Craig Thomas Autobiography
I was born in Washington, D.C. and grew up in and around the Nation’s Capitol. My first exposure to music was through my older brother and sister, who didn’t really play instruments but were both excellent dancers, especially my brother, who used to regularly bring home trophies from nightclubs and record “hops” that held dance contests, as well as hang out after school at WDON radio in Wheaton, MD with DJs Don Dillard and young Barry Richards. My parents were both professional dancers early on, and my mother was a Rockette. The music I was exposed to was from the birth of rock and roll, which as Fats Domino explained was originally “rhythm and blues from New Orleans.” I was weaned on my brother’s record collection, which consisted of Elvis Presley, Little Richard, Buddy Holly, Chuck Berry, numerous rockabilly and R&B artists, and do wop groups. My interest in playing the saxophone was started by hearing a record called “Wild Weekend” by a group called the Rockin’ Rebels, and I was instructed to start that process by taking up the clarinet. From the clarinet studies, I was introduced to classical, or "serious" music. My first private teacher was also the band director at my elementary school, James Henderson. Then one day my brother brought home a record called, “James Brown, Live At The Apollo” and about two years later came “Meet The Beatles” which my sister brought home. These two records for the most part changed my life.
It was at that time that I started buying records, and learning to play and sing what was on them. I had been given a tenor saxophone by my dad for my 13th birthday and loved the Dave Clark 5, and all the James Brown records, Otis Redding, Sam and Dave, Wilson Pickett, etc… Junior Walker and King Curtis were also big influences. I would take my saxophone and jam with guitarists and drummers in the neighborhood, learning songs, and I also started learning how to crudely improvise. I started to play in bands with locals, and it was the teen club, CYO, circuit. I continued playing the clarinet all through junior high and high school, being the first chair in the junior high orchestra, and I also played Eb clarinet in the high school wind ensemble. My first year two years of college at Oklahoma City University, I was a clarinet major and the principal clarinetist in the orchestra there, under the direction of Dr Ray Luke. I also simultaneously played the saxophone in the Albert Einstein High School Stage Band, and then in college played in the OKC jazz band, taught by saxophonist Joe Davis, and in addition meeting my schoolmate Jim Hochanadel(now known in Nashville as Jim Hoke) and getting involved in the the local folk music scene. It was while attending OCU that I saw Jimi Hendrix perform at the University of Oklahoma on his last tour. Then when I was old enough, and returning to my hometown, I started getting into the club scene in the DC area. Some local influences were Link Wray, Lawrence and the Arabians, The Flavor with Gary St. Clair, and Grin with Nils Lofgren. I played in several horn bands, while always stepping out at some point to sing. After high school, still attending college in Oklahoma but home for the summers, I played for two of those summers at Ocean City, MD, first with a band called the Expectations and the second summer with the Everyday People, which backed up for nightly shows a popular local Ray Charles impersonator named Johnny Staggs.
After dropping out of college, I joined a band that was dabbling in jazz-rock fusion called Spectrum, featuring virtuoso guitarist Jorge Strunz and drummer Dave “Smooth” Smith, and when the opportunity came to move to Los Angeles when I was in my early twenties, I was all for it. After six months in Los Angeles, Spectrum broke up, but then there was the horn band playing Chicago style originals (and covers) called Ahhs, then a meeting with former members of the Watts 103rd Street Rhythm Band Johnny Rayford and Joe Banks to back up Temptations lead singer Dennis Edwards. Then on to a period living in Santa Barbara playing with cover band Albany Beef, then the latin soul band Chariot with Jeff Elliott, Randy Tico, and the late Tony Moreno. Back in LA with the club band S.O.U.P.(you don’t want to know what that stands for.) Then the call came from my old band mate Tony Moreno, saying that Jim Messina had just split up with Kenny Loggins and he was looking for a new situation, and would I be interested. Does a wild bear….? So I ended up co-writing three songs with Messina, recording them on his first solo album “Oasis” with a band of the same name (pre English rock band of the 90s.) Another Jim Messina album called “Messina” and the band that played on the first of his albums recorded a five song demo under the name “Oasis” but the band was never able to secure a record deal (which would have forced the English rock band to come up with another name. I wonder what it would have been?) Another collaboration with the super blues horn band known as The R&B Bombers produced a self titled LP that drew a large interest by the well known producer Terry Melcher, but the successful regional record was not picked up by a major label. Also during this period there was roadwork with the Captain and Tennille, and an album with Mike Love of the Beach Boys, “Looking Back With Love.”
A meeting in Santa Barbara with the up and coming Glass brothers, Preston and Alan, lead to a meeting with the soon to be iconic producer-drummer Narada Michael Walden. So it was off to the Bay Area to record vocals on the comeback album for Aretha Franklin, “Who’s Zoomin’ Who?” and lead vocals and saxophone on the second album for E Street Band member Clarence Clemons. The two songs were “Christina” and “I Cross The Line.” Back to Southern California and my own band CT and the Soul Rockers, a vocal performance for the original demo for Smokey Robinson of a tune called "One Hearbeat," written by Brian Ray and Steve LaGassick, which became the title track and top five single for Smokey. And a short road experience singing backgrounds with the legendary Tom Jones, I settled into a west coast lifestyle of playing live, and doing seemingly endless studio work on both saxophone and vocals. Recorded two tunes with my good friend Dave Smith for his CD "...And Friends," a reggae arrangement of the Beatles tune "Love Me Do" and a tune I wrote called "Play Me Or Trade Me." Lead vocals on the song “One Touch” by Warren Hill, Lead vocals for two movie soundtrack tunes, “I’m On My Own” for the movie Maid To Order, and “Bring Me a Dream” for the movie Death Warrant with Jean Claude Van Damme. I also recorded a CD of contemporary instrumental music with some vocals with a partner, Terry Murphy on keyboards, call "Yeah, Right" under the group name Domino Affect. I played saxophone for numerous artists such as The Temptations and the Four Tops, Kathy Sledge, Johnny Mathis, Larry Graham, Freda Payne, The Stylistics, Rebelution, Jermaine Jackson, and many more…
And what a pleasure, after recording in the 80s with the Queen Of Soul, Aretha Franklin, getting to play on some live shows with her in 2005, and also having the honor of performing with the great Les McCann at the Los Angeles Jazz Society awards show and banquet in his honor! Back with Jim Messina after many years in 2010 and up to today with some dates recently with the delightful Olivia Newton-John. So fortunate to be able to continue playing "serious" music on clarinet with the Channel Islands Chamber Orchestra, under the direction of KuanFen Liu. Not to mention a reunion in 2008 with The R&B Bombers, and a second studio recording, “Bad Behavior.” The love of music keeps us all in good spirits, and I’m looking forward to many more years of the affair……Sincerely, Craig Thomas