Interview with a veteran bluesman from the UK, guitarist and singer Dave Thomas. An interview by email in writing.
JazzBluesNews.com: – First, let’s start out with where you grew up, and what got you interested in music. How exactly did your adventure take off?
Dave Thomas: – I grew up in Newport, a large industrial port, in South Wales. My mother had 10 older brothers who formed a Welsh male voice choir. I learned to sing in my local Baptist chapel. Blues inspired me from a very early age. I was only 12 years old when I got my hands on my first guitar which I have to this day. I am left-handed and in those days you could not easily buy a left-handed guitar, so I taught myself to play upside down and without restringing, by ear, listening to Lightnin’ Hopkins, Jimmy Reed, BB King and Matt ‘Guitar’ Murphy. I was playing with my own band in clubs all over South Wales two years later. At the age of 18 I was recruited as lead singer with seminal progressive rock band Blonde On Blonde who went on to record three albums and two singles. The band supported Bob Dylan and Jimi Hendrix at the Isle of Wight Festivals.
JBN: – How has your sound evolved over time? What have you been doing to find and develop your own sound?
DT: – Although I worked in rock and folk genres I always returned to the blues – the original source of inspiration. I have spent nearly 60 years refining my guitar playing and now I write from my own experience. My guitar playing and my voice have matured with age and experience! I have paid my dues by playing live gigs as much as possible. I keep returning to the blues listening to the early records that inspired me at the beginning.
JBN: – What routine practices or exercises have you developed to maintain and improve your current musical proficiency, in terms of both rhythm and harmony?
DT: – I’m a bluesman. I don’t practice, I just play and sing as much as I can.
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JBN: – Have you changed through the years? Any charges or overall evolution? And if so why?
DT: – Over the years I have moved from blues to rock and back to the blues. During this time I have had some real high points, e.g. sharing stages with Deep Purple, Genesis, The Steve Miller Band and many more. One highlight was being supported by Fleetwood Mac (before they left the UK for the USA). In 1986 I starred in a big rock opera at the Green Belt Festival, Knebworth. In 1996 I performed for Paul McCartney by personal invitation at The Texas Embassy in London. In 2005 I released two blues albums which received critical acclaim in Blues & Rhythm magazine (a magazine that specialises in black American blues artists). In 2006 I was invited to Cleveland, Ohio, to record with the great harmonica maestro Wallace Coleman (who had played in Robert Junior Lockwood’s band for 10 years). For 10 years I worked as bandleader for the specialist blues promoter, Gerard Homan, of Shake Down Blues during which time I must have worked with nigh on 40 black American blues artists here in the UK.
Since that time I have visited the USA on many occasions and I have performed at the Chicago Blues Festival whenever I have been there. I now have a lot of experience of working very closely with black American blues artists who all have their different individual styles. I now consider myself a bandleader as well as a singer and guitar player. Earlier this year I visited the Southern states of America for the first time – Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Arkansas, Tennessee – connecting with the roots of the blues has strengthened my love for music at the source.
JBN: – There’s a two-way relationship between audience and artist; are you okay with delivering people the emotion they long for?
DT: – I can only play one way – straight from the heart.
JBN: – Can you share any memories from gigs, jams, open acts and studio sessions over the years?
DT: – I am most proud of those gigs that I have done to raise money for a variety of causes. These have included raising money for the Alzheimer’s Society, the British Red Cross. My personal favourite is Clinks Care Farm – a local organic farm that provides support and work opportunities for people with special needs. We have helped them establish a regular annual event called Blues On The Farm.
JBN: – How can we get young people interested in blues when most of standard tunes are half a century old?
DT: – The best way to reach young people is by getting into elementary schools. For some years I led a small group of musicians who encouraged and trained children from the age of 4 to 11 in junior schools in South Norfolk. Only this year I was able to join Debbie Bond, Radiator Rick and Caroline Shines (daughter of Johnny Shines) on a Blues In Schools project in Alabama. This was a real highlight of my last trip to the USA.
JBN: – John Coltrane once said that music was his spirit. How do you perceive the spirit and the meaning of life?
DT: – My earliest experience of music was singing hymns in my junior school and my local Baptist chapel. It touched my soul from the beginning. I see the blues as a river flowing where each individual artist can express his or her feelings.
JBN: – If you could change one single thing in the musical world and that would become reality, what would that be?
DT: – Find a way to provide proper support and fair reward for musicians, young and old.
JBN: – Whom do you find yourself listening to these days?
DT: – I still listen to my old favourites most – Otis Spann, J.B. Lenoir, Muddy Waters, Buddy Guy and Mose Allison.
JBN: – What is the message you choose to bring through your music?
DT: – The message I choose to bring through my music is never give up – the blues will see you through!
JBN: – Let’s take a trip with a time machine: where and why would you really want to go?
DT: – Back to the 40s, 50s and early 60s in Chicago.
JBN: – Do You like our questions? So far, it’s been me asking you questions, now may I have a question from yourself…
DT: – I do like your questions, they are probing and insightful. What inspires you most to do the things you do?
JBN: – Jazz and Blues are my life, but unlike you, we publish an interview for free, we just respect your merit and age and do not insult you after your post that you never give a free concert and even take your money from a charity concert for patients.
Interview by Simon Sargsyan
Note: You can express your consent and join our association, which will give you the opportunity to perform at our Jazz and Blues festivals in Europe and Boston, naturally receiving an appropriate royalty. We cover all expenses. The objectives of the interview are: How to introduce yourself, your activities, thoughts and intellect, and make new discoveries for our US/EU Jazz & Blues Association, which organizes festivals, concerts and meetings in Boston and various European countries, why not for you too!! You can read more about the association here. https://jazzbluesnews.com/2022/11/19/us-eu-jba/