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Tabby Thomas (born Ernest Joseph Thomas, January 5, 1929, Baton Rouge, Louisiana) also known as Rockin' Tabby Thomas is an American blues musician. He sings and plays the piano and guitar, and specializes in a substyle of blues indigenous to southern Louisiana called swamp blues.
Thomas is one of the best known blues musicians in Baton Rouge, and had, since the late 1970s, operated his own blues club there, Tabby's Blues Box and Heritage Hall, until its closure in November 2004. Among his seven children is the noted blues musician Chris Thomas King.
Thomas had a stroke in 2004, which affected his playing but not his singing. Currently, on Saturday afternoons he hosts the radio show Tabby's Blues Box on Baton Rouge stations WBRH-FM and KBRH-AM, which originate from the media center of Baton Rouge Magnet High School.
"Ernest J. Thomas was born in Baton Rouge January 5th, 1929. Thomas: “My nickname was T-Boo. I was the quarterback on my high school football team. I could fake so well, the cheerleaders wouldn’t know who had the ball. That’s how I got the name, Tabby the Cat.” “I was raised up in the church my grandfather founded, the Saint Luke Baptist Church in Baton Rouge. I sang in the junior groups in the church.” Thomas also sang with a group of boys in Baton Rouge.
Thomas joined the Air Force and after three years was discharged at March Air Force Base in Riverside, California. He decided to stay in San Francisco; his godfather lived there. Tabby would often play pool at a place on Fillmore St. in San Francisco. It was next to a jazz club called Bop City. Musicians would hang there and jam. Some of the fellows he met in San Francisco heard him sing and told him about a talent show KSAN Radio was having at the Ellis Theater. They talked him into going on Fatso Berry’s show. He appeared and won first prize and got a recording contract with Hollywood Records, owned by John Dolphin. Mr. Dolphin, a well-known African American record producer, would record artists and sell their records in his store, Dolphin’s of Hollywood. Tabby recorded “Midnight is Calling” and “I’ll Make the Trip” on Dolphin’s Hollywood label.
Tabby returned home to Baton Rouge where he met and fell in love with a woman named Joycelyn whom he later married. To this union, seven children were born -- five girls and two sons. Tabby worked several jobs over the years and always hustled to provide for his family. He worked at Ciba Geigy where he became a union steward. He helped a lot of young men keep their jobs.
Thomas played music at different clubs with his band, the Mighty House Rockers, and also spun records at night. He wrote and recorded several songs; one of his famous songs is “I Love Big Fat Women.” Over the years, Tabby performed at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival and traveled overseas to perform at festivals every year.
Tabby’s Blues Box and Heritage Hall
The Blues Box building was old and raggedy -- the paint was peeling off the ceiling. There was a big heater to keep the place warm in the winter and a huge fan to cool it in the summer. Tabby began the hard work of cleaning the building and decided to name the club Tabby’s Blues Box and Heritage Hall. The heritage hall was on 1314 North Blvd. directly across the street from the Temple Roof.
In 1979, the Blues Box and Heritage Hall was registered with the state of Louisiana and opened its doors. It was the first and only blues club in Baton Rouge where you could listen to live music that was only blues, and it was the only club in Baton Rouge that all nationalities patronized. When you walked into the Box, you were mesmerized by the music. Tabby was featured nightly playing piano and guitar. Tuesdays was jam night and a lot of local musicians came to sit in and jam. If you couldn’t play, you learned to play at Tabby’s. Thursday night was the "Ho Do Party" (named after one of Tabby’s songs), and on that night LSU students packed the house and were given free hot dogs and draft beer.
Local musicians like Silas Hogan, Guitar Kelly, Henry Gray, Whisperin’ Smith, Raful Neal and Kenny Neal performed there. Tabby’s son, Grammy award winner Chris Thomas King, got his start at the club. He signed his first contract with Sire Records, a subsidiary of Warner Brothers, at Tabby’s Heritage Hall. Many famous people came to the club: Mike Tyson, Harold Robbins, Paul Newman, the O’Jays, Bruce Springsteen and Shaquille O’Neal to name a few. Tour groups would come on buses to Tabby’s.
In 1999, Tabby found out he had to relocate his club because an overpass was going to be built in its location. So in 2000, he moved Tabby’s Blues Box and Heritage Hall to Lafayette St. in the downtown area. In January 2004 Tabby had a massive stroke while waiting to perform at the Blues Box. He was rushed to Our Lady of the Lake hospital and stayed there for several months of recovery. Later that year in November Tabby closed the doors of Tabby’s Blues Box and Heritage Hall.
In 1993, Tabby began to host a radio show on WBRH, 90.3 FM, where he played nothing but blues and talked about blues and blues musicians he has known. He still appears on WBRH 90.3 FM every Saturday at 1 pm."
SUBMITTED BY: Tabby Thomas and Joylyn Wright