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Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Tabby Thomas has passed - Our thoughts are with his family and friends (by Chelsea Brasted)

Tabby Thomas, the renowned Baton Rouge blues guitarist, died early Jan. 1, 2014, just shy of his 85th birthday, according to a source close to the family. Thomas was perhaps best known for having opened Tabby's Blues Box, a ramshackle room on North Boulevard that was a haven for blues lovers across the world. Thomas was born Ernest J. Thomas on Jan. 5, 1929 in Old South Baton Rouge, where he grew up on Mary Street. He quickly became known as Tabby for his catlike reflexes on McKinley High School's football team. Thomas served with the Air Force following his graduation from McKinley, but music had always been on his mind since singing with the church choir at St. Lukes. While in California with the Air Force, he entered and won a talent competition with KSAN radio in 1952. That first success stuck with him, and it ignited a lifelong dedication to his craft. After his first few records didn't sell well, Thomas returned home to Baton Rouge where he began recording new tracks with Excello Records' J.D. Miller in Crowley and met Jocelyn Marie Johnson, who became his wife. Thomas worked various jobs to supplement his income to provide a stable lifestyle for his family, including a tenure with Ciba Geigy, where he worked as a union steward. In 1978, Thomas found a rundown building at 1314 North Boulevard and, with the help of his cousin, Woodrow Vaughn, and his two sons, Thomas opened Tabby's Blues Box a year later. "It was during the time when disco had pretty much dried up all the gigs for south Louisiana blues musicians. They didn't have any place to play. My dad had the idea for it to be like a blues social club, and that's what it became," said Chris Thomas King, one of Thomas' sons and himself a successful musician, in an interview earlier this year. Tabby's Blues Box quickly became the go-to spot for blues lovers looking for the real deal, old-fashioned blues room. "Just about everybody came through Tabby's," Thomas said in an October interview. "I had a lot of friends I had met when I was touring all over Europe in places and they start coming by to see me. It made the place famous. Everybody knew Tabby's Blues Box." But its reputation couldn't save it, and the Blues Box closed by 2000 with the construction of the North Boulevard overpass. Thomas moved the club to a location on Lafayette Street, but it never caught on the way the old location did. It closed for good in 2004 following a stroke Thomas had while preparing to go on stage. "It's a very sad day. The legendary Baton Rouge bluesman, husband, father, and friend Tabby Thomas passed away this morning. He's the father of Chris Thomas King," wrote Rueben Williams, Thomas' former manager, on Facebook. "He was an inspiration to so many and the reason for a lot of people's start including Tab Benoit, Troy Turner, his son Chris's and many others. He left us with great Louisiana music and unbelievable stories." Funeral and visitation arrangements were not immediately available.  

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