It was a night of classic songs at the historic Imogene Theatre, tucked along Milton’s downtown just outside of Pensacola.
BJ Thomas took the stage all dressed in black and waving to the audience. Tom Wild (guitar), Mel Watts (drums), Tony Crow (keyboards) and John Francis (bass) are the longstanding members of Thomas’ touring band.
The set began with Smokey Robinson’s “Get Ready,” made famous by The Temptations. The song’s upbeat energy was the perfect choice to kick off a great night of music.
The coolest instrument of the night goes to the electric sitar that made an appearance during “Hooked on a Feeling.” It was included in Thomas’ original 1968 recording, and a welcome addition to the stage.
Thomas’ catalog hops through genres, with the crowd ready to sing along at each stop whether it be country, pop or gospel.
He was chatty between songs, including remarking on how “New Look from an Old Love” was co-written by his wife Gloria Thomas. And he said of his first endeavor in the music industry, “I guess you could call us a garage band.” The Triumphs formed in 1959 and recorded their first album in 1966.
The main focus of the night was Thomas’ still-clear voice and broad range. The band supplied backing vocals, giving full breath to the harmonies and melodies of the popular songs that reach across several decades.
Perhaps my favorite story of the evening was Thomas’ retelling of being encouraged to move to Memphis and later to New York for the betterment of his career. New York was solely for the opportunity to work with Burt Bacharach, about whom he only had positive things to say. But his description of Bacharach’s minimalistic New York apartment—it didn’t hold much more than a bed, a piano and stacks of music—felt like I was being told a secret. A true detail of music history, and a true insight into how a legend creates.
Thomas performed the expected hits for a crowd undeniably excited to hear “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on My Head.” But it was his rendition of Jackie Wilson’s “(Your Love Keeps Lifting Me) Higher and Higher” that I enjoyed the most, simply due to my own memories attached to the song.
The performance ended with a standing ovation and echoes of applause off the old brick walls in the Imogene, followed by the shuffling of chairs as everyone scuttled down the stairs and out into the cool night air.
The night did continue for some. I joined the meet-and-greet and watched Thomas interact with his fans. He was easy to talk to and ready to sign whatever was brought his way. He was quick to shake hands and give hugs, thanking people for attending. Walking away from an experience like that makes you think even more highly of an already legendary performer.