THE MAN BEHIND THE SOUND
Born and raised in the Bronx, Gerry Thomas started piano lessons at my mother’s insistence when he was 5 years old. This would set the foundation for Gerry’s musical growth later in life. In Junior High HS Gerry wanted to play guitar like his uncle Abraham but was forced to choose another instrument since the guitar was not available. That started his musical journey on the trumpet. .
After graduation from New York’s High School of Music & Art in 1966 and attending the Manhattan School of Music and then the NY College of Music Gerry was starting to make a name for myself as a solid trumpet player as he was contracted to do recording sessions amongst some of New York’s finest musicians such as Chuck Rainey, Bernard Purdie, Eric Gale, Grady Tate, Ray Lucas, Eddie Williams, Seldon Powell, to name just a few. This led to Gerry joining a local band called the Versatiles, out of Queens NY, led by Ron Anderson. This group consisted of Ron on Bass, Eric Gale on Guitar, Bill Curtis on drums, Trevor Lawrence on Saxophone, Howard Johnson on Baritone Sax, and occasionally Tuba, Artie Hamilton on Trombone and Larry Alford on 2nd Trumpet. This is how Gerry met Bill Curtis, who was to become one of his most important influences, mentor and friend.
This was in late 1967, and as Bill was starting to get more and more weekend dance band jobs, he would alternate with Jimmy Johnson as drummer in Ron’s band. It was in 1968 that Bill started to talk to about the recording that he wanted to do with the group he had at the time and asked if Gerry would help him with it. Being eager to learn as much as he could about the recording business and always ready to enjoy the creative process of music Gerry gladly accepted. That led to many an adventuresome experience working with Bill and his unusual style of recording.
During 1968 Gerry also become a member of Jimmy Castor’s group, which would later become the Jimmy Castor Bunch, but all the pieces for that weren’t quite in place yet. Bill was also trying to get his label, Fatback Records, going before he had recorded or named the group he was leading Fatback Band, and Gerry gave him 2 records he had recorded with Jimmy Castor’s current bass player, Paul ‘Roland’ Martinez, who was like his big brother during those early years especially traveling on the road with Jimmy’s group where Gerry was the youngest and most naive member. Those 2 records were Cat Walk (A side)/Little Bit of Soul (B side) and Quiet Waters (A side)/The Lone Ranger ‘N’ Tonto (B side) with Jimmy playing sax on both cuts. While Gerry didn’t get rich on either record, not even close, it was fun experiencing the whole process and getting to hear his record on the air.
As Jimmy’s band changed personnel and because what to become the Jimmy Castor Bunch, Gerry got involved with the production aspect of his recordings as well. Jimmy and Gerryboth had attended the High School of Music and Art though at different times and had a similar technical foundation in how we approached the creative process. In other words, sessions were mapped out with a list of songs to be recorded and how the arrangements would flow. Working with Bill was a brand-new experience for Gerry. It was like attending a jam session where you only had the basics of an idea, if that, and everything flowed from the creativity that everyone was bringing to the process. Much more organic. More like a live performance in many ways which sometimes made recreating songs that were created that way more difficult. But Gerry liked both challenges, and both were valid although Bill’s style did cause some consternation with some of the Recording Engineers we worked with until they got more familiar with his style.
So Gerry would be a part of Bill’s creative “live” sessions and he sometimes bring Bill a song or two while continuing to “gig” with Jimmy Castor and the Bunch as we also started to receive national and international attention. In fact, it was a tour that the Bunch did as part of an Atlantic Records promotional tour for the Spinners, Sister Sledge, Ben E King and us to Europe in 1975 that awakened Gerry to just how popular Fatback Band, at the time, was in England. The first stop on tour was to the Beatles hometown of Liverpool where they performed at the major concert hall. After the show, the band were invited to hang out at a local disco where the DJ was playing Wicky Wacky. Well, when the locals found out that Gerry had a hand in the recording of that particular album they “freaked” out. The first thing Gerry did when he got back to the states (no cell phones back then) was to call Bill and tell to find an agent to get the band over there. After Gerry joined Fatback in late ’79 as a performing member, we had many memorable trips over to England, as well as to many other countries and Bill, along with the band, continue to do so today.
Gerry hopes to make a farewell trip at some point in the near future with the Fatback Band. A blending of the old and the new, so to speak.