RIP Gene Thomas: Swamp-Pop Singer of "Sometimes" Passes Away at 74
Gene and Debbe in the late 1960s
Photos courtesy of Vicki Welch Ayo
Gene Thomas, the Texas singer and songwriter whose 1961 swamp-pop hit "Sometimes" was recorded at Houston's Gold Star Studios (later SugarHill), and was later covered by Doug Sahm, passed away Sunday morning. Houston musician Buzzy Smith announced Thomas' death on his Facebook page.
The Palestine native was 74. He had been diagnosed with advanced lung cancer in July, Thomas' wife Darlene posted on his Facebook page at the time.
According to Vicki Welch Ayo, author of the forthcoming book Boys From Houston, Thomas (born Gene Thomasson) picked up a guitar at age 12 and was performing in Houston by his 18th birthday. He cut "Sometimes" with "two friends and two hired musicians," and although it was ignored at first, it eventually went to No. 1 in all the big Texas cities, Ayo says.
"I played Elks, Moose Lodges, Lion's (all the animal kingdom clubs) National Guard Armories, etc; every place with four walls and electricity for plugging in the amps," Thomas tells Ayo in Boys from Houston, which she says is in the final-edit stages at Texas A&M University Press.
Gene Thomas circa 1960
"One day, a dive, the next, a swank hotel," he continues. "Dreading a lot of those things, because, most often he would go in and sing a few, with whatever house band they would have. They were not all so good or maybe they didn't know your song.
"Once, way back, I think the band was Mickey Gilley's band that backed me at Taylor hall, but as I said it's been so long ago, for me anyway."
After "Sometimes" reached No. 51 on the Billboard Hot 100, Thomas reached the charts again with "Baby's Gone" in 1963. He then went to work as a songwriter for famous Nashville publishing house Acuff-Rose and later had some more chart success as a member of Everly Brothers-ish Gene & Debbe, a country-pop duo who scored several other hits, the biggest of which 1968's "Playboy."
Debbe was Debbe Neville, to whom Thomas was also married.
Thomas' songs were recorded by dozens of country and pop stars, including George Jones, Don Giibson, the Everlys, Dean Martin, Eddie Raven, Freddy Fender, Paul Revere and the Raiders, Roy Orbison, Carl Smith, Mickey Gilley, Connie Smith, Johnny Lee, Charlie Louvin and Dottie West.
His "Lay It Down" was recorded by Kenny Rogers, Waylon Jennings and even Tina Turner on her 1973 album Tina Sings Country.
Thomas also appeared alongside B.J. Thomas (no relation) and Gilley at one of the first outdoor concerts ever held in Texas, a July 1965 show sponsored by Houston radio station KNUZ held at a ranch neighboring Garner State Park. B.J. Thomas performed his regional hit "Garner State Park," about the many Texas youths who would spend part of their summers at the picturesque Hill Country oasis outside Uvalde.
Another one of Gene Thomas' songs, "The Last Song," remains one of the most popular songs on the Garner jukebox to this day. A framed 45 of B.J. Thomas' "Garner State Park" is hanging above the door of the gift shop.
Gene Thomas is survived by his wife and son.
Special thanks to Vicki Welch Ayo.
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