Chris Thomas King is the real deal: a modern-day blues revivalist with one foot firmly in the past and the other keeping time in the present.
Born in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, King grew up schooled in the blues. His father, Tabby Thomas, owned the famed local club Tabby’s Blues Box and was a local hero, having cuts a handful of sides for the legendary Excello label back in the 1960s. Yet even with a childhood hanging around bluesmen such as Slim Harpo and Henry Gray, it wasn’t until he was in his teens that King connected with his blues roots.
In 1986, King released his first album, The Beginning, on Arhoolie. This was followed by a handful of other CDs on a variety of labels before King hit his mark with 1995’s 21st Century Blues – From Da Hood. That album blended rap and blues to create a new groove that won King rave reviews for his pioneering sound.
This new album builds on that blues-rap fusion. It opens with a dark, deep acoustic blues lick on “Why Blues” that builds up to ride on a programmed drum-machine beat punctuated by rap record smears. “Like Father, Like Son” layers electric guitar and slide on a dobro to create a radio-friendly blues anthem.
Some traditionalists will certainly scoff at the rap influences in King’s blues. But it’s just that modern touch that gives King his edge. He would have been better served, however, by a real, flesh-and-blood drummer than bloodless electronic sound of the drum machine.
King undoubtedly has a bright future ahead as a blues revivalist. He won a role in the new Coen brothers’ film O Brother, Where Art Thou? that will give him big-screen exposure and hopefully win him a new generation of fans.
This article originally appeared in VG‘s March ’01 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.