Ernest Joseph "Tabby" Thomas, b. January 5, 1929 in Baton Rouge, LA, d. January 1, 2014 in Baton Rouge, LA. He sang and played the piano and guitar, and specialized in a substyle of blues indigenous to southern Louisiana called swamp blues. Thomas was born and grew up in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. After graduating he served in the U.S. Air Force, and while serving won a talent contest on KSAN radio in San Francisco in 1959. After making a few unsuccessful recordings for Hollywood Records, he returned to Baton Rouge. He recorded for several small local labels, before he became more successful with Excello Records in Crowley, for whom his records included "Hoodo Party" in 1961. He also worked in various jobs, including a time with Ciba Geigy where he was a union steward. He became one of the best known blues musicians in Baton Rouge with his band the Mellow, Mellow Men, but briefly retired from performing in the late 1960s to set up his own record label, Blue Beat, which released his own recordings and those of other local musicians. In 1978, with other members of his family including his son Chris Thomas King, he reopened a rundown building on North Boulevard. He ran the venue as an authentic blues club, Tabby's Blues Box and Heritage Hall. The club moved in 2000 and finally closed in November 2004. Thomas also became a popular performer in the UK and Europe, where he made regular appearances. Thomas had a serious automobile accident in 2002 and a stroke in 2004, which affected his playing but not his singing. He later hosted the radio show, Tabby's Blues Box, on Baton Rouge stations WBRH-FM and KBRH-AM. He died in the early hours of January 1, 2014.
by Ron Wynn
A solid Louisiana vocalist who plays both guitar and piano, "Rockin'" Tabby Thomas has been cutting stirring recordings since the mid-'50s. He's teamed often with harmonica players Whispering Smith and Lazy Lester, and has done several sessions for Maison De Soul and various labels owned by Jay Miller.
Thomas was born in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, but he began his musical career in San Francisco, which is where he was stationed while he was in the army. After he completed his time in the service, Thomas stayed in San Francisco, playing shows and talent contests. He happened to win a talent contest, which led to a record contract with Hollywood Records. Hollywood issued "Midnight Is Calling," which gained no attention, and the label dropped Thomas.
After the failure of "Midnight Is Calling," Tabby Thomas returned to Baton Rouge. He began playing local clubs with his supporting band the Mellow, Mellow Men. In 1953, the group recorded two songs -- "Thinking Blues" and "Church Members Ball" -- for the Delta label. After those songs didn't gain much attention, Thomas went through a number of record labels -- including Feature, Rocko, and Zynn -- before having a hit on Excello Records in 1962 with "Voodoo Party."
Thomas wasn't able to record a hit follow-up to "Voodoo Party" and by the end of the '60s, he retired from performing music. His retirement was short-lived -- in 1970, he founded his own record label, Blue Beat. In addition to releasing Thomas' own recordings, Blue Beat spotlighted emerging Baton Rouge talent. Within a few years, the label was very successful and Thomas began his own blues club, Tabby's Blues Box and Heritage Hall. By the mid-'80s, the club was the most popular blues joint in Baton Rouge.
Although he had become a successful businessman in the late '70s, Thomas continued to perform and record. All of his efforts -- from his recordings and concerts, to his label and nightclub -- made Tabby Thomas the leading figure of Baton Rouge's blues scene for nearly three decades. Thomas was still active into the new millennium, although he wasn't performing as frequently as he had in the past. He was seriously injured in an automobile accident in Baton Rouge in October 2002.