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B.J. Thomas struggles;NEWLN:Country Born-again, gospel era hurt entertainer

By
JIM LEWIS

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- B.J. Thomas has no regrets about going public with his story of drug addiction, but he concedes it has posed a problem for his singing career.

Thomas, who enjoyed tremendous success as a pop-country vocalist, was basically washed up by the time he was 30 because of drug addiction.

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But he kicked the habit, became a born-again Christian, concentrated on gospel music and wrote a book about his experiences.

'I personally believe now that big gospel exposure and the books and things virtually ended my music career,' Thomas said in an interview.

'It's really been a hard struggle to just get back to a level and find an audience for my music. Once I did this in public, it really kind of turned a lot of people off -- people I'd like to sing to. I have a lot of Jewish friends and Arabian friends and when I came out with this thing they thought B.J. doesn't like us any more.'

But it may go deeper than that for B.J. (Billy Jo).

'Really it has been a struggle to overcome some of the misconceptions that are put on you when you do something that has a religious connotation. I've been struggling to just erase the religious feeling about me. I don't care if people know I'm spiritual, but I'm just a regular guy.

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'I've been busted for pot since then (his born-again experience). I still have my problems. I guess I'll always be a drug adddict. I have to work on that day to day. I found getting born again helped me turn my life around. The longer I was a Christian the more I found, you know, I don't want anybody to burn up. I want everybody to get that reward and find that love in them. I don't want to be liberal or anything, it was just a progression.'

Thomas is being marketed as country since his gospel days and no matter what he says, he's had some post born-again success.

He has had three well-received albums since signing with Columbia in 1982. He's had two No. 1 country hits, 'Whatever Happened to Old Fashioned Love' and 'New Looks From An Old Lover.'

In his 20 years in the music business Thomas has won five Grammys and sold nearly 50 million records. Some of his hits have a lasting quality, including 'Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head' and 'Hooked On A Feeling.'

Thomas has a new album out now and he makes no apologies for it. It's contemporary country, not traditional as is the trend these days.

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'It's not a departure from country. I've always had some country success, but I think even country radio people and the fans would agree I'm not a traditional country singer.

'I can sing country music, but I'm not a George Jones. I try not to depart too far away from my country fans. It's more mainstream.'

Thomas said he was happy to see traditional artists like Ricky Skaggs get the Country Music Association Awards this year.

But still, Thomas has to tackle his identity problem.

'I have an identity problem. There are a lot of people in radio who control what is played who have confusion with who I am. I've been so many different places over the past few years that there will be some confusion. I let my music speak for me. I know I've done so many interviews on gospel, that it has confused many people.

But Thomas says he hopes the confusion will be cleared up after a few more albums are released.

'I've been blowing back and forth with the wind. One album will be country and another album will be gospel, and the next be rock 'n' roll. I think I've got my head on a little straighter about what I want to do with my music, and I think if I stay consistent with my music and the sound of my music over a long period of time I can clear up some of this confusion.'

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And B.J. Thomas' just released album has what he thinks will be his next No. 1 hit. It's called 'America Is.'

'It will be released early next year. It's got that Statue of Liberty feeling of the country. I feel like it will be a No. 1 song.'

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