James Thomas (blues musician)
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Life and career
Born in Eden, Mississippi, Thomas was known as a folk artist for his sculptures made from unfired 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, his work was featured in the prestigious Corcoran Gallery in Washington, D.C., where he was introduced to Nancy Reagan, then the First Lady. Thomas's skulls are on display in the Delta Blues Museum, in Clarksdale, Mississippi, and the Highway 61 Blues Museum, in Leland, Mississippi. Thomas played at numerous blues festivals and private parties throughout the area, including the Mississippi Delta Blues and Heritage Festival in Greenville. In the 1970s, Eddie Cusic performed with Thomas at regular engagements. Together they recorded "Once I Had a Car", which is included on the compilation album Mississippi Delta & South Tennessee Blues (1977).
In later performances he was accompanied by the 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, recorded by Rust College in Holly Springs, Mississippi, but he remains an obscure figure outside of dedicated blues communities.
In the 1970s, he appeared in the films Delta Blues Singer: James "Sonny Ford" Thomas, Give My Poor Heart Ease: Mississippi Delta Bluesmen, and Mississippi Delta Blues.
Thomas died in 1993 in Greenville, Mississippi, from emphysema and a stroke. He 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 (LP only)
- I Got the Blues This Morning (1979), Italian anthology (LP only)
- Highway 61 Blues 1968–82, LP edit, Center for Southern Folklore
- Gateway to the Delta 1986–87, LP edit, Center for Southern Folklore
- Ferris, William (2009). Give My Poor Heart Ease: Voices of the Mississippi Blues. University of North Carolina Press. ISBN 0-8078-3325-8 (with CD and DVD with field recordings and video of Thomas)
- Nicholson, Robert (1999). Mississippi Blues Today! Da Capo Press. ISBN 0-306-80883-8.
- Wynn, Ron. "James "Son" Thomas | Biography". AllMusic. Retrieved 2015-08-12.
- Doc Rock. "The Dead Rock Stars Club 1992–1993". Thedeadrockstarsclub.com. Retrieved 2015-08-12.
- Du Noyer, Paul (2003). The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Music. Fulham, London: Flame Tree Publishing. p. 181. ISBN 1-904041-96-5.
- "James "Son" Thomas with Nancy Reagan". William R. Ferris. Retrieved August 4, 2012.
- "Eddie Cusic". Wirz.de. Retrieved 2015-08-13.
- "Center for Southern Folklore". Southernfolklore.com. Retrieved 2015-08-12.