BJ Thomas, the singer who mixed the elegant sophistication of a pop crooner and the soul of a country singer on songs like the 1969 smash “Raindrops Keep Fallin ‘on My Head”, died Saturday in his home of Arlington, Texas. 78 years old. A representative for Thomas confirmed the singer’s death. The cause of death was lung cancer, which Thomas revealed publicly in March.
Thomas’ multi-genre success included major hits in contemporary and Christian adult music charts, with the latter earning him five Grammy Awards and two Gospel Music Association Dove Awards. But the singer is arguably best known for the pop classic “Raindrops Keep Fallin ‘on My Head”, one of the most successful singles of all time and a 2014 Grammy Hall of Fame inductee. Written by Burt Bacharach and Hal David for the 1969 Paul Newman / Robert Redford Western Butch Cassidy and the Sundance KidThomas’ interpretation would record four weeks atop the Billboard Hot 100 and win the Oscar for Best Original Song. Despite the song’s success, Thomas’ cross-appeal was not fully realized until 1975 with the release of Larry Butler and Chips Momans “(Hey Won’t You Play) Another Somebody Done Somebody Wrong Song,” which reached number one in pop graphics before duplicating the feat in Billboard’s country survey.
Billy Joe Thomas was born in Hugo, Oklahoma, and raised in Houston, Texas, where he first sang in public at the Temple Oaks Baptist Church before moving with his family to nearby Rosenberg , at the age of 15. played baseball and took the nickname “BJ” because there were already several Billys in the league. He also sang in the choir alongside his older brother, Jerry, while idolizing artists like country music icon Hank Williams and R&B legend Jackie Wilson.
After a stint with The Triumphs, Thomas released a cover of Williams’ “I’m so lonely I could cry” in 1966. He continued to have hits in the late 1960s with songs like “Mama,” “The Eyes of a New York Woman” and the original Top Five recording of “Hooked on a Feeling,” later a 1974 issue One for Blue Swede. In 1969, just before “Raindrops Keep Fallin ‘on My Head”, he released his version of the often-cover country song “Skip a Rope”.
Thomas was often booked on package tours, performing on the same shows with artists such as Gene Pitney, Bobby Goldsboro and the McCoys. The road to the “Raindrops,” which sells millions of times, was also filled with artists vying for the recording of the track. In 2013 Thomas said Singer-songwriter that Bacharach wrote the melody to fit Bob Dylan. “Over the next few years, Burt denied it, but that’s what I understood at the time,” Thomas said. “Burt really admired Bob Dylan and the way he phrased it. When Bob, for some reason, didn’t, I was his second choice.
Yet, according to Steve Tyrell, a Scepter Records A&R executive at the time and the singer’s future manager, Ray Stevens was offered “Raindrops” but succeeded. Whatever the circumstances, when Thomas came in to record the song, he did so against his doctor’s orders – he was besieged with laryngitis. Nonetheless, after several takes, Bacharach was satisfied, and a 20th Century Fox executive praised the singer for playing with a grater that resembled that of film costar Paul Newman. Thomas performed the song at the 1970 Oscars, a segment that was followed by a choreographed tribute to the film’s iconic Newman-Katherine Ross cycling scene.
Thomas met his future wife Gloria Richardson at the Van’s Ballroom in Houston in 1967. The couple married in December 1968 in Las Vegas and their eldest daughter, Paige, was born in 1970. The couple adopted their second daughter, Nora, in 1978; the third daughter, Erin, was born in 1979.
Thomas, who moved from Texas to Memphis and then New York before moving to a house in countryside Connecticut, continued to score hit singles while frequently traveling the world. He briefly capitalized on his fame and blue-eyed matinee idol looks, playing a doomed gunslinger in the 1973 Western. Jory. Thomas would only star onscreen in one more film from the 2008 comedy-drama Jake’s corner.
But as his professional life flourished, Thomas’s drug addiction was spiraling out of control. As related in surprising detail in the 1978 autobiography My house where I belong, Thomas was spending a fortune on pills, cocaine and other substances, and was dangerously close to divorce before finally giving up his drug use in early 1976. Later that year, the singer, who as a child rushed to life home after school to watch Mahalia Jackson sing on TV, recording her gospel-centric debut album for Christian label Myrrh Records. Also titled My house where I belong, it was the first of four consecutive Grammy Award winners for him in the Best Inspiring Performance category.
Simultaneously, he saw a resurgence in country music with the number one hits “Whatever Happened to Old-Fashioned Love” and “New Looks From an Old Lover”. Invited to join the Grand Ole Opry in 1981, Thomas became a member on his 39th birthday. Although his Opry membership eventually expired, he continued to make appearances on the radio show throughout his life.
In the eighties, Thomas was on the map with the single “Two Car Garage” and two other Top 20 country singles before returning to the contemporary adult Top Ten in 1988 with Dusty Springfield on the duet “As Long As. We Got Each Other ”, the theme of Televisions Growing pains, which he also performed solo and with singer Jennifer Warnes during various seasons of the longtime sitcom.
In 2013, Wrinkled Records released Show sessions, a collection of 12 titles of acoustic interpretations of Thomas’ memorable hits. Produced by Kyle Lehning (Randy Travis), the LP included appearances by Lyle Lovett, Keb ‘Mo’, Etta Britt and Richard Marx. Among the highlights was an amazing version of “I Just Can’t Help Believing” with Vince Gill, a song Thomas first cut in 1970 and released with the B-side “Send My Picture to Scranton, PA”. Elvis Presley continued to make “I Just Can’t Help Believing” a centerpiece in his Las Vegas concerts.
In March, Thomas ad that he was diagnosed with lung cancer and asked that his music could live with his fans. “I am so lucky to have had the opportunity to record and perform beautiful songs in pop, country and gospel music, and to share these wonderful songs and memories around the world with millions of you. He wrote.