Gay blues

Thomas: “This ‘closet’ thing I know nothing about.”
  • Thomas: “This ‘closet’ thing I know nothing about.”

Next week Earl Thomas becomes the most prominent member of the San Diego music scene to enter a same-sex marriage.

It just so happens that his genre doesn’t seem gay-friendly.

“Blues is [woman] chasing music. I honestly don’t know of any other gay blues man, now or in the history of blues. From the time I started singing professionally [in 1987, in the local blues/R&B band Rhumboogies], I’ve been an openly gay man. But I’ve always had respect from my peers. I’ve been out my whole life. This ‘closet’ thing I know nothing about. I was a lucky child. I had a family that loved me unconditionally.”

Thomas has four San Diego Music Awards, has released 14 albums, and says he has averaged two European tours a year since 1992. His songs have been covered by Etta James, Solomon Burke, Screamin’ Jay Hawkins, and Tom Jones. He has performed to raise money for a proposed Blues Hall of Fame in Memphis.

Next week, Thomas, 53, and Michael Malvestuto, 54, will make it official at the county courthouse. A private celebration will follow in October.

“I’ve been with Michael for 15 years,” says Thomas.

Being gay got Thomas kicked out of the Navy in 1980 when he was working as a dental assistant at Camp Pendleton.

“That was the best thing that happened to me,” says Thomas. “Two days later I got a job as a dental assistant making three times what I did in the Navy.”

Although he may be a rarity, Thomas makes it clear he does not use his sexuality to fan his career flames. “I don’t go on as a gay man. I go on as a bluesman. I’m part of a blues bloodline. My father was a bluesman like Muddy Waters. My [deceased] mother sang gospel like Mahalia Jackson or Clara Ward.”

Thomas admits he makes most of his dough in Europe. “It’s helped me pay off my mortgage. Europeans see it as a cultural exchange. Seeing Earl Thomas in Poland is like seeing Cirque du Soleil here.”

Thomas says Malvestuto is more of a behind-the-scenes kind of guy. “He’s just your average guy. I compare this to Dolly Parton and her husband.” Malvestuto works at a coffee-roasting company.

In November, Thomas plays his first tour of Eastern Europe with dates in Poland, East Germany, Slovakia, and the Czech Republic. That tour will also swing through Norway and the U.K. A Belly Up show is scheduled for February.

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Ha... go on Earl, tell them some stories like you did in the van... LMAO Good times!

Hey Bill what is said in the van stays in the van. Right...?

Humboldt County gets Earl this weekend. Mad River Summer Fest on Sat. Aug 17

Billy Strayhorn was a well known gay jazz pianist associated with Duke Ellington, who wrote music for Duke including Satin Doll and Take The A Train. So Earl is in good company and not the first openly gay jazz musician.

I think Earl was talking about bluesmen. With all due respect, I don't think a jazz pianist is the same thing as a blues artist.

Charles Brown was probably the most famous gay blues artist, and he started out over 60 years ago and had many big hits, including "Merry Christmas Baby", later covered by Elvis Presley. There are many others too, and some would consider Little Richard a blues singer, certainly rhythm and blues.

No one would consider Little Richard a blues singer. Never really heard that one before. It was this new, wild, off-center devil's music called rock and roll that gave outsiders like Little Richard, Jerry Lee Lewis and to a lesser extent Johnny Cash and Screamin Jay Hawkins a platform to be weird, wild and wooly (Cash wasn't that weird and Screamin' Jay wasn't that big). Don't think John Lee Hooker wore a lot of eyeliner. Don't think Muddy Waters did a lot of sashaying on stage. Should Earl Thomas have mentioned Charles Brown? Maybe. But I don't think Charles Brown showed up on the mass media or pop culture radar that much. Blues purists will remember him, and blues scholars may know he was gay. Other than that, don't know if he moved the needle that much. But if you think Little Richard is a blues man I have some late breaking news for you: Paul Lynde was NOT a member of the Magnificent Seven.

Charles Brown is a lot more famous of a blues singer than Earl Thomas. He had big national hits and wrote blues songs covered by Elvis and Eric Clapton. These are facts, look them up. Amos Milburn was another one and there are more. Earl is a fantastic singer, and he doesn't need to claim to occupy some fictitious historical position to stand out as an artist.

It's not about fame or being famous. At least not for me. And I doubt that Charles Brown or Amos Milburn (or any others) would have been talking publicly about being gay (let alone getting married) in 1950s or 60s. If Rock Hudson couldn't do it then you know Charles Brown could not. Charles and Amos would have had much bigger fish to fry just trying to vote or use a public restroom or water fountain.

Whoever "BluesMan59" is, he sure seems to have a pretty well maintained little black book of Which Bluesman is Gay. I guess someone has to keep tabs, right Mr. 59? The fact is most people have never heard of Amos Milburn. And Charles Brown, who died 14 years ago, has no mention of him being gay in his Wikipedia bio. I think Earl's point is that blues is famous for being very macho male, and chasing women in lyrics and image. Don't think Charles Brown ever wanted it to be known that he was gay. Another point is, times have changed. Earl definitely sings legitimate blues and he represents the U.S. a lot in Europe and now he's getting married to another man so that is pretty big news. I guarantee if Earl agreed, the national press would love to cover this. Maybe he isn't pursuing it out of the wishes of his soon-to-be husband. What the hell, it might even make a good movie. Keep in mind, BluesMan59 is the same guy who told us Little Richard was a blues singer. Sure rock came out of the blues. And Little Richard was one of the people who created rock. And clearly he drew from the blues. But Little Richard was not a blues singer any more than Elvis was a country singer or Liberace was a classical artist.

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