BRUSH WITH FAME: Alice Liles of Kingsland kept up with crooner and classmate B.J. Thomas
I grew up listening to the music of B.J. Thomas when he sang with The Triumphs, a rock band based in Rosenberg, Texas, where I grew up.
It’s a stretch to say I knew him, but we both graduated from Lamar Consolidated High School, where, in 1961, I was an insignificant little freshman and he was a senior and Big Man on Campus. It’s that connection that brought us briefly together over the years.
In high school, Thomas was lead singer for The Triumphs and played at dances in Knights of Columbus halls in small towns like East Bernard, Hillje, Beasley, and others. They had battle dances with Roy Head and the Traits, a similar-style band from San Marcos. He honed his singing skills and made a name for himself with The Triumphs.
Years later, when Lamar began holding All ’60s Class Reunions, The Triumphs were invited to play. B.J. sometimes sang with them. I suspect the crowds were much bigger when he was there.
Biographies of B.J. say he grew up in Houston, but at some point, the family must have moved to Rosenberg, because that’s where he graduated.
He is in the 1961 high school annual along with his brother, Jerry Thomas. His birth name is Billy Joe, but in the annual picture, he is listed as Benjamin Jehovah, which I guess is an inside joke.I am not otherwise privy to his history with the band or how and when he left to find fame and fortune in Hollywood and Nashville, but apparently they are all still friends.
Soon after we moved to Muleshoe from Edna, Texas, B.J. was scheduled to perform a concert at Marshall Junior High in Clovis, New Mexico. That was in 1984. New friend Jan King was a fan, and when she found out I liked him and had a bit of a history with his music, we decided to go.
Reba McEntire was the opening act, all dry-ice smoke and fancy costumes, typical of her style. She was good and I got her autograph. Then, when B.J. came on, he was in a suit and just sang, which was all we really wanted him to do.
We hung around after the concert and waited by the tour bus until he came out. We giddily caught him before he boarded the bus, introduced ourselves, and I told him I was from Rosenberg and mentioned some people he might remember from school and places he had played. I know he had no idea who I was, but I think he did remember some people I mentioned.
As I blathered on, he sat down on the bus step and just listened. This was back before the days of phone cameras, of course, and before I carried a camera around with me, so we have no picture to prove it, but it made a good memory. I think maybe he gave us a hug and kiss on the cheek, and then he was gone.
He began to make a real name for himself minus The Triumphs. “Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head” was a big hit, along with several others. He was a star on pop, country, and, later, Christian stations.
Then, we all got old. In 2012, at another All ’60s Class Reunion, B.J. and The Triumphs played. Husband Bill and I went. The band mostly played old stuff from our high school days, those dances in the K of C halls, and other good stuff as well as his hits.
His old groupies would stop dancing and just stand in front of the bandstand in admiration when he sang their favorites. I can remember most of them singing along with, “Hey, won’t you play another somebody done somebody wrong song.” I suspect I at least hummed along, as that is one of my favorites.
After the dance, lots of people lined up for autographs on CD and record album covers they brought with them. I didn’t bring anything, but I was working on a story about The Triumphs, and some of the band members knew me, so I asked if I could have a copy of one of the playlists. The wish was granted and B.J. signed it. It is in the Lamar scrapbook I keep for myself and the class.
B.J. Thomas died at the age of 78 in 2021. I am sorry we lost him.
Alice and Bill Liles have enjoyed a second home in Kingsland for more than 20 years, splitting their retirement between the lakehouse and a home in Muleshoe. An avid reader of The Picayune Magazine, Alice first published a version of this story in one of her two blogs, “The Bright Lights of Muleshoe.” A second blog, “Cactus or Cool,” focuses on growing succulents, one of several hobbies. She has also written and self-published two books: “The Brights Lights of Muleshoe,” and “Adventures Down the Texas Rabbit Hole.” Both contain stories about her experiences and family; her horses, dogs, and cats; and “topics we’ve all dealt with from time to time.” A retired English teacher of 30-plus years, Alice once served as state president of the Texas Classroom Teachers Association.
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