Tuesday, June 1, 2021

The Life and Times of B.J. Thomas

"Mr. Thomas blended country, soul, gospel and soft rock, singing warm and occasionally wistful songs about love, family and looking for sunshine on a rainy day."

- Harrison Smith, Washington Post obituary for B.J. Thomas, May 29, 2012

"Ever since the beginning, I've tried to do positive music, even though it has meant a lot of struggles against record companies and producers.  I want my music to have a positive effect on people.  When I perform live I hope the audience will leave with their heads lifted up."

- B.J. Thomas, 2006 interview with Pentecostal Evangel, a Christian magazine

I have intended to write about B.J. Thomas for a while now.  I have never gotten around to it because I have such a long list of subjects to write about.  Well, two days ago, I woke up to the news that B.J. died on May 29, 2021, of complications ions from Stage Four lung cancer.  He passed away at his home in Arlington, Texas at the age of 78.  So, I decided it was finally time to write about him.

Billy Joe Thomas was born in Hugo, Oklahoma on August 7, 1942.  However, his family moved to Texas and during his childhood, B.J.  lived in four different places, all in the Houston area.  He graduated from Consolidated High School in Rosenberg, a city within the Houston-The Woodlands-Sugar Land metropolitan area 

In a 2016 interview with Jeremy Roberts, B.J. Thomas discussed his childhood.  "My dad was a great guy, but he had a little problem with alcohol," he said.  "That always will bring about some ups and downs.  For the most part, I had a good childhood."  In the interview, Thomas described himself as "a happy kid" who "played a lot of baseball with my big brother, Jerry."

B.J.'s father found contentment around music, especially country music.  The young B.J. enjoyed listening to gospel, soul and the music of such artists as Little Richard, Michael Jackson and Jackie Wilson.  As a teenager, he sang in his church choir and in his high school choir.  He first realized that he wanted to be a professional musician when, at the age of 15, became a member of a Houston-based band called The Triumphs.  

In 1966, B.J. Thomas was signed to a record contract with Scepter Records by Steve Tyrell.  Tyrell,  a jazz artist and producer, who became his manager for a few years.  B.J. then launched his solo career with an uncharacteristically maudlin single, a cover of a Hank Williams hurtin' song, "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry," which he had originally recorded with The Triumphs.  It reached Number 8 on the Billboard Hot 100.  He also released an album of the same name.

In 1968, B.J. had great success, first with "The Eyes of a New York Woman" and then with "Hooked on a Feeling,"  "Hooked on a Feeling" appeared on the Top 10 of the Billboard Hot 100.  The song was written by Mark James and it was later covered by Blue Swede, a Swedish pop band, in 1973.  It became an even bigger hit for Blue Swede, who added the primal "ooga-chaka-ooga-ooga" intro to the song.  "Hooked on A Feeling" serves as a theme song to the Guardian of the Galaxy films.

The year1969 brought even further success for B.J. Thomas, including the biggest hit of his career.  He will always be remembered for his smash single "Raindrops Keep Fallin' on My Head."  The catchy tune was written by Burt Bacharach and Hal David for the film Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.  The film, starring Paul Newman and Robert Redford, was the biggest box-office hit of 1969.  "Raindrop Keep Fallin' on My Head" was set to a scene in the movie in which Paul Newman, as Butch Cassidy, shows off some bicycle tricks to Katharine Ross, who portrayed Etta Place.

On April 7, 1970, "Raindrops Keep Fallin' on My Head" won an Academy Award for Best Original Song in a 1969 film.  On December 3, 2013, "Raindrops" was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame..

In the 1970s, B.J. Thomas recorded "I Just Can't Help Believing," a song which was later covered by Elvis Presley (Elvis was a B.J. fan and B.J. performed at Presley's annual New Year's Eve party in 1968 at the Thunderbird Lounge in Memphis, Tennessee).  Thomas also recorded "Rock and Roll Lullaby," with its chorus of sha-na-na-nas by The Blossoms, and "(Hey Won't You Play) Another Somebody Done Somebody Wrong Song," another country-tinged hurtin' song.

On December 9, 1968, B.J. married singer-songwriter Gloria Richardson (born October 15, 1949 in Lynchburg, Virginia).  The couple had three daughters: Page (born January 13, 1970 in New York City), Nora (adopted from North Korea in 1978) and Erin (born June 4, 1979 in Arlington, Texas).

However, all was not as rosy as it seemed for B.J. Thomas.  He went through a very dark time in his life and struggled through years of drug and alcohol addiction.  It almost cost him his marriage.  In 1976, he turned to Christianity, sobered up, and reconciled with Gloria.  

Sadly, on March 23, 2021, B.J. announced on his Facebook page that he had been diagnosed with Stage Four lung cancer and was undergoing treatment in Texas.  In the post he wrote: "I just wanted to take this unique opportunity to share my gratitude to Gloria, my wonderful wife, and my rock for 53 years, my family, friends and fans.  I'm so blessed to have had the opportunity to record and perform beautiful songs in pop, country, and gospel music, and to share those wonderful songs and memories around the world with millions of you.  I ask all of you for your prayers during this time and that my music can live on with you."


* B.J. Thomas was a five-tune Grammy Award winner who sold over 70 million records during his career.

* When B.J. performed "Radindrops" on the The Ed Sullivan Show in 1969, water was rained down on him as a special effect.  B.J. later described this as "the most singular dumbest thing anybody ever had to do."

* At the age of 30, B.J. was invited to join the Grand Ole Opry.  

* B.J. recorded "As Long as We Got Each Other," the theme song for the TV sitcom Growing Pains.

* B.J. Thomas wrote an memoir, Home Where I Belong, with Jerry B. Jenkins, about his struggle with drugs, family collapse and bankruptcy.  It was first published in 1978.

* B.J. released an album called The Living Room Sessions on April 2, 2013.  It contained acoustic arrangements of popular hits.

SOURCES: Washington Post obituary, "B.J. Thomas, who sang 'Raindrops Keep Fallin' on My Head,' dies at 78," by Harrison Smith, May 29, 2021; "Just a regular guy with a burning desire to sing - The B.J. Thomas interview," by Jeremy Roberts, December 27, 2016; Wikipedia; Internet Movie Database (IMDb.com) 

- Joanne   

Monday, May 17, 2021

Toronto Maple Leafs versus Montreal Canadiens in playoffs for first time in 42 years

A great deal has changed in the world and in the sport of hockey since the last time the Leafs and les Canadiens played each other in a playoff series.  That was back in 1979, when many of us were not even born. Only those of a certain age can remember the excitement when the Leafs and the Canadiens met in the Stanley Cup playoffs.  When Toronto and Montreal faced each other back then, it was pure hockey heaven for fans across Canada.  However, you have to be more than 60 years old to have any real memory of that great playoff rivalry.  The current players on both teams are too young to have a great sense of it.

On Saturday May 20, 2021, the Blue and White and the Bleu, Blanc et Rouge will face off against each other in the first round of the NHL playoffs.  It will be the first time these two teams have met in a playoff series in 42 years.  Here are some points to ponder about the coming series and the past rivalry between the two teams:

* What was happing in Canada and the world in 1979, the last time the Maple Leafs and the Canadiens played each other in the playoffs.  Well, on May 22, 1979, Joe Clark's short lived Progressive Conservative government was voted into office, defeating Pierre Trudeau's Liberals.  42 years later, in 2021,  Pierre's son, Justin, is Prime Minister of Canada.  In 1979, Jimmy Carter was President of the United States and Canada helped to conceal the identify of a group of American hostages in Iran, saving their lives.

* The Maple Leafs have not defeated Montreal in a playoff game since 1967, the year the Leafs last hoisted Lord Stanley's Cup.  In 1967, in the midst of Canada's Centennial celebrations, the Leafs won hockey's holy grail on May 2nd.  This year, the playoffs began on May 15 and will last well into the summer.  In 1967, the last year of the six-team NHL, the Stanley Cup tournament began on April 6th.and ended with the Leaf victory on May 2nd.

* The 2021 edition of the Montreal Canadiens has only two francophones on its roster.

* The Leafs did not win a single game in their 1979 series against the Canadiens.  Montreal was by far the better team and they went on to win the Stanley Cup that year.  In fact, Montreal was a powerhouse during the 1970s, garnering six Stanley Cup victories in that decade - 1971, 1973, 1976, 1977, 1978 and 1979.  The Habs won two more championships, in 1986 and 1993.  They have not won since then, and their Stanley Cup win in 1993 marks the last time a Canadian-based team has tasted victory.  In total Montreal has won 24 Stanley Cups, while the the Leafs have won 13.

In 2021, the Leafs finished atop their division and are heavy favourites to defeat the Habs in the first Round.  According to Money.Puck.com, Toronto has a 75 percent chance to win the series, while Montreal has a 25 percent chance.  If Montreal wins, it will be a huge upset and a terrible disappointment to Leaf fans everywhere.

In 2021, due to the ongoing pandemic, the stands in Montreal and Toronto will be bereft of fans.  Sadly, there will be no large cheering crowds.

* Truthfully, the rivalry between the Leafs and the Canadiens is not what it used to be.  Yet, we have been suffering through a nightmare of a pandemic.  We need some joy and excitement.  We need a diversion.  So, what's wrong with pretending that it's 1967 or 1979 again?

Full disclosure: I live in Toronto and I will be cheering for the Leafs;  Go Leafs go!

- Joanne

Saturday, May 15, 2021

After the rejection of Liz Cheney, a new U.S. conservative party must be formed

Last Tuesday evening, May 11, 2021, Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming, addressed the House of Representatives.  Her words were very powerful.  She spoke the truth loudly and clearly, but her fellow Republicans did not want to hear her.  They did not want to hear the truth.  Since he internet is so filled with conspiracy theories, lies and so much misleading information, I  decided to post excepts from her speech.  I want the truth to be heard, so here are the words of Lia Cheney:

"Today we face a threat America has never seen before.  A former president who provoked a violent attack on this capitol, in an effort to steal the election, has resumed his aggressive effort to convince Americans that the election was stolen from him.  He risks inciting further violence.  Millions of Americans have been misled by the former president.  They have heard only his words, not the truth.  As he continues to undermine our democratic process, sewing seeds of doubt about whether democracy works at all.

I am a conservative Republican, and the most conservative of conservative principles is reverence for the rule of law.  

The Electoral College has voted.  More than 60 state and federal courts, including multiple judges the former president appointed, have rejected his claims of widespread fraud and found no evidence to support them.  The election is over.  That is our rule of law.  That is our constitutional process.  Those who refuse to accept the rulings of our courts are at war with our Constitution.  Our duty is clear.  Every one of us who has sworn an oath must act to prevent the unravelling of our democracy.

This is not about party.  This is not about partisanship.  This is about our duty as Americans.  Remaining silent and ignoring the lie emboldens the liar.  I will not participate in that.  I will not sit back and watch in silence, while others lead our party down a path that abandons the rule of law and joins the former president's crusade to undermine our democracy."

Liz Cheney
I certainly do not share Representative Cheney's ultra-conservative views, nor her support for most of Donald Trump's policies (from 2017 to 2021, Liz Cheney voted in line with Trump's position 92.9 % of the time).  However, I respect the Wyoming congresswoman greatly for putting country ahead of party.  I respect her for speaking the truth and for defending democracy.  I respect her for standing up to Donald Trump's bullying and defying him.  That took a great deal of courage, especially since Rep. Cheney is a woman defying the orders of a misogynists such as the former president and his legion of good old boy followers.  She remains defiant, but she has been punished by the spineless members of her own party.  

On Wednesday, May 12, 2021, at a closed-door House Republican Conference meeting, Liz Cheney was formerly removed from her position as House Republican Conference chair. 
Although five Republican representatives requested a recorded vote, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy decided to settle the matter with a voice vote.  Thus, it remains unclear which GOP lawmakers voted to oust Cheney.  The fact is that McCarthy  and company threw her under the bus to placate Donald Trump.  In order to please their boss, they demoted Liz Cheney.  What a disgrace!  What an affront to democracy, decency and the rule of law!

Farewell to the Republican Party as we have known it in the past.  The Grand Old Party is  no longer grand.  It is no longer the party of  Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt and Dwight Eisenhower.  It is completely controlled by one man - Donald J. Trump.  With the support of "Republicans" such as Kevin McCarthy, Mitch McConnell, Jim Jordan and Lindsey Graham, Trump has solidified absolute power over the party  Its name might as well be changed to the Trump Party.  It demands absolute loyalty to the Dear Leader.  That is why Trump's  cohorts support The Big Lie that there was widespread voter fraud.  

The Republican Party, as presently constituted, stands for nothing.  It has two major goals - to obtain power and to prevent President Joe Biden from achieving his agenda, even if that agenda is supported by the majority of Americans, even if it is beneficial to their country.

Although I am not a political conservative, I take no pleasure in the demise of the Republican Party.  In fact, I profoundly regret what has happened to it.  American democracy is sorely in need of a conservative movement that respects the rule of law.  More than one point of view must be set forth in a country that enshrines freedom of speech in its constitution.  That is why I fervently hope that American conservatives  form a new and more inclusive party which respects democratic principles.  It must be a party in which people of colour, immigrants and others feel welcomed and comfortable, where they feel part of the fold.  It must be a party that tries to win elections by encouraging Americans to vote, not by gerrymandering or suppressing the vote.

I am a Canadian who is concerned about the health of democracy everywhere.  The United States is my country's closest neighbour and I certainly don't want America to go down an authoritarian path.  That is why I am speaking out.  That is why I am attempting to counter the lies and misinformation on the internet and on far-right media outlets,  That is why Trumpism must be defeated, regardless of what the future brings to the former president.

- Joanne

Sunday, May 9, 2021

To those who are unable to see their mothers on Mother's Day

Greetings from Toronto, Canada.  It is Mother's Day here and also in the United States and other places.  Happy Mother's Day to all the mothers out there.  I am not a mother, but I am an aunt and a godmother, which means a great deal to me.  

During this terrible pandemic, my thoughts and prayers are with those who are unable to see their mothers today, most likely for reasons relating to the virus.  I am fortunate enough to be able to see mine, but I want to express my solidarity with those who are not as fortunate.  There are many of us who have mothers who live in other countries.  Others have mothers who are in intensive care in hospitals.  My heart goes out to them.  I fervently hope that they will be able to hug their moms next Mother's Day.   

I would also like to send my deepest condolences to those whose mothers have died from COVID-19.  This may be your fist Mother's day without your mother.  I know you are grieving because of that cruel virus.  My hope is for a better future when the scourge of COVID has finally been obliterated.  Thank you and much appreciation to all mothers for all that you have done.  

- Joanne