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KING 4345; MARCH 1950



Though his name doesn’t quite resonate over the years as some of his more star-studded contemporaries have, let it be said that Alphonso “Sonny” Thompson had as diverse and rewarding full career as almost anyone who rose to prominence just as rock was taking off in the late 1940’s.

But aside from his brief flurry of huge hits in 1948 the commercial highlights of his own recording career were rather sporadic and ultimately fleeting after that, but as a creative force Thompson was just getting started.


I Was Long Gone Baby
Finally!… We no longer have to keep writing about the slow death spiral of Miracle Records anymore! They’re dead and gone as of March 1950 and their artists – the few they retained – are now scattered to the wind.

Sonny Thompson was of course the biggest artist they had, the one who put them on the map originally with the two part Long Gone which took him from anonymous session pianist to a featured star with the single biggest rock hit of 1948, a record that firmly established the concept of an extended “groove” as being a cornerstone of rock instrumentals.

Subsequently almost all of Miracle’s notoriety stemmed from him as he notched another chart topper in the summer with Late Freight, and then the saxophonist who had guested on both #1 hits, Eddie Chamblee, gave them a hit under his own name as well.

But poor long range planning combined with shortsighted creative decisions by Miracle’s owner created financial instability and soon led to utter ruin, as by late 1949 they were forced to peddle off their remaining masters – including Thompson’s record, The Fish, which came out on the tiny Old Swing Master label – to pay off their mountainous debts and that effectively closed the lid on Miracle Records coffin.

But good musicians don’t stay dead in the industry for very long as now Sonny Thompson rises from the grave on a far bigger and more stable record label, ready for act two in a career that was a long way from being finished.

Wanna Tell You…
King Records may have been owned by a crusty tightwad in Syd Nathan, but he was a shrewd music man who maximized his investments like few others. Recently he’d taken to signing bandleaders who could write and arrange – trying it first with Todd Rhodes (who he’ll have to wait for since he jumped the gun on signing him), but also picking up Joe Thomas, Earl Bostic and now Sonny Thompson who would be a key figure for the company over the next dozen years.

Getting their most versatile signees to wear multiple hats wasn’t the only way in which King Records was stretching their resources, for another of their most notable concepts had been having artists from their country roster tackle songs done first by their black artists and vice versa. This was basically done for self-serving financial reasons, two versions of a song they held the copyright on aimed at two different markets meant more royalties. But the cross-pollination had a social effect too, showing audiences the intrinsic appeal of music originating outside their own backyard.

They’d kicked off this trend the year before as Bull Moose Jackson, their affable pop-R&B star covered country act Wayne Raney’s Why Don’t You Haul Off And Love Me, a boisterous semi-suggestive song that Jackson had a lot of fun with, probably reaching more ears with his rendition than Raney had with his.

Seeing those positive returns on this experiment King now turned elsewhere looking to do the same with others and as soon as Thompson laid down his I’m Coming Back Home To Stay, they brought in The York Brothers to turn in a weepy fiddle-drenched version for their red label country line. The amazing thing is how suitable for that field the song sounds, yet listening to Thompson’s original you’d never think such a transformation was likely.

Not that this is exactly a raunchy balls-out rocker by any means, it’s a reflective ballad whose melody was recycled so many times, both directly and subtly through the years, that you’ve surely heard it without always being able to place it.

Sonny’s piano takes center stage playing a skittering intro and keeping the subtle rhythmic requirements at the forefront throughout the track, primarily with fills because it recedes to the background for much of the time to allow the voices to carry the melodic burden.

Voices? On a Sonny Thompson record? Again?!?! That’s right, and that not a typo, or a creative misstep either, but rather a sign that he was gradually expanding his persona to avoid being confined strictly to instrumentals.

Though not a singer by trade Thompson handles the vocal with understated class, his voice joined by his bandmates – the horn section anyway – so that none of them individually stand out, but collectively they’re more than serviceable enough to allow you to appreciate the song’s hypnotic melody.

It’s got almost a dream-like quality to it, something which theoretically might’ve been better handled by professional singers, though that also might’ve made it seem too artificial if they were smoother than necessary. The story he crafts is brief but suitable – and you gotta love how he worked the title of Long Gone into it in such a slyly discreet way – and really the lyrics just want to set a thematic image for you to latch onto and to put you in the right frame of mind for the musical qualities that match it step for step along the way.

That’s really the hallmark of the song, the two elements, voices and piano, with some light drums during the vocal sections and an unobtrusive horn refrain during Thompson’s extended solo, giving this a very durable sound… almost as if it belongs to no era, no rigid stylistic parameters and no exclusive demographic.

It’s a timeless song in other words, and a rare one in that it seemed to actually set out to give that impression from the very start.


Sorry I Went Away
It seems strange almost that Sonny Thompson’s arrival to the label wasn’t met with more fanfare, as instead he merely blended in with the rest of their roster, something which may seem like a fall for grace for someone who just two years earlier was as big a star as he’d been. But this too was a sign of progress for the genre as a whole, as now there were too many stars to make a fuss over any single one.

In a way King Records epitomized that better than most, as their enviable depth chart was too impressive for any artist to stand out much anymore, everybody was now just seen by the company as spokes on the wheel rather than any of them being the hub of that commercial wheel.

Maybe this more corporate support group was ideal for someone like Thompson though who was probably happier simply being a working musician with a respected band with a chance to explore his creative ambitions in different ways down the road. He didn’t necessarily seem to crave hits to fuel his ego and could now be content to make good music for the sake of good music.

I’m Coming Back Home To Stay fits that bill fairly well. A pleasant record rather than a knockout.

The title may be a little misleading if we look at such things as autobiographical, after all, he’d never been associated with King Records before so he wasn’t coming BACK to them at all, but either way Sonny Thompson had definitely found a himself home and it was one he’d stay comfortably ensconced in for the rest of his career.


(Visit the Artist page of Sonny Thompson for the complete archive of his records reviewed to date)