“The blues is how we speak to our ancestors.”
Calling Earl Thomas a “blues singer” is kind of like saying Coltrane was a saxophonist. Or if you want a more musically relevant analogy, it’s like labeling B.B. King a guitar player. You can’t accurately describe such artists using this sort of limited vocabulary or myopic frame of reference. Each defies categorization because they’re able to transcend their instrument. For the rest of us, it might be merely a matter of reeds and strings and vocal chords. For such rare individuals, their instrument is an extension of their life – it’s a tangible manifestation of their soul.
Make no mistake, Earl Thomas has an impressive instrument and he knows how to use it deftly. Listen to the way he wrings every ounce of emotion from the lyrics in songs like “Happiness” – especially if you have the fortune to hear him live.
But that vocal facility is born of more than his classical training in college. The warm resonance, the playful turn of a phrase, the guttural growl that one associates with Earl comes not just from technique. It finds its genesis in another place altogether. It originates in a past that is uniquely his.
“If the only Negro spiritual you know is “Kumbaya,” your blues is gonna have an accent.”
Born in Tennessee, Earl was a military brat whose father served in the Navy to support his family, but was a bluesman at heart. Both his father and choir singing mother would instill and nurture in Earl a love for soul, gospel and the blues. But his musical roots can be traced further back to the fields of the antebellum south – from the same deep well that produces all true blues. And though his 1960 birth is 100 years removed from the conflict that would start the slow struggle for freedom and equality that continues to this day, Earl nevertheless bears some of the scars that come from breaking through the walls of segregation and hatred. Yet, instead of dwelling on this history, he chose to redeem it through his music.
On his way up, Earl has performed in every kind of venue and for an incredible variety of audiences – from open mic nights to the most prestigious European festivals. In every setting, people have been able to enjoy the unique aural quality that sets Earl apart. He combines the pipes of Joe Williams, the phrasing of Tina Turner and a classically-trained discipline that has allowed him to maintain his tone and melodic control throughout the decades.
But Earl is not one to merely sing other’s words or riff on someone else’s melody. His true passion comes from expressing his own words through a gift for skillful songwriting. These songs have been shared and interpreted by the likes of such iconic performers as Etta James, Tom Jones, Solomon Burke and others.
“You can lead a man to knowledge, but you can’t make him think.”
Make no mistake, Earl Thomas will make you think. And feel. And jump to your feet and dance. Take a listen to his recordings or, better yet, find where he’s performing live. And go. You won’t be disappointed when you immerse yourself in the impressive body of work of this musical “citizen of the world.”