to Bill Greensmith & Cilla Huggins

Events surrounding Ike Turner's Kings Of Rhythm are more often than not far from straightforward. With never-ending change, in personnel and an extremely complicated discography full of pseudonyms it can be a researcher's nightmare, or paradise; it all depends upon the way you look at it.

Way back in the early '70s Mike Leadbitter told me of meeting a member of the Kings Of Rhythm who was at that time living in south west London; improbable it may seem but nonetheless true. This, it turned out, was Jimmy 'Popeye' Thomas, a name which at the time meant little to me. Since Mike's death and my own increasing interest and fascination with the Kings Of Rhythm I had often reflected upon his words but as I'd not heard any mention of Jimmy thereafter I'd come to the conclusion that he must have just been passing through and was definitely not living in London town now. Or so 1 thought.

Whilst visiting a London pressing plant chasing copies of the Eddy Clearwater Rooster LP, Cilla Huggins happened to notice a bunch of labels bearing the name Jimmy Thomas on Osceola Records. It was too strong a coincidence for it to have been anyone other than our man. A few enquiries revealed a telephone number which of course led to none other than the same guy, what's more, living just down the road, a stone's throw from the QPR ground at Shepherds Bush in west London.

And so armed to the teeth with tape recorders, records, various magazines, books, etc. etc. we descended upon Jimmy one Saturday in June 1980 for what turned out to be the first of many enlightening and memorable meetings.

Jimmy Thomas was born in Osceola, Arkansas. Raised by his uncle and aunt he was brought up on a musical diet of records by Big Maceo, Waiter Davis, Tampa Red, Sonny Boy Williamson etc. as well as hearing many of the local blues artists ,including Albert King, then still known as Albert Nelson. Forming a band of his own whilst still in his early teens and performing current popular vocal group and blues material, they played many of the local clubs in and around Osceola.

Upon the recommendation of Albert King Jimmy joined the extremely popular St. Louis based Kings Of Rhythm in early 1958. Closely followed by Tommy Hodge, the pair were a replacement for the recently departed Clayton Love. It was a time of a great deal of recording activity for Ike and the 'Kings' and also the start of a change in Ike's musical direction.

Present at the now historic Cobra sessions in Chicago, and the vocalist on the wonderfully bizarre 'Jack Rabbit' on Stevens, Jimmy was to remain with Ike for eight years. From a popular local band through the early Ike & Tina days on the chitlin' circuit, until they became one of the top R&B acts in the country, he saw many changes in the Kings Of Rhythm including the arrival of Tina herself.

Since settling in London in 1969 he has a handful of singles and an album on Contempo behind him and currently a fine soul single on his own recently-formed Osceola Records ('Hang Right On In There', Parts 1 & 2, OSC2).

Gifted with a brilliant recall for detail and an almost unbelievable enthusiasm and patience to answer our unending questions, and made to listen to hour upon hour of records and tapes, it was a task Jimmy approached with a great deal of good humour to say the least. For instance, how many artists would phone you at eight o'clock in the morning to tell you the name of a club that had burnt down twenty years ago, the details having just returned to him in a dream?! Not many. Thanks Jim.
Bill Greensmith

Jimmy Thomas, London, June 1980 (Bill Greensmith)

Continues in Jimmy's own words on NEXT PAGE

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