Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Kid Thomas

I guess I'm starting to repeat myself in my old age, since I wrote a similar piece to this one in Kicks magazine #3 back around 1981, but since that was a whole generation ago I might as well. If you are unfamiliar with today's subject-- Louis Thomas Watts aka Kid Thomas you have been leading an incomplete life and are in for a real treat. Besides, it's a great story.
 Kid Thomas was born June 20, 1934 in Sturgis, Mississippi--a Gemini, like me.
He was raised in Chicago where he took up playing the drums and later the harmonica on which he was tutored by Little George Smith (who recorded some good sides for RPM in the 50's) and by the mid-50's was a regular on the Chicago club scene appearing with the likes of Muddy Waters, Elmore James, Howlin' Wolf, Bo Diddley, and often filling in for his idol Little Walter when Walter was too drunk to negotiate the bandstand, which was quite often. He also held down a regular gig at  Cadillac Baby's club.  In 1955 he simply walked into the Chicago distribution offices of the Cincinnati based King/Federal records and announced he wanted to make a record. Luckily for him, producer Ralph Bass who was also Federal's A&R chief happened to be in the building and Kid Thomas was soon in the studio. Bass recorded Thomas in Chicago using Little George Smith on drums (he'd traded harmonica lessons with Kid Thomas for drumming lessons), a guitarist whose first name was James and a piano player nobody remembered. That first session produced one 45, and it was a good one too. Wolf Pack b/w The Spell (Federal) is in fact a classic. The a-side is an upbeat workout on Howlin' Wolf's Smokestack Lightning riff, the b-side a spooky, voodoo blues. It was the only record issued from the session and his only release on Federal who let him go when the disc failed to catch on. Left in the vaults from that day were quite a few goodies however including the rocker Beaulah Come Back, Ride On, Ride On, Come Here Woman and this alternate take of Wolf Pack. These sides would remain un-issued until 1999, perhaps the world was just not ready. Maybe it still isn't.
Wolf Pack since didn't exactly make our hero a star so he kept his eyes open for a better opportunity. In a local diner he met two kids who had hitchhiked into town from Wichita, Kansas and duly invited them down to Cadillac Baby's that night. They were blown away by Kid Thomas set and upon returning home to Wichita, booked him a job at a local bar called the Sportsman's Lounge. Lacking funds to get to the gig, he hit upon an idea, this is what he told writer Daryl Stolper in his only published interview which ran in Blues Unlimited in 1969: "At that time, I was doing some light work for a minister, and he had a '49 Buick. I didn't have a car, so I waited until he was asleep and I told my guitarist to ease the car out,'cause if he woke up, he'd recognize me. So he starts up the car and bangs it into the car behind him, and the one in front. But he finally got it out, and we made it to Wichita. When I got back (to Chicago), the minister asked me what happened to his car. I told him I hadn't any idea. He told me,'Thats funny,'cause it disappeared the same night you did."  The band broke up in Wichita but he returned there a month later, this time driving a 1947 DeSoto with his name misspelled on the side-- it read Kid Thumass. Our by now be-conked hero had struck up a partnership with Hound Dog Taylor (see January posting for a picture of his six fingered left hand) and together they proved a good draw in Wichita.  By 1956 rock'n'roll had taken the world by storm and Kid Thomas fell under the spell of Little Richard and soon revamped his sound to showcase the influence of Little Richard and other men who wore their hair up high and screamed a lot. This new musical direction didn't exactly knock 'em dead in the South Side blues clubs in Chicago to which he had returned, so he packed up and headed west, first to Denver and finally landing in Los Angeles in 1958.  In L.A., Kid came to the attention of George Mottola, then head of A&R at the Modern/RPM/Flair family of labels where he recorded such greats as Richard Berry, Jesse Belvin, and the Teen Queens. Mottola had started his own label-- Transcontinental and soon Kid Thomas was back in the studio. Boy, was he. His next release, issued in 1959 on the aforementioned Transcontinental-- Rockin' This Joint Tonight (issued with two different b-sides, the blue label first pressings had You Heard What I Said on the flip, the black, red and white second pressing had You Are An Angel, if you want to hear the former, and you do, you're gonna have to buy the Norton Records 4-song EP). Rockin' This Joint Tonight is one of the wildest rock'n'roll discs of all time with Kid Thomas blowing his harmonica and shouting out the lyrics in a frantic frenzy. Just listening to it leaves me breathless. He wouldn't record again for five years, that's probably how long it took for him to catch his breath. Kid took a regular gig in L.A.'s South Central neighborhood at a joint called the Cozy Lounge, working under the name of Tommy Louis and the Rythm (sic) Rockers and sometimes as Tommy Louis and the Versatiles. The local Muriel label issued two singles in 1965-- The Hurt Is On b/w I Love You So, which got some airplay around the south despite the lack of promotion, and later the same year Wail Baby Wail b/w Lookie There, perhaps his finest achievement in wax. Wail Baby Wail is another full on Little Richard inspired rocker in the same vein as Rockin' This Joint Tonight, only this one features guitarist Marshall Hooks' insane soloing which sounds like Ike Turner undergoing electro shock therapy. Sadly, there was little market for such sounds in 1965 and the disc sunk without a trace.  As Tommy Lewis, he made one last record, issued on Cenco in 1969 he would recut (You Are An) Angel b/w Willowbrook, not a bad record, but nothing to wet your shorts over.  Here comes the sad part. Although he kept on gigging (including playing a party at Dean Martin's house), Kid Thomas was making rent by mowing lawns. In 1970, after finishing a job in Beverly Hills, a young child ran out into the street from between two parked cars and Thomas accidentally ran over the kid, killing him. Manslaughter charges were filed, then dropped for lack of evidence. A few months later, after appearing in court on a separate charge (driving with a revoked licence), the kid's father ambushed Kid Thomas in the court house parking lot, killing him with one bullet to the head. As a tragic postscript to an already sad story, in 1994, at a live Hangover Hop WFMU radio broadcast, I went to take a piss and some jerk decided he might as well take a look through my box of 45's. When I returned from the head and asked the cretin to put my records down, he dropped the box and my copy of Wolf Pack on Federal landed on the concrete floor at Brownie's at just the right angle to crack it in two places. I've since manged to track down an original 78, but the 45 is rather hard (and expensive) to come by, and now my copy is held together with scotch tape. And people ask why I don't do the radio show or dj live anymore.  So there's our story, three great records, two dead bodies, and one cracked disc.  Life's funny like that.
Addendum to yesterday's post: I just stumbled on the complete works of Kid Thomas for download here for those of you who hate to pay for anything.

9 comments:

Anonymous said...

Hi Jim
Ya shoulda cracked that clowns head like he cracked your rec. Please reconsider doing the radio/live dj thing.

DefChef said...

Thanks as always for another peek back into the pages of history...always illuminating.

And I totally agree with the post above...plz return to the airwaves / podcast waves / whatever...I know that DJing with digital copies grates the spirit & soul, but on the upside no one can crack 'em in two...

Chris said...

I'd have cracked the fellow's skull, personally.

when I DJ my records are OFF LIMITS to any
yahoo in the room.

Anonymous said...

Jim:
Unauthorized pawing through records and breaking 'em is a hanging crime!
That's why I only DJ with stuff that is easily replaced.
PJL

The Hound said...

I think I'll do a blog this or next week on busted records..

Anonymous said...

Thanks for this great post. I love all the 45 label shots you include! And where else is anyone gonna find this much biographical information about Kid Thomas!?

Please keep it up.

Greg

Eva said...

"Lookie There" is great, thanks a lot.

Anonymous said...

Thank for this, Jim. It reminded me that I own the JSP reish of "Rockin'," "Wail," and "Lookee." Gonna start spinning "Wail" at my soul-oriented gigs.
PJL

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