Am so Blue," with its rippling piano figure (player unknown), could have qualified as a pretty hot dance number for teenagers. And then there's the guitar-driven "Long Time," with its brittle, amplified guitar figure, out in front with Thomas' vocal — which sounds as though Willie Johnson sneaked out of a Howlin' Wolf session to play here; whatever Hollywood Records hoped to attract in listenership with this or its hotter B-side, "Cool Kind Lover," was never clear, but the latter song, in particular, could have slotted right in as a Chess Records release circa 1955. Thomas' Specialty sides are among the most restrained of his early-'50s output — "Jack of Diamonds" has a great beat, but "When You Say I Love You" is a slow, mournful blues ballad. The Elko sides from 1955 could easily have charted either R&B or pop in 1955, and his 1958 Hollywood sides could have hit, the 46-year-old Thomas effectively competing with the rock & roll sides of the era, right down to the off-kilter guitar and harmonica break and adding a few unexpected curves to the road already traveled by Chuck Berry's "Maybellene"." Except for the first two Club sides, the sound is clean, bright, and crisp on everything, even the previously unissued tracks, and the annotation is amazingly full, given how little is actually known about Thomas and his life.


Born: 03 February 1911 in Logansport, LA

Genre: Blues

Years Active: '30s, '40s, '50s, '60s, '70s, '80s, '90s

The brother of Texas bluesman Willard "Ramblin'" Thomas, Jesse "Babyface" Thomas never had the success of his more famous sibling. Born in the hamlet of Logansport, LA, near the Texas border in 1911, Jesse Thomas and his brother were personally close growing up, often working in the fields together, and he also aspired to a music career -- the two performed together. He moved to Dallas in 1929, at a time when Blind Lemon Jefferson and Lonnie Johnson were in their heyday; Thomas made his first recordings...
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Jesse Thomas 1948 - 1958, Jesse Thomas
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