AMY SIMS -- Daily Corinthian -- Jan 14, 2001

Brothers offering preview of musical tour of Blues highway

IUKA --Two locals will interrupt the hush normally present at the Iuka Library to conduct a musical history lesson on the blues and jazz born along U.S. 61 from Memphis, Tenn., to New Orleans, La.

The brothers Thomas, otherwise known as Eddie and Frank, will be the featured guests of Tuesday's Friends of the Iuka Library Lunch Break at noon, when Eddie and his guitar will perform excerpts from some of the more than 40 songs already recorded live for the 61 song "Angels on the Backroads" project.

Prior to and after the lunch, Frank -will allow the audience a sneak listen at the live digital recordings he engineered at locations where blues and jazz history was made.

"After we did the tour for the Natchez Trace Parkway, we felt a tour of Highway 61 was the next logical move," referred Eddie to the siblings' audio driving tour that connects all the historical landmarks along the scenic route.

The brothers spent hours listening to and sampling song after song inside the depths of the Mississippi Blues Archive at the University of Mississippi in preparation for their musical journey.  They then mapped out the cities, towns and landmarks they would visit.  

From the Memphis, Tenn., rooftop where W.C. Handy -- considered the father of the blues  -- performed his "Saint Louis Blues" for the first time to the site of the 1927 flood and levee break at Mounds Landing in the Mississippi Delta that inspired Charlie Patton's "High Water Everywhere," the Thomas brothers have made their recordings unique by documenting where they are and why the area is relevant to the song in either audio or written form. "We have some commentary along with the music, and we include our reasons for recording each song in the liner notes," explained Eddie.

Eddie further explained how the journey down U.S. 61 clearly defines how the sound changes from region to region, as Memphis urban blues is rooted in ragtime influences, the Delta is I the geographical womb from which the rawest of blues music was conceived and New Orleans is all about the jazz.

Whether on stage at the Orpheum Theatre, knee deep in a cotton field down in the heart of Delta country or at a club along Bourbon Street, it is safe to say this comprehensive recording will be one of a kind.

The Thomsases plan to complete their final recording by fall 2001.

The Thomas brothers have come a long way from their days in the Iuka High School marching band and Eddie's first brush with future musical greatness after he and his six-piece band won at the Mid-South Fair.  Part of their prize was the opportunity to record a song at the American Studio in Memphis, where a young, unknown Isaac Hayes was granted permission to accompany Eddie's group on Howlin' Wolf's "Spoonful."

Eddie went on to earn a bachelor's degree at Mississippi State University, before teaching eighth-grade science and then pursuing a pharmacy degree at the University of Mississippi. He worked as a pharmacist in Corinth before following his musical ambitions.

Frank attended Mississippi State, and graduated from Louisiana State University with a degree in general studies.

More than just musical enthusiasts, the brothers now operate their own production company in Iuka. Thomasfilms Inc.. is the recipient of a Gold Award from the Houston Film Festival.

The bimonthly lunch break is sponsored by the 330-strong Friends of the Iuka Library. A light lunch is included in the $2 admission fee, and all proceeds benefit the library .