Jesse Thomas – Complete Recorded Works (1948-1958)
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This 28-song compilation is a serious listening workout, in the best possible meaning of the description. Assembled here are all of the post-World War II sides by Jesse Thomas, recorded variously for Miltone Records, his own short-lived Club label, Freedom, Modern, Swing Time, Specialty, Elko, and Hollywood, across a period of ten years. This was a period in which Thomas embraced a vast range of sounds, all of them with remarkable effectiveness but without a lot of consistency. One of Thomas’ virtues and problems was that he may have been too versatile for his own good — based on the evidence of this collection, on which no two groups of recordings, even done within the same year (albeit for different labels) sound the same, he seems not to have stuck with a sound long enough to have built an audience.
The Miltone sides which open this set, all done by Thomas solo on vocals and electric guitar, are a case in point — his singing is fine, and the second Miltone side, in particular, D. Double Due Love You, is notable not only for the vocal acrobatics in which Thomas engages, but also his guitar pyrotechnics anticipate elements of Chuck Berry’s playing a decade hence, on numbers such as “Guitar Boogie” (which, itself, became the basis for the Yardbirds’ “Jeff’s Boogie”). But when Thomas cut sides for release on his own Club label, he was accompanied by a pianist (identity unknown); and these show him in a much more interesting role, playing off of the unknown pianist on the instrumental Melody in C, while You Are My Dreams captures him stretching out better as a singer than the Miltone sides; and I Wonder Why and Another Friend Like Youhe’s working solo again. even the appropriately titled I Am so Blue, with its rippling piano figure (player unknown), could have qualified as a pretty hot dance number for teenagers. Then there is the guitar-driven Long Time, with its brittle, amplified guitar figure, out in front with Thomas’ vocal — which sounds as though Willie Johnson sneaked out of a Howlin’ Wolf session to play here; whatever Hollywood Records hoped to attract in listenership with this or its hotter B-side, Cool Kind Lover, was never clear, but the latter song, in particular, could have slotted right in as a Chess Records release circa 1955. — Jack of Diamonds has a great beat, but When You Say I Love You is a slow, mournful blues ballad. The Elko sides from 1955 could easily have charted either R&B or pop in 1955, and his 1958 Hollywood sides could have hit, the 46-year-old Thomas effectively competing with the rock & roll sides of the era, right down to the off-kilter guitar and harmonica break and adding a few unexpected curves to the road already traveled by Chuck Berry’s “Maybellene”.”
Except for the first two Club sides, the sound is clean, bright, and crisp on everything, even the previously unissued tracks, and the annotation is amazingly full, given how little is actually known about Thomas and his life.Note: Jesse Thomas’s earliest, pre-war, recordings, made for Victor 1929, can be found on DOCD-5107 ‘Ramblin’ Thomas & The Dallas Blues Singers 1928 – 1932’, featuring Jesse’s brother Willard “Ramblin’” Thomas: http://www.document-records.com/fulldetails.asp?ProdID=DOCD-5107 Two “missing” recordings made by Jesse Thomas, accompanied by his long time music partner Leon “Peaches” Sterling, recorded for the Red River label in the late 1960s, can be found on DOCD-5276 ‘Too Late Too Late Vol 3 1927 – 1960’s’: http://www.document-records.com/fulldetails.asp?ProdID=DOCD-5276 A full album of recordings by Jesse Thomas and Leon “Peaches” Sterling, made c. 1990 can be found on DOCD-32-20-19 ‘Another Friend Like Me’: http://www.document-records.com/fulldetails.asp?ProdID=DOCD-32-20-19