James Thomas (blues musician)

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James "Son" Thomas (October 14, 1926 – June 26, 1993)[1][2] was an American Delta blues musician, gravedigger and sculptor from Leland, Mississippi.[3]

Life and career[edit]

James "Son" Thomas performs at the Elbow Room in Columbus, Mississippi, during the 1980s.

Born in Eden, Mississippi, United States,[1][2] Thomas was known as a folk artist for his sculptures made from un-fired clay which he dug out of the banks of the Yazoo River. His most famous sculpted images were skulls (often featuring actual human teeth) which mirrored his job as a gravedigger and his often stated philosophy that "we all end up in the clay". In 1985, Thomas had his work featured in the prestigious Corcoran Gallery in Washington, D.C. where he was introduced to Mrs. Nancy Reagan then First Lady.[4] Thomas' skulls can also be found on display in several blues museums throughout Mississippi including the Delta Blues Museum in Clarksdale and the Highway 61 Blues Museum in Leland. Thomas played at numerous blues festivals and private parties throughout the area including the Mississippi Delta Blues and Heritage Festival in Greenville.

His later performances saw him accompanied by Swiss harmonica player Walter Liniger. Thomas was recorded by several small record labels and is probably best known for his album Gateway to the Delta which was recorded by Rust College in Holly Springs, Mississippi, although he remains an obscure figure outside of dedicated blues communities.[citation needed]

In the 1970s, he appeared in the following films: Delta Blues Singer: James "Sonny Ford" Thomas, Give My Poor Heart Ease: Mississippi Delta Bluesmen, and Mississippi Delta Blues.[1]

He died in 1993 in Greenville, Mississippi, from a combination of emphysema and a stroke.[2]

Thomas is buried in Leland and memorialized by a headstone placed in 1996 by the Mt. Zion Memorial Fund and paid for by John Fogerty. His epitaph consists of lyrics from one of his songs. His son, Pat Thomas, continues to play and perform his father's songs.


  • The Blues are Alive and Well (1969) anthology
  • Mississippi Delta & South Tennessee Blues (1979) Italian anthology (only on LP)
  • I got the Blues this Morning (1979) Italian anthology (only on LP)
  • Highway 61 Blues 1968-82 - LP edit from Center for Southern Folklore http://www.southernfolklore.com/
  • Gateway to the Delta 1986-87 - LP edit from Center for Southern Folklore


  • William Ferris - Give My Poor Heart Ease: Voices of the Mississippi Blues 2009 The University of North Carolina Press, ISBN 0-8078-3325-8 (with CD and DVD with field recordings and video of James Son Thomas)
  • Robert Nicholson; Mississippi Blues Today ! Da Capo Press (1999) ISBN 0-306-80883-8


  1. ^ a b c Allmusic biography
  2. ^ a b c Thedeadrockstarsclub.com - accessed July 2010
  3. ^ Du Noyer, Paul (2003). The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Music (1st ed.). Fulham, London: Flame Tree Publishing. p. 181. ISBN 1-904041-96-5. 
  4. ^ "James "Son" Thomas with Nancy Reagan". William R. Ferris. Retrieved August 4, 2012. 

External links[edit]