Dave’s musical career started early – singing in the local Welsh Baptist Chapel and learning harmonica from the age of seven. Music was alway around the family home – Dave’s mother had ten brothers, most of whom made up a regular male voice choir at home in Lime Street in Pill, the dock area of Newport where the family lived and worked.
Dave discovered an early passion for music – being moved to tears by the Harvest Festival hymn ‘We Plough The Fields And Scatter’ and a love for sad songs such as ‘Love Letters In The Sand’. It’s no surprise then that by the age of twelve he was absolutely hooked on blues. His first
Introduction was seeing Memphis Slim playing when an early American Folk Blues Festival finally reached the British television screen. Sonny Boy Williamson and Lightnin’ Hopkins were also early influences.
Dave’s first band ‘Skid Row’ was formed at the tender age of twelve – the teddyboys and rockers could dance to the bluesy rhythms and the four young lads won some affection (and protection) from the girls. Skid Row played in some wholly inappropriate venues and loved every minute of it!
With Dave on vocals and guitar, Steve Ralph on rhythm guitar, Nigel Mann on bass and Greg Evans on drums, most of the material was Jimmy Reed, John Lee Hooker, Elmore James and early Stones numbers. Their local heroes were a band called ‘The Cellar Set’, a cracking blues band who packed them in all over South Wales. Eventually, Skid Row were allowed to play between their sets. What a privilege! Dave didn’t know it at the time but The Cellar Set were to metamorphose into Blonde On Blonde and ask Dave to join them as their lead singer.
Blonde On Blonde
In 1969, when they relocated back to South Wales from London, Dave began rehearsing with the band for the Isle of Wight Festival. It was too soon for him to join them on stage (a regret he has to this day), but he was ready for the first tour after the festival and, shortly after, they put together the second Blonde On Blonde album ‘Rebirth’.
Still just eighteen years old, it was time to grow up – quickly! He certainly did that during the next three years on the road.
During that period they played at festivals and colleges all over the U.K.
Some of the artistes and bands they appeared with included:
- The Doors
- Jefferson Airplane
- The Pretty Things
- The Graham Bond Organisation
- Georgie Fame
- Alan Price
- Marsha Hunt
- The Gun
- Deep Purple
- John Hiseman’s Colosseum
- Pete Brown’s Piblokto
- Wishbone Ash
- Barclay James Harvest
- Roy Harper
- The Steve Miller Band
- Fleetwood Mac
It was the era of ‘Progressive Rock’ where experimentation and risk-taking could still happen. The high point of this time was when they topped the bill in Keighley, Yorkshire, where they were actually supported by Fleetwood Mac!
It wasn’t long after that they they were working on what was to be their third and last album ‘
Reflections On A Life’. Still no sign of a hit single so Ember, the record label, withdrew support, and Gareth Johnson left the band for a more serious career as an architect and structural
engineer. The farewell tour featured Graham Davies on lead guitar and Dave took over on bass. As a three piece Blonde On Blonde was far from the creative unit it had been. So, looking back, it’s no surprise that their days were numbered. There was nothing for it, the delights of shift work
beckoned – same thing, every day, working at the mill.
In 1972 Dave moved to London and sang with various rock bands before deciding he’d be much happier going back to the blues.
From 1974 to 1978 he played the folk clubs again with Hugh Gregory. Together they formed acoustic blues duo Shortstuff and payed all over the U.K. and at the Cambridge Folk Festival in 1977 – one of the major highlights of the period. A long term residency at The Half Moon in Putney was taken over by one D.P. Costello – later to become Elvis! In the 80’s Dave appeared at Knebworth with Shirley Roden and Jim Litherland from Colosseum singing in a Greenbelt rock opera – this time in front of 25,000 people.
Back To The Blues
Then came Dave’s first London blues band Double Trouble. They appeared at the Canteen, on the same bill as his hero Mose Allison. After that followed The Diplomatics, a really hard-driving blues band Dave fronted for seven years. They played regularly at The Station Tavern in London, a great meeting place for blues payers from all over the world (Paul Lamb and Johnnie Whitehill from the King Snakes would often sit in, as well as The Yardbirds’ Top Topham, Jim McCarthy and Rod Demmick).
At this time this was the only venue in Europe to feature blues seven nights a week. The front line determined their style with the obscenely talented Laurie Garman on harmonicas, and Geoff Peel on lead guitar. On drums, Mick Osbourne and, later, Paul Atkinson (Mr 1956 himself!). On bass they had the legendary Spy Austin and, later, the wonderful Charlie McCracken (from Rory Gallagher’s Taste). They produced one CD – Shotgun Blues – which captures some of the raw energy of their Iive performances.
Having taken the blues as far as he could with The Diplomatics, Dave decided to complete a
project that had been on hold since Blonde On Blonde days.
His first solo album, Coldharbour, features songs that span the years 1969 – 1999. Most of the tracks on the album are self-penned. Some tracks were written at the end of the Blonde On Blonde years but most much later. Songs of experience. A labour of love, blood, sweat and tears!
The blues never die
Two more albums were released in 2005:
Blues for Otis
A tribute to Otis Spann featuring Dave Thomas on vocals and James Goodwin on piano.
Black Dog Boogie
The Dave Thomas Blues Band
Recorded live at the Arts Centre, Norwich, featuring: Dave on vocals and guitar, James Goodwin on piano and keyboards, Steve Jinks on bass and Jason Self on drums.
Both of these blues albums earned critical acclaim. The course had been set to build an international reputation as a real bluesman following the old traditions while finding his own style as a blues singer, guitarist, band-leader and song writer.
Dave Thomas is the guitarist and bandleader of choice for many of the big blues names visiting from the U.S. He also has a number of critically acclaimed albums in his own right that are as varied as they are classy. If you have in interest in blues music that has a clear lineage from its 1950’s and 60’s roots you owe it to yourself to check Dave out.
By the late 60’s many of the blues bands were turning to more progressive, psychedelic sounds. One of the best known of the era was Blonde On Blonde. Dave joined them in 1969. The band toured extensively, sharing stages with Deep Purple, Genesis, Atomic Rooster, Marsha Hunt, Wishbone Ash, Barclay James Harvest, Steve Miller Band and many others. Blonde On Blonde had appeared at both of the Isle of Wight Festivals in 1968 and 1969 on the bill with Bob Dylan and Jimi Hendrix respectively and in 1971 they were once supported by Fleetwood Mac!
In the eighties Dave travelled to the U.S. and played in blues bars across New York, Chicago and San Francisco. On his return to London Dave formed the renowned Chicago style blues band The Diplomatics. They included in their ranks Charlie McCracken, the bass player from Rory
Gallagher’s Taste and harpist Laurie Garman who had recorded with Bob Marley and Freddie King. They were regular performers at the legendary Station Tavern, at that time Europe’s only 7 days a week blues venue and an early proving ground for artists like Otis Grand and Paul Lamb. The band stayed together for seven years and released one excellent Shotgun Blues album in 1999, a hard driving urban blues set.
2005 saw two albums released, Blues For Otis (inspired by his favourite bluesman Otis Spann) and Iive band album Black Dog Boogie where some critics compared Dave’s guitar playing to B.B. King.
Dave is in demand to back visiting musicians. In 2012 Lazy Lester was a recent example in a long series at Shake Down Blues. In recent years he has worked with SharBaby, Terry “Harmonica” Bean, Cheryl Renee, Katherine Davies, Kathleen “KAT” Pearson-Thomas and Vernon Harrington at Shake Down promotion and festivals.
There is, of course, also the crack Dave Thomas Blues Band to run and organise as well as
supporting other artists on his own Blonde On Blonde record label. 2012 saw the release of the album Blue Eyed Blues and Blues In The House (a live concert originally recorded with Terry “Harmonica” Bean in 2009). 2013 has already seen the release of “Juke”, in collaboration with Hollywood award winner, Alabama-based SharBaby who, in 2012, was fully inducted into the American Blues Hall of Fame.
Whenever you read reviews of Dave’s recordings or Iive performances you will notice the same observations crop up again and again. Class, quality, authenticity and passion, His blues are real and deeply felt, never cluttered with over-elaborate notes or showmanship, just a genuine love for the music as it was meant to be heard and played. The real deal.
“ … A fine guitarist.” Paul Jones, The Blues Band
“ Great vocals …” Jo Harman
“You’re a bluesman.” Wallace Coleman
“ … A breath of fresh air.” Phil Wight, Blues and Rhythm magazine
“Teach me. You are the master.” Dan Hawkins, The Darkness
“ … Simply masterful.” Steve Yourglvich, Blues Matters magazine