Thomas makes return to festival

Published 12:00 am Thursday, October 26, 2006

 By Angie Long

Blues music is the music of the South. And you don't get much further south than the Mobile area, where blues man Junior Thomas grew up &#8220not rich, not poor, but kind of in the middle” in the ‘50s and ‘60s.

In his youth, Thomas listened to more rock n' roll and country than he did the blues, but that changed in his late teens.

&#8220I got started late in life, compared to most musicians. I was about 17 when I started playing harmonica with local blues bands,” Thomas said in a phone interview.

Listening to blues greats like Howlin' Wolf and Sonny Boy

Williamson inspired the teenager to work on his own musical skills to develop his own style.

&#8220You can't really be exactly like anybody else when you perform. But, you know, you hear about guitarists stealing licks from other guitarists. Sometimes I do a little of that with the harmonica,” he laughed.

Also a songwriter, Thomas has never had one of his songs published, but he's still enjoyed the pleasure of hearing some of his tunes performed by other musicians.

&#8220That in itself means a lot to me.”

He enjoys writing poetry and has had several of his works published.

&#8220A song is really poetry set to music, so it seems like a natural fit,” Thomas said.

He also got involved in creating what he calls &#8220blues art,” primitive art with a blues theme.

&#8220I have several of my paintings hanging in clubs in the Mobile area and in Tallahassee. Painting is a lot of fun. I do get a kick out of it,” Thomas said.

Music is still number one for Thomas, however.

His gift for the harmonica earned him a prestigious endorsement with the Hohner Harmonica Company, joining the ranks of notables like Larry Adler, Charlie McCoy and Kim Wilson of the Fabulous Thunderbirds.

He also started a music scholarship fund at the University of South Alabama in the name of the late Stevie Ray Vaughn, legendary blues singer and guitarist, who died in a crash in 1990.

&#8220What Stevie Ray could do with a guitar was absolutely amazing. He was up there with people like Jimi Hendrix,” Thomas said.

&#8220Stevie was really getting young people interested and excited about the blues again, and then he died so tragically. This was just a small gesture towards always remembering him.”

Thomas and his band, The Automatics will be bringing his special style of blues music to the Sweet Gum Bottom Blues Fest this Saturday.

In spite of two heart surgeries, Thomas and his music aren't slowing down.

&#8220People think the blues are always slow and sad. Well, you've got some slow country songs, but you've also got plenty of upbeat ones. It's the same way with blues,” Thomas said.

&#8220We'll be playing one slow song, and the rest will be ‘jump blues.' I love to see people enjoy themselves, getting up and dancing.”

He may not have risen to the tops of the charts, but Thomas has &#8220enjoyed it all,” he said.

&#8220I wouldn't change a thing. I thank God everyday that I am still here.”