By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Alice Laussade
By Scott Reitz
Ultimately, the would-be hijacker, intimidated by the man he'd planned to rob, fled into the night.
"The next day," Ty says, "this guy shows up at the house--I met him at the door--and he apologizes to my dad, explaining that he hadn't known who he was and begging him to not hold a grudge. Then he started into this hard-luck story about why he'd tried to rob him. Finally, Dad said he'd heard enough, gave him $20 and sent him on his way."
The Thomas family, Ty admits, was hardly from the Ozzie and Harriet mold. His mother, Jeanette, was her husband's equal at skeet shooting. "We'd go out to the State Fair and leave with armloads of teddy bears because both of them could win at every game on the midway," he recalls. For Ty, the sporting life offered no real appeal. What interested him was music. As a youngster he was listening to the songs of the Beatles, then David Bowie, Elton John and Led Zeppelin. "Because we were constantly moving into a new town and I was enrolling in a new school," he says, "I was really shy. Music became my best friend."
He began to dream of the day he would become a rock and roller. A decade ago, it almost happened. As a guitarist and songwriter for The Crossing, his future looked bright when Dallas promoter Tommy Quon, riding the overnight success of Vanilla Ice (who he was managing at the time), signed the group and put together a recording deal with SBK Records. "Then," Thomas recalls, "everything just sort of fell apart. Our deal was put on hold, and soon the grunge sound took over. Suddenly, nobody wanted our kind of music."
Disappointed in the direction rock and roll had taken, the disillusioned Thomas walked away. For several years he labored in the nightclub and restaurant business in Dallas. Still, he never managed to completely hush that childhood dream. Music, he knew, was as much a part of him as gambling had been to his dad.
"I've always enjoyed writing," he says, "but writing a single song had never been that satisfying. Nor have I ever liked the idea of just gathering up your best songs, recording them and calling it an album. My life's goal has always been to do one in which each song fits with the other and has a place in an overall story."
That album, he says, is now a reality--thanks, in part, to inspiration provided by his late father.
Over the years there have been ongoing rumors that a movie would be made of the colorful life of Titanic Thompson; it was such talk that finally lured Thomas back to music. He would, he decided, begin writing a collection of songs that he hoped might be considered for the soundtrack if a movie was ever shot. In time, however, the idea evolved into something far beyond a possible movie soundtrack. It would mark his return to what he terms a "serious, high-energy brand of rock and roll" and the organization of a band that he'll manage, hoping it will capture the imagination of today's rock-and-roll fans.
The result: a still untitled disc, songs from which will debut at The Door on May 31, featuring a talented young female singer from Booker T. Washington High School and backed by a band called I.Q. Among the medley of songs they'll perform will be one titled "1892." "That's the year my dad was born," Ty explains, "and the song tells the story of his life."
"I'm in love with these songs," says drummer Jody Lecomte, 30, following a recent rehearsal. Adds guitarist Josh Hammit, 25, "I think Ty is brilliant, a real craftsman. What he's come up with is something you would never have expected from the Dallas music scene. This isn't going to be one of those bands where when you hear one of its songs you've heard them all." Also in the band is Wade Cofer, 17, on guitar and keyboards.
"More than a few of my friends think I'm crazy," Thomas admits, "because I've now spent almost two years planning and working toward something that's never been done before."
With help from Newradio Talent and Development, which he started with Hammit, Thomas went in search of something radically different. Following a lengthy search that wound through local college campuses and finally ended four months ago at Booker T. Washington High, Thomas settled on two unknown teen-age singers: Braidy Bingham, 15, and Sheena Sampson, 17. Recently, though, Sampson has been sidelined with throat problems and will miss the band's debut; 17-year-old Charla McCampbell, another find from the talent search, will fill in for her. "She has an amazing sound," Thomas says of Bingham. "Despite her age, you're going to think you're listening to a singer who is in her 20s."
Mike Morton, the Booker T. Washington choir director who helped Thomas organize the auditions, is among those convinced that something musically unique is soon to happen. "When they first came to me with their idea," Morton admits, "I was skeptical. But after getting to know Ty and hearing what he had planned, I was impressed with the professional approach he was taking."