Dubbed the King of 21st Century blues, Chris Thomas King has been recording and playing his music across the country since he was in junior high. King has sold more than 10 million albums in the United States. He is not only a musician, but he is a film and television actor, composer, owns his own recording company, Grammy and Oscar award winner and now he can add book writer to his repertoire. IN had a chance to catch up with King at his home in New Orleans.
Getting a start in music is a lot of work no matter what. King had a leg-up on the competition – his father and extended family were musicians. They got him started with the trumpet. While in college, he was in a marching band. “I experimented with a lot of instruments and stumbled on the guitar. I liked it because it was loud and annoying; this is the instrument I want,” King said.
“From about 11 to 16 years of age, I was playing professional gigs with older blues guys, playing gospel and playing the drums too. We would spend weekends touring places in Florida and Baton Rouge, Louisiana at Tabby’s Blues Box, my Dad’s club – it was a real playing experience and a family business,” said King.
In his studio, he has a bass, drums, and mandolin and string instruments. “You have to play instruments like that daily, keep the muscle memory intact, they are athletic instruments,” King said.
King left high school, and got his GED, moved to Austin, Texas and then on to Europe. He lived there for four years in the 1990s. King had great success in Copenhagen, Denmark primarily, much more popularity than in the United States at the time. Wide exposure was difficult especially if you were too progressive – record companies backed off. “In Europe, and France specifically, they loved to push the envelope, in the States record companies don’t want you to have any musical influences or use new technology,” King said.
King came back to New Orleans from Europe and felt the time was right for his music – to start over and play the electric guitar his way. In 1998, King recorded his album titled “Red Mud.” Before that, he already had eight albums under his belt. National Public Radio highlighted his music and a casting director saw him, they asked him to take a screen test for a movie they were making. He cleared his schedule and worked hard on the music as well as developing his acting chops. The work paid off, he landed the role as Tommy Johnson, in the movie “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” which was produced by the Coen Brothers and starred George Clooney, John Turturro and Tim Blake Nelson.
“Once you are established others will you use you for their films,” King said. Another notable role was Lowell Fulson in the movie “Ray,” with Jamie Foxx, about the life of Ray Charles.
King has been involved in scoring music for films as well. His latest was for a 2011 film called “The Mechanic,” starring Jason Statham. “I have been asked to score the music for a stage play or two as well,” King said. “I may take them up on the offer. The composer controls the storytelling in a stage play, but in a movie, the director controls the emotional parts. The director sends raw footage and you give the director what they want.”
Since 1984, King has recorded 24 albums. King says that “Antebellum Postcards” is the best representation of his style of music in years. “It is my best one – it sounds good to my ears,” he said.
He wrote 30 songs for the album and narrowed them down to 10 that made the cut. King will be releasing more of the songs written later this year.
The book King is writing right now is about the origins of the blues. He has a brand new twist on how the sound was developed and spread across the country. It will be published by Louisiana State University when he finishes it this spring. King said he is “pulling back the layers and revealing the story underneath.”
Each album he makes is another chapter in his life, and there are many more chapters to come.
King will be playing all the favorites from his movies “Ray” and “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” as well as songs from his new album, new arrangements and a new show.
CHRIS THOMAS KING WITH BETSY BADWATER AND LANG HOLLOWMAN
WHEN: 8 p.m. Saturday, January 21
WHERE: Vinyl Music Hall, 2 S. Palafox