Grammy-winning New Orleans musician and actor Chris Thomas King, who lost his Uptown New Orleans home and studio to Katrina did what any blues artist would do, he wrote a song about it asking the question ï¿½What Would Jesus Do?ï¿½ He wrote and recorded the song which leads off his new inspired CD ï¿½Riseï¿½ only days after the levees broke, but Chris Thomas King is no stranger to the blues.
Initially known for his audacious fusion of blues and hip-hop, Chris Thomas King reached a whole new audience with the Coen Brothers film O Brother, Where Art Thou?, not only appearing on the award-winning soundtrack but establishing himself as a serious dramatic actor as well.
Chris Thomas King is the son of respected Louisiana bluesman and club owner Tabby Thomas and thus was surrounded by music from a very young age. He began playing trumpet in sixth grade and learned guitar shortly thereafter, soaking up as much as he could by hanging out at his father's club. Even so, the young Thomas was still affected more by rock (especially Jimi Hendrix), soul, and early rap music; he didn't really settle on the blues until his late teenage years when he accompanied his father on a tour of Europe and found the audiences much larger and more enthusiastic than he'd ever experienced at home. Upon his return to the States, Thomas (as he was still known) recorded a demo tape that landed him a deal with Arhoolie Records. He played all the instruments on his debut album, The Beginning, which appeared in 1986. Thomas supported the record with tour dates in Europe and Texas, and afterwards he relocated to Austin, where he spent the next four years expanding his musical horizons and honing a more contemporary sound.
During that period, Thomas caught on with the Hightone label, for whom he debuted in 1990 with the critically acclaimed Cry of the Prophets. Afterward, Thomas proposed a follow-up project fusing blues guitar with hip-hop beats, rapped lyrics, and DJ scratching. However, parent company Warner -- which distributed Thomas through its Sire imprint -- declined to release the material, having just been burned by the controversy over Ice-T's rap-metal band Body Count. Meanwhile, Hightone wanted Thomas to continue in a more traditional vein and had him re-enter the studio to work on another record; after cutting some material, Thomas abandoned the project due to lack of interest. Over his objections, Hightone eventually released those tracks as Simple in 1993 and despite the unfinished nature of the material, Thomas again received good reviews.
Thomas took his rap-influenced material to Sony, which wasn't sure what to make of it and declined to release it. Frustrated, Thomas moved to London in hopes of finding a more receptive record company; when that didn't happen, he traveled to Copenhagen in 1991 and met a couple of Danish musicians who extensively worked on the project with him. Eventually, British producer John Porter (Los Lonely Boys) heard the tapes and helped set up a deal with RCA/BMG subsidiary Private Music. Thomas returned to the States after a three-year absence, completing his masterpiece in Los Angeles. 21st Century Blues...From da 'Hood was finally released in early 1995 and was predictably met with considerable controversy; some reviews were highly complimentary, but many festival and club promoters refused to book Thomas at all. He did find success on the concert circuit in Europe and upon his return to the U.S., he began billing himself as Chris Thomas King.
King debuted his new moniker on a self-titled album for Scotti Brothers in 1997, delving deeply into the funky, gritty sound of Memphis soul. The follow-up, Red Mud, appeared on Black Top in 1998 and found King returning to the roots of the blues with mostly acoustic, folk-blues-flavored material. By this time, King was regularly playing around Louisiana, often backed by a bassist and DJ. This setup provided the foundation for his next record, 2000's Me, My Guitar and the Blues, which combined most of King's previous interests -- electric and acoustic blues, funky soul, New Orleans R&B, and hip-hop -- into a more integrated whole.
Chris Thomas King is the only blues artists to have a major impact on hip-hop music. Kingï¿½s Influence on artists such as Nas, Bubba Sparks, Common, Mos Def, Kenye West, Cowboy Troy and others has brought the sound of the blues to the hip-hop generation.
He has also influenced rock acts such as Kid Rock and the White Stripes (White Stripes recently released a new book titled ï¿½21st Century Bluesï¿½ proclaiming they are a ï¿½21st Century Bluesï¿½ band.)
Now, 20 years after his humble beginnings Chris Thomas King is one of the most famous and successful blues artists in the world today.