Chris Thomas King performing here tonight
Published 7:05 am Friday, July 15, 2016
Blues musician and occasional film star Chris Thomas King will make a stop in Bogalusa Friday night.
Yoyo’s Bar & Grille on Louisiana is launching a new late night music set from 9 p.m. to midnight, and King, in between European tour dates, will fill the spot this week.
King was invited to Bogalusa by his former manager and Bogalusa resident Jim Bateman.
“Anytime Jim calls me for anything, I am there,” King said. “I owe a lot of my success to Jim Bateman.”
Over the years, King has played a variety of blues, from his early days when he combined elements on hip hop with the traditional music to his star turn as Mississippi blues musician Tommy Johnson in the film “O Brother, Where Art Thou,” to the present, where he is playing with a message.
That message is, the blues comes from Louisiana.
The title of his EP, released just this month is, “Les Bleus Made In Louisiana,” and track one is “Les Blues was Born in Louisiana.”
Just in case there’s some confusion about the matter, King also gave a Tedx talk at LSU in March (it’s on Youtube) titled “The Blues was born in Louisiana, not Mississippi.”
King, too, is from Louisiana—Baton Rouge—and he grew up the son of a blues musician, Tabby Thomas, so no wonder it’s a personal matter to him.
King says that over the years it has bothered him that Louisiana gets passed by in blues mythology when so many fans believe the music came from the Mississippi Delta or Memphis or Chicago. In addition, during the last seven years, working slowly on an autobiography, he’s begun to dig into the history of the blues and it became clear to him that the official doctrinal history of the music and the culture needs a rewrite.
“A lot of blues artists haven’t written autobiographies,” he said. “It’s a tough damn job to research and write nonfiction. You have to check your sources and get your citations.”
And the musician is doing the heavy lifting of academic research. King said that’s in part what’s taking him so long on the autobiography—so far, seven years and counting. But he said he’s uncovered through court documents some solid evidence that shows Louisiana as the birthplace of the blues.
King said the first published music labeled blues is “I Got the Blues,” published in 1908 by an Italian, Antonio Maggio.
“He heard the song in Algiers,” said King, “And he went on and published his tune.”
King said another early song, “Livery Stable Blues” by the Dixieland Jass Band (spelled jass as opposed to jazz) ended up in a 1917 court dispute when members of the band sued each other for the rights to the song.
King said the court transcript was itself a course in blues history.
“These musicians testified against each other and they brought in a black blues musician to demonstrate the music,” he said.
In the end, King said, the judge ruled the song to be traditional, but the fact that the jazz band was from New Orleans is proof to King that the music was born there. Other states, he said, can’t lay claim to such clear evidence as copyrights and court documents to lay claim to the origins of the music.
“There’s nothing in Mississippi but folklore,” he said.
Thomas said he’s not trying to take anything away from Mississippi, but he would like to give something back to Louisiana, his home.
“I’ve travelled as a young boy and as a middle age man now,” he said. “I’ve seen it and experienced it. And it’s a beautiful thing. The fact that it came from Louisiana and I’m a part of it, that’s something that gives my life meaning. I think that Louisianans need to reclaim it and redefine it because it’s our culture that’s part of our legacy.”