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Thomas set to 'raise the roof'

Concert is benefit to raise money for Blues Hall of Fame


by: COURTESY OF CARBONE/RAISE THE ROOF - Earl Thomas has made it a priority to raise money for a Blues Hall of Fame in Memphis, Tenn.Music is deeply intertwined in the DNA of San Francisco blues ‘n’ soul singer Earl Thomas.

“My grandfather was the official square-dance fiddle player for the governor of the state of Tennessee in the ‘40s, and my dad is a guitar-harmonica-playing bluesman,” he says. “My mother was a phenomenal gospel singer.”

However, Thomas differs slightly from his parents in that he’s made singing a full-time job.

“I grew up surrounded by all kinds of music — blues, soul, rhythm ‘n’ blues, country, jazz, and rock ‘n’ roll, and I come from a musical family where everybody either sings or plays guitar or piano or harmonica.”

Being regularly bathed by melodious sounds inspired Thomas, who has won some of the blues world’s highest honors, including Best Male Vocal, Best Contemporary Blues Artist, Best Album and Best Songwriter, from the 2011 Blues Choice Awards.

Meanwhile, his latest release “Introducing The Blues Ambassadors” peaked at No. 12 on the Billboard Blues Chart and reached No. 1 on the Sirius XM’s radio show “B.B. King’s Bluesville.” His music has been heard in such films as “In the Mix” and “Forty Shades of Blue.”

The nattily dressed performer has written songs for Etta James, Solomon Burke, Screamin’ Jay Hawkins, Shemekia Copeland and other artists. His band The Blues Ambassadors will anchor the “Raise the Roof Benefit Concert” at 6 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 27, in the Alberta Rose Theatre ($20, $50 VIP, http://www.albertarosetheatre.com, http://www.blues.org).

Other performers include China Forbes of Pink Martini,and Liv Warfield, who sings with Prince.

The show benefits The Blues Foundation’s efforts to build a Blues Hall of Fame in Memphis, Tenn., Thomas says. The African-American says he feels he’s paying a debt to his forefathers and foremothers.

“Knowing what my ancestors, the creators of this music, had to endure so that I could be here, doing this music, I feel a keen sense of obligation to, at the very least, contribute in some way.”

Thomas took a rather unorthodox approach to becoming a bluesman — he didn’t just hobo around the country or primarily play for pennies on the street — he studied music at Humboldt State University in California from 1983-87.

“I started writing songs with a guy named Philipp Contee Wootton back in 1985,” he says. “We were classically trained, so our approach to songwriting was with an eye on the symphony and composition. That approach hadn’t really been done in the blues.”

Wootoon was the wordsmith and Thomas the melody man, but he did start writing his own lyrics after a childhood memory surfaced.

“My dad used to sing to my mom, especially during a heated discussion,” he says. “Eventually they’d be laughing. So I came up with the line, ‘My daddy sang the blues to my mama, and I’ll sing the blues to you.’”

The late famed producer Jerry Wexler heard him perform “I Sing the Blues” in Europe, and Wexler then got Etta James to record the tune (which Thomas co-wrote with Wootton) for her 1992 “Right Time” release.

“Her version of my song was put on the TV show ‘ER’ and that event changed my life!”

Thomas began writing for other performers, including Tom Jones, specializing in a “conversational style ... either between me and the audience, or me and another person.

“I’m like a mad scientist for a couple days where I’m just writing,” he adds. “Sort of like writing chapters in a book.”

Thomas also became a noted performer, playing in the U.S. with the Ambassadors, and in Europe with The Royal Guard, out of London. He’s shared the stage with such veterans as B.B. King and Buddy Guy.

“What I’ve learned from the elders is to share,” he says. “Share your spotlight with other artists that you respect, and also those young artists who have talent and just need a break.”

In addition to Thomas, the following performers will grace the Alberta stage Sunday night:

by: COURTESY OF RAISE THE ROOF - Portland musician Duffy Bishop travels the world for shows with husband/guitarist Chris Carlson• Duffy Bishop — This Grammy nominated Cascade Blues Association Hall of Famer hails from Portland and has recorded several CDs. With her collaborator, guitarist and husband Chris Carlson, Duffy has played on three continents and also has starred in cabaret shows.

• China Forbes — Lead singer of Pink Martini, Forbes has fronted the sophisticated group’s multilingual pop, jazz and classically inspired show for years, as well as her own band.

n The StrangeTones — This Portland group combines original blues, rockabilly, surf and vintage R ‘n’ B and are one of America’s best rock ‘n’ roll outfits, period.

n Karen Lovely — Another multi-award-winning Northwestern performer, Karen Lovely is among the strongest female blues vocalists on the circuit today.

• Philipp Fankhauser — This Swiss guitarist-singer has recorded a dozen albums and has earned much critical praise for his fretwork and vocals.

• Liv Warfield — A native of Illinois, Warfield calls Portland home and is a member of Prince’s band, new Power Generation. She’s also performed with B.B. King, The Roots, Dave Matthews Band, Al Green and Jeffrey Osborne.

• Dave Fleschner and Alan Hager — Fleschner, a keyboardist, and Hager, a guitarist, have jammed as sidemen for Curtis Salgado, Duffy Bishop, Karen Lovely and Chris Mayther, and play blues, ragtime, old time-standards, soul and original tunes.

• Bart Ferguson — Ferguson is a full-bodied singer-songwriter, lending his pipes to folk, blues, pop, soul and rock in a festival friendly style.

• Tony Furtado and Stephanie Schneiderman — This duo features Furtado, who’s played ukulele, banjo and slide guitar and has created his own Americana indie folk rock for years, with Schneiderman, a singer, pianist and guitarist who’s created trip hop and acoustic music and is one of the most eclectic artists in town.

• Lisa Mills — This gritty Alabama singer-guitarist would please fans of Bonnie Raitt and Melissa Etheridge.