Music has an uncanny ability to take listeners back in time. If you were an AM radio listener in the late ’60s and ’70s, you remember five-time Grammy winner B.J. Thomas’ hits, including “Hooked on a Feeling,” “Don’t Worry Baby” and “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on My Head.” The latter, which was penned by Burt Bacharach and Hal David, appeared in a memorable sequence in 1969’s Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. The song remained at No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 for four straight weeks in early 1970.
“I performed ‘Raindrops’ at the Academy Awards ceremony,” B.J., 78, exclusively recalls to Closer. “We won and it was a beautiful thing.”
Since then, this Houston, Texas–reared performer has enjoyed success across the pop, country and Christian music charts, including another chart-topper, “(Hey Won’t You Play) Another Somebody Done Somebody Wrong Song” in 1975. “I’ve been very fortunate that I’ve had quite a few highlights to my career,” says B.J., who recently became a spokesperson for Time Life’s Forever ’70s music collection. “I appreciate the music of that time. To have been a small part of what was going on then really brings back good feelings.”
Keep scrolling below for Closer‘s exclusive Q&A interview with B.J. Thomas!
Did you always want to be a singer?
I never had a thought of ever being a professional singer. I never even dreamed it until my brother took me to this rehearsal. These guys were starting a band. They could just barely play, and I could just barely sing! We hit it off and began playing at little parties.
Who were your early musical influences?
My first ones were gospel singers. And then Elvis — I was about 12 or so when Elvis had his first record. And I used to watch The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet. Ricky Nelson was my favorite guy. He was just a very cool, relaxed performer and I kind of assumed that attitude when I was singing to hide my insecurity.
You recorded “Raindrops” for the movie Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. What was that experience like?
I just happened to be in the right place at the right time. They flew me out to California and we did the bicycle scene with Burt [Bacharach]. We rerecorded it six weeks later [for the single]. We had 100 musicians in there and it was beautiful. I am still in awe of the great Burt Bacharach.
Did you ever get a chance to meet the stars of Butch Cassidy, Robert Redford and Paul Newman?
No, never! But Mr. Bacharach, who won two Academy Awards, said he never met them either, so I didn’t feel so bad!
Around the time you were having your greatest early successes, you also had trouble with drugs and alcohol. How did you get past them?
I had some serious problems. I still have to deal with them, although they seem like another lifetime now. I still have to keep my mind right. Although I achieved some good things while I was an addict and an alcoholic, it really began to affect my recording. “Raindrops” was probably the lowest point of my life. All my hit records and the money I might be making — it didn’t make me happy. The most meaningful thing has been being sober.
What advice would you offer young performers?
My advice right off the top is just stay sober. Don’t damage your gift and limit your success by indulging in things that are not good for you. If I was advising a new guy, I’d say, stay sober, write your own songs and stay true to yourself.
You’ve credited songwriter Gloria Thomas, your wife of 52 years, with helping you find your way back.
It all relates to my wife. Gloria could always see me for who I was and not for who I thought I was. She helped me to be the person that I am today.
How did you meet?
I met Gloria in a club. I saw this girl across the table and it turned out to be Gloria. [She was with] a friend of mine, who was a drummer. I went and found him and said, “Hey, man, I’m taking Gloria home.”
Aw! Love at first sight!
When we got outside, she said, “If you change your mind, I’ll understand.” I had no idea what she was talking about. But when we walked out, it was [very bright]. Gloria had gone through a windshield and she had just had 400 stitches from her face removed. She had terrible scars, but I just fell so in love with her. We got married in ’68 and we’ve had 52 good years.
Wow. What’s your secret to such a long marriage?
We did separate a time or two. I just got to be too much to live with, but we were still in love. I love her and because we are in love we never really gave up on each other. We knew that as soon as somebody said something sweet, we’d go right back. We just cherish each other. We’ve always had that, and it’s a great thing.
You raised three daughters together. Did any of them go into music?
No. I think any of the girls could have done it. They all had voices and they wrote songs and poems when they were younger. But I’ve seen the negative effect that it’s had on some of my peers’ children. I never pushed them to do it, and they never had that love or burning desire to do it.
And now you are a grandfather!
Yes, I’m a grandfather of four. It’s great. Watching little people grow, change and become who they are going to be — when they are your grandchildren, a part of you, it has significance that really moves you.
You were supposed to tour in 2020. Do you hope to get back on the road after the pandemic is over?
I hate to think that I will never get to do it again, but I am not taking anything for granted. If it becomes possible, I’m going to be back out there. I talk to my band on a regular basis and we’re all in.
— Reporting by Lexi Ciccone