Blues and Soul Music Magazine

Issue 1101

Welcome To B&S




Thelma Jones B/W
Thelma Jones B/W Thelma Jones

The expression ‘paying dues’ is one that is familiar to almost anyone who’s ever read an article on the pioneers of rhythm and blues music. As someone who has been writing about the genre for over forty decades, it’s a constant and consistent theme that has permeated many a conversation.

If you’re unsure about what ‘dues paying’ looks like, think Aretha Franklin when she was at Columbia Records before she signed with Atlantic, Bettye Lavette waiting five decades for her first national U.S. primetime television appearance (finally achieved in 2005 when she performed on “The David Letterman Show.”

Thelma Jones knows a thing or two about the subject. The Fayetteville, North Carolina-born singer with the powerful, soulful voice first came to public recognition in the mid-‘60s, recording for Barry Records, achieving a modicum of success with the bluesy “Never Leave Me” and her original version of “The House That Jack Built,” resurfacing in the mid-‘70s at Columbia Records with a splendid one-off album and the classic soul ballad “Salty Tears.”

Since then, Thelma has recorded little – one fine blues-flavored album entitled “Law Of Old,” which came out a few years ago. Based in Los Angeles, she’s worked on the West Coast building up a solid following and paying said dues. I could trot out all number of clichés here like “good things come to those who wait,” “if you hang in there long enough, something good’s gonna happen to you” or “only the strong survive,” all of which may apply here. Suffice it to say that within the past six months, Thelma has definitely experienced some positive movement in her career, suggesting that those dues may finally be fully paid!

Long a champion of hers – since our history goes back to the 1968 release of “The House That Jack Built,” on Soul City Records in London, the label I co-owned with Dave Godin and Robert Blackmore and continued with my writing liner notes for Thelma’s 1977 Columbia LP – it didn’t take much for me to mention Thelma’s name to a British DJ (Brian Goddard) I’d known since my late ‘60s clubbing days in London. Brian in turn suggested I get in touch with promoter Paddy Grady regarding interest in bringing Thelma to the U.K. for what would be her first-ever visit, the fulfillment of a long-held dream of hers. Over time, Paddy and I communicated and finally, at the end of May, Thelma and I headed off to Northampton to appear at Paddy’s Soul Weekender.

Coincident with all that activity, I had been in touch with Ace Records in Britain about the possibility of issuing a CD of all Thelma’s Barry and Columbia material. The news that she was coming to England helped hasten the process and just a couple of days after she wowed audiences at the Park Inn in Northampton, Ace put out “Second Chance, The Complete Barry and Columbia Recordings,” a superb twenty-two track collection with liner notes by – who else? – yours truly.

Just weeks before a performance at Los Angeles’ yearly street fair Sunset Junction with Millie Jackson and The O’Jays, Thelma reflected on her British visit and the release of the CD of her work and more…

DN: How did you feel about the Ace compilation?

TJ: Of course I was very excited! In fact, I was ecstatic. I’ve always thought all of the work I’ve done was very good; I never thought it got the exposure. It’s great to have all the recordings on one CD. I was quite surprised Ace did it, especially after the Japanese had reissued the Columbia Records album on CD a few years ago.

DN: What were your thoughts as you listened to the CD?

TJ: When I work with any music, it’s a journey. I invest a lot emotionally in the songs I do. Listening to it took me down memory lane, to where I was when I recorded the material and it was quite pleasant. I always liked “Gotta Find A Way” because it gave me a chance to express the blues, “Second Chance” was a good pop song which gave me a chance to expand musically. I was impressed with arrangement and how the song was written - it has a beautiful story. I do think everything sounds better now. I was very impressed with how well done the records were and with the Columbia recordings, how there were so many different styles. “How Long” so funky. I liked “Angel Of The Morning” and “Stay Awhile.” The Sam Dees song “Lonely Enough To Try Anything,” I love that one and “I Can Dream,” (co-written by Leon Ware) is one of my favorites – it has that easy listening jazz kind of sound. The one that I was pleasantly surprised to hear again was “You’re The Song I Can’t Stop Singing” because it’s so different from the rest of the material.

DN: Let’s talk about your visit to the U.K. and specifically, your appearance in Northampton at the end of May…

TJ: It was a life-altering event for me, on a spiritual level. I was thrilled to work with the live band and the background singers – they were so loving and friendly as were the audience. I was overwhelmed that people would me in their hearts for so many years. I looked out and saw people were singing along and what that said to me is ‘we love the music.’ One person told me he wondered what my voice would be like…and it was the first time I had performed most of the songs in front of an audience. The biggest surprise was the reaction to “How Long” and “Gotta Find A Way” – I was amazed at that – and moved by the response I got to “Salty Tears.” It reminded me of when I first appeared at The Apollo Theater in New York in the ‘60s. It was along way from my experience with the church choirs I sang with where you moved with the spirit! Then working at The Apollo with a bandleader and musicians and having a structured act…I remember turning around and being in awe. Well, it was almost the same feeling in
Northampton when I turned around and saw the band and the singers. It was quite amazing…almost like I went back in time.

DN: What did you walk away with from the experience in Britain?

TJ: Spiritually, it confirmed that time and space are just an illusion! I wondered, ‘after all these years, who’s gonna remember me?’ The way the people responded showed me they loved the music. It was very beautiful and uplifting the way people connected with me on the level I hoped they would. I got a note from one man who expressed what he had been through and how the music was healing. Another young waiter who had never heard of me was touched by the music. The whole experience of performing in Northampton was divinely wonderful!

DN: And your impressions of the country, since this was your first visit?

TJ: I loved England! I really felt at home. I haven’t felt that way about any other place I’ve been. It was invigorating even though I don’t usually like rain and colder climates. The countryside was beautiful and being in the middle of a city, being in the heart of London and seeing trees, hearing birds…it was just fascinating! I would love to go back and I’m focusing all my energy on that.

DN: OK…so UK promoters and agents take heed! What’s next for you?

TJ: Well, on August 19th, I’m performing at Sunset Junction here in Los Angeles and that’s like coming full circle since I worked with The O’Jays at The Apollo many years ago. I will be performing with (noted bass player) Arthur Adams and his musicians - it’s very exciting. I’m also looking at doing a new album in a nightclub sort of setting and it will be straight ahead rhythm & blues. I denied for so long what my voice was like – I wanted to sound light and airy. But I’m more like Little Milton and Otis Redding and they were not pop and light! I’m finally coming to grips with my musical gift and what I’m like – and that I’m really a rhythm and blues artist! (The late) Ruth Brown said it too: she told me, ‘You’re one of the few authentic R&B people…you lived through it and that’s who you are!’ And she wasn’t wrong!
Words David Nathan (First Published on

From Jazz Funk & Fusion To Acid Jazz

Join the B&S Mailing List

Blues and Soul on Twitter