DFW Music News

Tragic Kingdom: Black Tie Dynasty's New Reign Is Wrecked by COVID

Black Tie Dynasty from left: Cory Watson (vocals,guitar), Brian McCorquodale (synths), Eddie Thomas (drums), Blake McWhorter (bass)
Black Tie Dynasty from left: Cory Watson (vocals,guitar), Brian McCorquodale (synths), Eddie Thomas (drums), Blake McWhorter (bass) Jill Johnson
This was always going to be a bittersweet story.

A story about four friends, bound together by the act of creation and love for one another, whose creative exploits are a part of Dallas-Fort Worth music history and who had rediscovered their artistic bond in time to mount a potential revival.

The time spent somewhat distanced — never fully separated, yet no longer quite as tightly connected — would always be a source of mild regret.

Still, the future lay before them, wide open and brimming with possibility.

2020 had other plans.

Black Tie Dynasty — vocalist/guitarist Cory Watson, keyboardist/vocalist Brian McCorquodale, bassist Blake McWhorter and drummer Eddie Thomas — was on the verge of performing its highest-profile reunion gig to date.

The concert, set for late last March at Fort Worth’s Shipping & Receiving Bar, was ultimately canceled along with so much else during the COVID-19 pandemic that strangled much of 2020’s promise.

Then came the Christmas Day death of Thomas — at the too-young age of 49 — of complications from COVID-19 amid his larger fight against cancer.

Thomas is survived by his wife, Fatima, and daughter Randi, among other members of his extended family.

“Eddie could always craft the perfect drum part to go with anything, to enhance it, to make it better,” Fatima said recently. “That was just a natural gift he had. But as far as Eddie as a person … he had the ability to see everybody. It didn’t matter if he was in a huge room with 500 people — he would be able to walk through that crowd and notice everybody. He had the ability to not brush anybody off, and not think that anybody wasn’t good enough for his time.”

A GoFundMe has been established to help defray Thomas’s medical costs for his family.

His Black Tie Dynasty bandmates have lost a brother.

“Eddie always believed in his friends and his bandmates,” Watson writes via email. “In the early days, it was sometimes easy to feel like maybe we didn’t ‘belong.’ Eddie always believed, and that’s one of the things we’ll always remember about him.”

click to enlarge The band members take a bow post show. - JILL JOHNSON
The band members take a bow post show.
Jill Johnson

Running on a Treadmill

To understand the full weight of what’s been lost, we have to return to the early 2000s.

Back then, Black Tie Dynasty could frequently be found on a stage, in Texas or elsewhere, performing its tight, stylish and richly melodic catalog for fan-filled rooms often shouting back every line.

What began as a creatively stimulating good time, when the band signed with Dallas label Idol Records in 2005, dwindled into an oppressive responsibility just four years later.

For Black Tie Dynasty, which had just released its hotly anticipated sophomore album, Down Like Anyone, it was time to walk away.

On Jan. 27, 2009, the band released, via MySpace, a brief, heartfelt statement: “We’d like to thank all of you, our fans, for your undying support and wish we could have kept the band going forever,” it read in part. It played its final show two months later at the Granada Theater.

In March 2020, 11 years after that Granada Theater gig, on a blustery and sunny late winter afternoon, the four men of Black Tie Dynasty were together again, seated in a loose circle in McCorquodale’s Fort Worth living room.

Although the music they made stopped, the friendship never ceased. That bond reunited them as Black Tie Dynasty, which stepped back into the public eye at the end of 2019 to perform its first concert in more than five years at Dallas’ Double Wide.

Wives, children and pets filter in and out of the living room, occasionally audible in the background of a conversation that spans decades, reckoning with the past, defining the present and casting cautious glances ahead to the future.

Of Black Tie Dynasty’s heyday, McCorquodale said: “I think we were definitely running on the treadmill. I know, me personally, there were compromises with pushing off family obligations — ‘Hey, we’ve got a band thing, and we’re not going to pass it up.’ There was that level of commitment among us all.”

“Personally, I was not in a great headspace,” Watson said. “There was some tension. You know, you have different relationships, you have different priorities, things change when you have other people involved and not just the band. So that doesn’t help.”

Everyone was now relaxed, friendly and laughing, but the words indicated the gravity of the decision to disband was keenly felt by all four members.

McWhorter described himself as “directionless” in the immediate aftermath.

“At first, I didn’t really know what to do,” McWhorter said in March 2020. “I wanted to keep doing music. But then, it was nice because I started actually listening to different kinds of music and playing different kinds of music — because I hadn’t really focused on anything other than what we were doing.”

Thomas, whom the other three call “the stable foundation” of Black Tie Dynasty, was the exception to the post-split malaise. He stayed active, performing with The Crash That Took Me and Go Imperial.

“I was the oldest guy in the group,” said Thomas during what would turn out to be one of his final interviews. “I just tried to take care of stuff and never had too much of a hard time, you know?”

click to enlarge Eddie Thomas in happier days behind a drum kit. - JILL JOHNSON
Eddie Thomas in happier days behind a drum kit.
Jill Johnson

The Diagnosis

Enough time has passed that there may be those for whom the name Black Tie Dynasty means little if anything.

After a pair of independent EPs full of gleaming pop adorned with chiming guitar riffs and undulating synths, thick with a moody sexiness that’s scarcely aged a day, Black Tie Dynasty signed to Idol Records in 2005. The John Congleton-produced debut LP Movements was released a year later.

Fueled by the sleek single “I Like U,” the album exploded. Black Tie Dynasty played sold-out shows in Dallas and Fort Worth after the release of Movements, hitting the road as an opening act for the likes of VHS or Beta, Guided by Voices and Spoon.

A band very much ahead of its time stylistically, BTD had the good fortune to break just as bands like Interpol and the Killers were burning up the radio; Black Tie Dynasty trafficked in a similar sort of dark, retro glamour.

As I discovered during our conversation, before Movements was even recorded, the band came within inches of signing with Capitol Records.

“We were … in the process of writing some of the Movements songs and that whole [retro New Wave] thing started happening,” McCorquodale. “Capitol Records flies us out … then, the great [record industry] apocalypse happened, and even though we almost had what we really wanted … we wouldn’t have been better off signed to Capitol.“

Instead of jumping to the majors, Black Tie Dynasty completed work on Movements. The rest is history.

Then came the diagnosis.

In 2019, Thomas was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer, undergoing surgery and chemotherapy for glioblastoma, an aggressive and lethal cancer of the central nervous system.

“I think it's important for people to know that not only did he fight hard, but he suffered a lot, you know?” Fatima said. “A lot of people didn't see that part. I saw all of that.”

Indeed, seated in McCorquodale’s living room in March 2020, Thomas was just weeks removed from another surgery, sporting a visible scar along the left side of his head. Nevertheless, he was upbeat, hale and hearty and occasionally visibly moved as he discussed how much his friends and bandmates mean to him.

“I haven’t stopped playing,” Thomas said. “When I found out Black Tie was going to get back together, I was like, ‘Wow, this is incredible.’ I just couldn’t wait. … It just gives me more — makes me give more effort to fight. I love all these guys and playing music with them.”

Thomas’ health crisis served as a sobering catalyst to reunite the band for a brief set at Dallas’ Double Wide just days before Christmas 2019. It was an effort to give Thomas something to work toward, but also a chance for Black Tie Dynasty to reintroduce itself.

“When you’re away from playing shows for so many years, it crosses your mind, like, ‘Is anyone going to show up?’” Watson said.

Despite having not performed on a local stage in more than five years, Black Tie Dynasty, along with the other bands on the bill (The Crash That Took Me, These Machines Are Winning and [DARYL]), sold out the Double Wide.

YouTube footage from the evening is a pleasurable time warp: Watson’s high, sharp tenor cuts through McCorquodale’s washes of keyboards as McWhorter attacks his bass and Thomas anchors everything with his metronomic backbeat.

It is evident, watching these four men perform, that they are, once again, having a genuinely good time making music together and being rock stars for a night.

“I think our live shows resonate with people because we love what we’re doing, and the fact that we’re doing it together,” Watson said. “If any one of us wasn’t down for doing the show, we wouldn’t do it. I think that magic is plenty.”

click to enlarge Fatima Thomas mourns her husband Eddie Thomas' recent death. Eddie was the drummer in the band Black Tie Dynasty. - MIKE BROOKS
Fatima Thomas mourns her husband Eddie Thomas' recent death. Eddie was the drummer in the band Black Tie Dynasty.
Mike Brooks

Time for Grief 

To watch the footage again after Thomas’ passing is altogether more melancholy.

The magic of which Watson spoke — and is on full display during that Double Wide performance — is now little more than a shared memory among the three surviving bandmates and its fervent global fanbase.

“We’ve heard from so many fans both local and around the world,” Watson writes via email. “It makes me proud of Eddie, to know that he was able to share his gifts with the world and that his talent is recognized and appreciated. It also helps to feel this palpable connection with our fans during this time of sadness and loss.”

Complicating the grieving process for the band and for fans is that current conditions make it difficult to gather and properly mourn the loss of Thomas. Watson allows that Black Tie Dynasty plans “to honor Eddie with some version of a tribute show once it becomes safer to do so.”

Fatima likewise doesn’t yet know what shape a tribute to her late husband will take.

“I’ve been talking to the guys in Crash and … Cory and Brian and Blake,” Fatima said. “It will encompass not just Black Tie, but we’re gonna go back to the old school days — and I mean way back in the day. Eddie played metal, you know. So he’s got a very, very varied musical background. … I think it’s just [all] a big question mark right now.”

What-ifs and what-nexts remain to be pondered, which are admittedly indelicate questions in a time of grieving.

“Everything is so raw right now, so it’s hard to project” what will happen to the band, Watson writes. “When I squint into the future, it’s really hard to imagine us working together under the BTD moniker without him. Eddie played such an integral role in helping shape our sound.”

In other words, Black Tie Dynasty’s foundation now bears a permanent crack.

The band’s drummer; the musicians’ brother, taken from them far too soon. There will be time enough to think about what lies ahead for those left behind.

For now, it’s more than a little heartbreaking to think of the men and the music they made.

To think of a band left mourning what, through a cruel twist of fate, can no longer be.
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Preston Jones is a Dallas-based writer who spent a decade as the pop music critic for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, where the Texas Associated Press Managing Editors honored his work three times, including a 2017 first place award for comment and criticism (Class AAAA). His writing has also appeared in the New York Observer, The Dallas Morning News, the Houston Chronicle, Central Track, Oklahoma Today and Slant Magazine.
Contact: Preston Jones