Listen to highlights from an unsung legend’s early career.
To get a sense of the ways in which Timmy Thomas’ music has seeped into contemporary culture, take a glimpse of the producers who have sampled his work: J Dilla, Outkast, the Alchemist, DJ Shadow & Cut Chemist and Pete Rock, to name a few. Most famously, Drake tapped the title track of Thomas’ brilliant 1973 album Why Can’t We Live Together to create the beat for Hotline Bling.
Thomas, who died on Sunday, created minimal soul by tapping a modest Lowrey brand organ and its percussion presets, in the process recording songs that are achingly sparse and emotive.
Though hardly a household name, Thomas charted in the soul top 10 for Why Can’t We Live Together. A former bargain-bin staple, over the years it has become a coveted record – understandably. Here’s Dizzy Dizzy World:
Thomas followed his 1973 success by adding his Lowrey tones and beats on other artists’ sessions. He added his textures to Party Down, the 1974 album by Little Beaver, where he joined musicians including Kenny Lattimore, Betty Wright and Zeke Holmes. That album, also called Party Down, is a secret weapon addition to any collection.
Thomas also played organ with Clarence “Blowfly” Reid on Blowfly’s first album, The Weird World of Blowfly. An album that is as wild as it is disgusting – no, seriously, the album was sold at porno stores and truck stops – it finds Thomas adding his keyboards to parody songs such as Spermy Night In Georgia and Baby Let Me Do It To You. Listen at your peril.
In 1975, Thomas played alongside fellow keyboardist Lattimore on Milton Wright’s Friends and Buddies. A curious synth-driven disco soul record, it’s not all aces, but “Keep It Up” is a freaky listen.
Thomas’ debut single, Have Some Boogaloo, mixes hard organ rock, Latin and soul. His remarkable solos are revealing because they show that the restraint in Why Can’t We Live Together isn’t for lack of skills, but to channel a vibe.
Thomas was a true original, and though his later work has failed to capture collectors’ ears the way his 1970s stuff has, he was a renegade of rhythm. Here’s a lesser-known 1974 single called You’are [sic] the Song (I’ve Always Wanted to Sing).