Long Gone : Sonny Thompson©2007JCMarion


Alphonso "Sonny" Thompson was born in Centerville, Mississippi, in August of 1916. As a teenager Thompson moved to Chicago and decided to further his musical education at that city's Conservatory of Music. As a budding pianist he was heavily influenced bu the piano players of the time, most importantly Earl Hines and Art Tatum. In his late teens he secured a job playing with the combo of Erskine Tate. For a time Thompson attended the University of Chicago, and also had gigs with Red Allen, Stuff Smith, and his own combo called The Rhythm Masters.

In late 1942 he enlisted in the army and suffered a serious injury which left him hospitalized for a while and time recuperating at home. He resumed his musical career in late 1944. In the spring of 1945 he landed a top job playing at the Hotel Pershing with a fourteen piece orchestra. The band had broadcast nightly remotes live and that continued for a number of months. In early 1946 he disbanded the orchestra and began to work again as a solo performer. His first session in the recording studio was for a small Detroit label called Sultan Records where he appeared on side of two records released by the label. He then recorded with a combo backing up vocalist June Richmond for Mercury.

Sonny finally had success when he recorded for Chicago independent label Miracle Records. Miracle # 108 featured two tunes recorded with Piney Brown - "Sonny's Blues" and "Screamin' Boogie". The next release was "Memphis Train" and "Benson Jump" on # 109 recorded with the Dick Davis Orchestrea. Miracle # 123 was "If I Didn't Have You" and "Song Man" with vocal by Gladys Palmer. Backing up Browley Guy and with the Sharps & Flats "Tears Follow My Dream" and "Moon Is On My Side" was released on # 124He recorded with tenor saxist Eddie Chamblee and the Sharps & Flats with the label. In 1948 he recorded "Long Gone" parts one and two on #126 and it became one of the biggest selling R & B records of the forties and Thompson's signature song. Miracle # 127 featured "In The Rain" and "Just Boogie" with vocal by Gladys Palmer once again. On # 128 Sonny tried a sequel to his big hit with "Late Freight" and "Sonny's Return" with Eddie Chamblee. Ther same lineup produced "Blue Dreams" and "Blue On Rhumba" on # 131. Another try at a sequel came with "Still Gone" parts 3 and 4 on #139. "Dreamin Again" and "Backyard Affair" was Miracle release #146, and Thompson's last for the label "Not On A Christmas Tree" on #148.

In January of 1950 a court battle ensued over Thompson's recording of "Long Gone". The holder of the publishing rights to "Yancey's Boogie" (Schapiro-Bernstein) claimed that Thompson copied the arrangement on the original recording. Later that month Sonny signed a new recording contract with King Records in Cincinnati. In mid-March the courts ruled in Miracle Records favor in the lawsuit over "Long Gone". Later in the month Miracle sold all masters by Thompson to the Signature label also of Chicago. In May Sonny Thompson"s first pressing for King is released - "Sugar Cane" and "I'm Home To Stay" on # 4345. In June King frollows that up with "Frog Legs" and "After Sundown" on # 4364. In August of 1950 "Palmetto" and "Nightfall" are paired on King # 4384. In late October, the Miracle masters pop up again, this time they are bought out by King Records and label president Syd Nathan is contemplating a new label to be called Eagle Records to re-release some of the Thompson sides originally recorded for Miracle.

In March of 1951 Sonny Thompson keeps the R & B flowing on King with "Smoke Stack Blues" and "Uncle Sam Blues" with vocal by Jesse Edwards released on # 4431. In early August of the year Sonny and his combo roll into Philadelphia to play two weeks at the Club Harlem. In September King # 4470 features "Sunshine Blues" and "Blue Piano" with a new vocalist Royal Trent. In March of 1952 the Sonny Thompson Combo opens for two weeks at the Ebony Lounge in Cleveland. At about the same time Thompson's latest for king "The Mellow Blues" (parts one and two) is released on # 4488. It immediately hits the R & B best seller lists in New York and Philadelphia. In April Thompson and his band play a week at the Howard Theater in Washington D.C. along with The Swallows vocal group. On the heels of his biggest seller in two years, Sonny Thompson is paired on record with vocalist Lula Reed on the tunes "I'll Drown In My Tears" and "Clang Clang Clang" on # 4527 in late April. In June Lula Reed does the vocal on "Let's Call It A Day" while the band performs "Blues Mambo" on #4541. In July "I'll Drown In My Tears" shows up on the R & B top sellers in Washington D.C. and Philadelphia. By September "Tears" hits big in New York and is becoming one of the biggest hits for King nationally and the best seller for Thompson since "Long Gone". That month Sonny and his band appear with Dinah Washington at the Trenton Arena in New Jersey. "Let's Call It A Day" now starts to move on the sales charts in New Orleans and Dallas. In November Thompson's band plays the Showboat in Philadelphia and then is joined by vocalist Lula Reed for some sold out shows in Milwaukee and Minneapolis. In November Sonny Thompson records "Real Real Fine" (parts one and two) on # 4554, and backs up Lula Reed on two songs under her own name with "Let Me Be Your Love" and "My Story" on # 4578.

In February of 1953, Thompson records "Chloe" and a Lula Reed vocal on the song "Last Night" on King # 4595. Sonny is named in the trade press as a huge fan of the Brooklyn Dodgers, and will miss the season opener for an engagement at Dayton Ohio's Farm Dell Club. In April King releases "Clean Sweep" and "Insulated Sugar" featuring a vocal by Rufus Junior on # 4613. Sonny's next record for King came out in July with the songs "Low Flame" and a Lula Reed vocal on "Waiting To Be Loved By You" on # 4639. The vocal group The Orchids makes a number of personal appearances with the Sonny Thomson combo and they sign on with Republic Records. In October Thompson and his band appear at the "World Series of the Blues" show held in Richmond, California, which is the biggest R & B show ever to be held in the Oakland area. On stage with Sonny are Lula Reed, Camille Howard, Little Willie Littlefield, Roy Milton, Tiny Bradshaw, PeeWee Crayton, and many others. The show coincides with Thompson's new record for King - "Let's Move" and "My Heart Needs Someone" featuring Rufus Junior on vocals on # 4657.

In February of 1954 the Sonny Thompson recording trail for King Records rolls on. "Things Ain't What They Used To Be" with Lula Reed on vocal, and "So-o-o Good" released on # 4698. In April Sonny does a rare vocal himself on the tune "I Ain't No Watch Dog" and the flip side instrumental is "Down In The Dumps" on # 4712. In June the Sonny Thompson band with Lula Reed head for the West Coast for a period of personal appearances beginning with a two week stay at Seattle's China Pheasant. In June "Single Shot" and "I'm Pleadin And Beggin" by new vocalist Paul Tate is released by King on # 4718. In late July the Sonny Thompson-Lula Reed show plays dates at the Savoy Ballroom in Hollywood and King Records releases a two part song called "Cotton Ball 1 & 2" on # 4729. On tour Thompson and Reed continue to do great box office business on the West Coast. In October another two parter for Thompson is released by King on # 4647. The song is "The Cat On The Keys 1 & 2".

In January of 1955 Sonny Thompson with Lula Reed open an extended engagement at the 5-4 Ballroom in Los Angeles, their final appearance on the current tour of the Pacific Coast. A special guest for the 5-4 show was trumpet star Roy Eldridge. In July King # 4809 is released featuring the songs "First Base" and "Lonely Moon". During the fall of the year the Sonny Thompson Show with Lula Reed, The Champions, and Paul Tate, is heavily booked throughout the Southeast and Southern states until the end of the year. Sonny and his combo did the backing for Otis Williams & The Charms with their hit cover version of The Jewels "Hearts Of Stone". At this time Henry Stone, long associated with King Records left to go out on his own as a producer and moved to Miami where he created Chart Records. Sonny Thompson also made the move to Miami and the new label.

In early 1956 Sonny Thompson released his first records for Chart Records. First was # 611 which featured The Champions on the songs "It's Love It's Love" and "Mexico Bound". From the same session came another two part extended tune featuring his tenor sax man David Brooks. The song was "Slow Rock" parts 1 and 2 and was issued on Chart # 612. In May Sonny and his combo with The Champions do a week long engagement at the Zanzibar Lounge in Buffalo, New York. After those dates Sonny and his combo head back out to the West Coast. In June The Champions record with Sonny and his band on the tunes "Pay Me Some Attention" and "The Same Old Story" on Chart # 620. In November King Records releases an LP called "After Hours" that features some recordings by Sonny Thompson made for King in the last three years. That same month Chart releases another two part Thompson tune called "Juke Joint" on # 633, and soon it becomes Thompson's best seller for the Miami based label. Sonny Thompson and his band with The Champions, Lula Reed, and Paul Tate, tour the Eastern states and then head back to California for further one nighters. One last recording for the band during the year finds Thompson back on King Records with "Low Down" and "Lost In This Great Big City" on # 4992.

Well into his second decadeas a top R & B performer, Sonny Thompson began 1957 with a recordiing session for Chart Records that resulted in a January release of the tunes "Drive In" and "Drive Out" on # 637. In March Chart # 642 featured the Thompson two sided version of the pop tune "Candy". By late spring of the year Sonny Thompson ended his association with Henry Stone and Chart Records and returned to Chicago where he and Lula Reed his long time vocalist signed on with Chess Records. In late June King Records releases another side that was sitting on the shelf (apparently) with "Gum Shoe" and "Stop, Come See Me" with a vocal by Paul Tate on # 5055. On July 26 the Sonny Thompson band with Lula Reed kicked off a two month tour of the Midwest and West Coast along with vocal groups The Coasters, Cellos, Five Satins, Gene & Eunice, and others. In November Sonny and the band head east for a number of dates in Ohio - Dayton, Columbus, and Cleveland.

In June of 1958 King Records releases a LP album by Sonny called "Moody Blue". A year later Sonny Thompson is still in demand as he readies his band with Lula Reed to hit the road with a show called "Record Stars On Parade" that will kick off at Chicago's Tivoli Theater. Also on the bill are The Moonglows, Dave "Baby" Cortez, The Virtues, Valerie Carr, Arnold Dover, and others. The lineup for this show is an indicator of the changing sound of music in the late fifties which has moved away from the pure R & B of earlier years and looks to build a "crossover" audience. Thompson continues on with Lula Reed for another year and then ends his prolific career as a performing musician and recording artist for the most part, becoming more involved in the production side of the record industry as a musical director, producer, and A & R man for King Records concentrating in the Chicago area. 1948 was certainly huge for Thompson, scoring two number one R & B hits with "Long Gone" and "Late Freight". He also had three others that sold well for Miracle plus three chart hits for King in a fifteen year career on record. Sonny Thompson was one of the giants of the R & B world during the post war forties and into the late fifties. Like many other top musicians of that era, his time in the spotlight came to early for him to reap the just rewards that were due. Sonny Thompson passed away in August of 1989 in Chicago.

In 2004 Blue Moon issued a four CD set that offers the listener a recorded history of the career of Sonny Thompson. The set called "The Complete Recordings of Sonny Thompson" covers 1946-49 in volume 1, 1949-51 in volume 2, 1951-52 in volume 3, and 1952-54 in volume 4. Each cd has at least 22 tracks and gives the Sonny Thompson story in music a wonderful retrospective. Other cds that are available will have some duplication of the songs and are a more concise package. "Mellow Blues" from EPM Musique is a 2004 release with 22 tracks, "Jam Sonny, Jam" from Sequel is a 20 track cd from 1997, and See For Miles has "The EP Collection" a 26 track set.

(ed.note : some of the discographical information regarding Sonny Thompson on Miracle Records was found on the web site of the Red Saunders Research Foundation)

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