B. J. Thomas: Celebrating 50 Epic Years of Raindrops
B. J. Thomas: Celebrating 50 Epic Years of Raindrops
B.J. Thomas is a legendary singer who has experienced a brilliant career recording hit records and performing live for several generations of fans. And now in this absolutely crazy and unpredicable year of 2020, one of his biggest hits Raindrops Keep Fallin’ On My Head celebrates a 50 year anniversary since going straight up to Number One. Written by the esteemed songwriting team of Burt Bacharach and Hal David, Raindrops Keep Fallin’ On My Head was the theme song from the movie Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid. B.J. Thomas would even find himself performing Raindrops at the Academy Awards that year in a full Broadway style production, right before they all won the Oscar for Best Original Song!
Highwire Daze recently had the honor to interview B.J. Thomas to discuss this very special anniversary of Raindrops Keep Fallin’ On My Head. We also spoke about Hooked On A Feeling and what he really thought about the Blue Swede version of the song that was recorded a few years later. Read on…
Before we talk about Raindrops Keep Fallin’ On My Head, you had a hit song a year before called Hooked On A Feeling written by Mark James, who also wrote songs for Elvis. How did that song come about and what do you think of the Blue Swede version?
Well, I had a few hit records from ‘66 and I had my first million seller then – and I was just not doing too much in ’67. Mark James, the writer, called me from Memphis and said, “Hey, what are you doing?” I said, “Man, I am just hanging.” He said, “Man, you need to come up to Memphis. We have got a bunch of writers up here. They’re making hit records on everybody.”
So, my brother and I, we drove up, and I started hanging out at the studio. And I got in there singing with the American Studio Band, and we just fit together so perfectly. That’s when Mark started writing songs for me. I had a song called The Eyes of a New York Woman, and then the next one I cut was Hooked On A Feeling with the sitar performer by Reggie Young.
Mark was trying to write me a kind of an up-tempo kind of a lively song. That’s where Hooked came from. Just one of those really simple, but really effective songs and probably one of the favorites that I’ve done. It’s like people who are coming to see me, they really respond to Hooked on a Feeling. “Hey, I love the song!”
Now, Blue Swede. I don’t know man. I think that the Blue Swede record is a great production. I think it ‘s a very well done record. And of course, it went Number One when my record only went to Number Five. So I cannot say anything negative about it. Although, I thought they kind of covered my song a little quick, but they did a great record and it is done quite well. So, it is appreciated.
Now, on to Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on My Head, which is 50 years old. What was it like working with the legendary Burt Bacharach and Hal David team? And how did you wind up becoming the singer for that song?
I was with Scepter Records in those days. Their mainstay artist was Dionne Warwick. Mr. Burt Bacharach and Hal David produced and wrote most of Dionne’s music. When they had the song they wrote for Butch Cassidy, it needed a male singer. It was not anything they could do with Dionne and they were kind of looking around for somebody to do it.
I had moved up to New York in ’68 and I had been working a little bit with Mr. Bacharach and we have been going over songs and trying to find the right song to record. So when Raindrops came up, it was just a great fit and they gave me the shot. So I flew out to California, I did the song. And by the way, it was awesome to work with them.
I was always in awe of Mr. Bacharach and Hal David. They are some of the best people I have ever known. They would great to me. I flew out and did the bicycle scene in California. And a few weeks later, we recorded it again for the version that became the Number One record. It is just awesome to work with them. They were fantastic.
Is it true you had laryngitis when you first recorded that song?
Yeah. I did. I had just finished three weeks of one-nighters through the Midwest. When I got to California, Gloria and I got in and man, I cannot hardly talk. My throat was killing me. I went to a private doctor that would see me on a Saturday. I had rehearsal with Mr. Bacharach on that day, too, and I was really worried. I went and saw the doctor and he said he did not want me to even speak for two weeks and that I had to wait. He said I had the worst throat he had ever seen. I said, “Man, I’ve got a rehearsal and then a session tomorrow.”
It wasn’t like I was not going to show up. But I was really afraid that he would not say, “Hey, man.” That he would think it wasn’t going to work. But I showed up and he liked it. My voice was kind of rough and kind of hoarse sounding, and he liked it. He thought it was really effective for what he was going to put it in the bicycle scene.
As it turns out, I sang it five times for the bicycle scene. I’m glad I didn’t have to do it anymore because I am not sure I could have done more than I did. But he loved it, and obviously, it worked out really well. We re-recorded Raindrops about six weeks later for the version that became Number One. But it worked out.
You know, just about everything connected with Raindrops Keep Fallin’ On My Head – it worked out perfectly. The experience, the movie was a great movie. The song sold over ten million copies. Everything with that song is a great memory.
You performed Raindrops at the Academy Awards with those bicycles riding all around you. Tell me what that experience was like, and were you scared?
Oh, yeah. I was absolutely scared to death. But you know what, in rehearsal when the song was such a big production about 12-13 minutes long, and I thought, “Hey, man. We may win this thing because they’re really doing have big number on it.” As it turns out, they did win the Academy Award. I love doing it. I love wearing the Sundancer’s costume to do the song. The whole experience was really wonderful. It was great.
Did you get to meet Bob Hope who introduce you guys?
Yeah. Subsequently, I didn’t know him then, but I did get to know Bob. Bob did certain personal appearances and did his comedy, and I did about six or eight of those shows with him over the years. I would go and sing before he came on and everything. He was a wonderful guy. His wife, Dolores, she was a great lady and he was just great guy. You know, a legend.
Your latest recording to date is The Living Room Sessions. What was it like working Lyle Lovett on that version of Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on My Head?
Lyle Lovett was really good. Lyle was appreciated and respected across the business. We were picking out people that we wanted to join us and add something to the record, and he did his vocal performance in New York. I wasn’t there for that. It’s the one thing I regret. I was not there when he sang, but he did a great job and that particular album was a lot of fun.
Just going back for a minute, did Jim Morrison or The Doors ever hear or comment on your version of Light My Fire?
No. Cuz actually, my version was more connected to Jose Feliciano’s version. We were doing an album and it was going to be one of the songs— we picked it would be one of the songs on the album and that version we did was Jose Feliciano’s version. I have never heard from Jose either. (Laughs) But no, I have never heard from Jim Morrison. That would have been very cool!
Do you have any new recordings or projects on the horizon?
Well, you know we’re obviously in a kind of a bad period and everything has been shut down for the most part, and especially the music industry. I had a session that was scheduled for the middle of this month of July that we’ve had to set back.
I’m going to record in Muscle Shoals with Dan Penn and Billy Lawson. We’re really excited about doing it, but as to when, we don’t know right now. We don’t know exactly how this thing is going to run out and when we can get the vaccine. If we can get the vaccine and we’re not in any danger of becoming ill, then we will go right in and do it. But we’re really so excited about doing it and kind of stressing through and getting through this period of time. We’ve got some great songs and we’re really looking forward to doing them.
Complete this sentence, if I have to sing Raindrops Keep Fallin’ On My Head again live, I’ll…?
I’ll thank God and feel honored that I have the chance to do it. I’m not one of those guys where a lot of my peers say, “I am tired of this song. I am tired of that song.” I have such a good memories and emotions tied to most of my music. I really don’t ever get tired of doing them, especially Raindrops. I love to do Raindrops.
Do you have any messages for your fans who are reading this right now?
Well, I want to be sure and say thank you. I appreciate the fans for keeping me around all of these years and still wanting to hear my music, and helping me be successful with my appearances. I never imagined that things would work out so well for me in my career. So I thank the people, and I thank you for thinking about me. It has been wonderful and I hope to see everybody soon.
(Interview by Ken Morton)
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