The son of famed Mississippi bluesman James “Son” Thomas, from Leland, Mississippi, carries on the family blues business, keeping his fatherʼs songs alive, as well as doing his own thing in the country blues tradition. His dad, as many blues fans know, was brought to the international blues forefront by musicologist William Ferris. Pat Thomas is also a well renowned folk artist who makes clay sculpture of birds, animals, and human faces, also a passion he shares with his late father.
Pat Thomas is the living embodiment of the original rural blues, the down-home Mississippi Delta sound that has so captured the worldʼs fascination. One of the true- hearted blues players who is under-recognized and still obscure, the Mississippi bard plays primitive folk blues, the real country blues.This guy embodies the living incarnation of every blues-loverʼs romanticized dream of the old time music as played in the heyday of the music up and down the Mississippi Delta. He is what so many emulate, mimic and try to be. Most blues players the world over start out as fancy dazzlers and eventually try to get “the sound”. They buy old guitars and amps and try to be a “real” bluesman, to capture that Mississippi style. Some come close. Pat Thomas is expressionism. Freedom. Heart and Soul. Itʼs Mississippi mud, and heat, and cotton and sweat and toil through centuries.
There are many better singers in the world. There are also many better guitar players. A case can be made by those of us who delve deeply into the deep blues, that this music is simply brilliant precisely because of its lack of convention and its primal qualities. Human beings have made music for millions of years, and for much of that time we achieved great satisfaction from simple drums, gut strings stretched over gourds, can ﬁfes and whistles. That music resonates in our genes to this day, and one reason for itʼs appeal is that it has always been part of the human experience. Music does not have to be complicated to move human emotion. One bending of the blue note does the trick.
Yet, the inherent simplicity is deceiving. When hearing Pat Thomas, it reminds one of Bahamian guitarist Joseph Spence, or Sleepy John Estes, or Mississippi John Hurt– not stylistically, but in terms of the esoteric, idiosyncratic sound that may seem simple, until you try to emulate it and you just canʼt because it is actually very difﬁcult, if not impossible, because in truth it is highly complex. Itʼs like looking at a Picasso painting that looks childlike, crude and simple and you think you can do it. Pity the fool that tried. It canʼt be done, because sometimes art is not about being reﬁned or fancy or perfect. Just listen to the YouTube video below and it becomes evident why this “primitive music” has followers worldwide among all kinds of people.
This is not dissimilar to the music as heard and collected by the great ﬁeld musicologists, but this is not just something for the vaults of intellectual folklorists. This is music that gets into your heart with a single bent note, with itʼs slow picking, hard feeling. This is the stuff that grabs you by the soul.
Pat Thomas is being featured in the new book “Mississippi State of Blues” by Ken Murphy and Scott Barretta. Also, check out “The hidden history of Mississippi Blues” by Roger Stolle with photographs by Lou Bopp.
Recommended starter: Thomasʼ ethereal blues are on the Broke and Hungry record label. Check out “His fatherʼs son.”
Photo credit gratefully acknowledged with many thanks to renowned New York photographer Lou Bopp. © 2011 Lou Bopp