RIP Gene Thomas: Swamp-Pop Singer of "Sometimes" Passes Away at 74

Categories: Miles-tones

gene and debbe late 60s.jpg
Photos courtesy of Vicki Welch Ayo
Gene and Debbe in the late 1960s
Gene Thomas, the Texas singer and songwriter whose 1961 swamp-pop hit "Sometimes" was recorded at Houston's Gold Star Studios (later SugarHill), and was later covered by Doug Sahm, passed away Sunday morning. Houston musician Buzzy Smith announced Thomas' death on his Facebook page.

The Palestine native was 74. He had been diagnosed with advanced lung cancer in July, Thomas' wife Darlene posted on his Facebook page at the time.

According to Vicki Welch Ayo, author of the forthcoming book Boys From Houston, Thomas (born Gene Thomasson) picked up a guitar at age 12 and was performing in Houston by his 18th birthday. He cut "Sometimes" with "two friends and two hired musicians," and although it was ignored at first, it eventually went to No. 1 in all the big Texas cities, Ayo says.

"I played Elks, Moose Lodges, Lion's (all the animal kingdom clubs) National Guard Armories, etc; every place with four walls and electricity for plugging in the amps," Thomas tells Ayo in Boys from Houston, which she says is in the final-edit stages at Texas A&M University Press.

Gene Thomas circa 1960 Aug17.jpg
Gene Thomas circa 1960
"One day, a dive, the next, a swank hotel," he continues. "Dreading a lot of those things, because, most often he would go in and sing a few, with whatever house band they would have. They were not all so good or maybe they didn't know your song.

"Once, way back, I think the band was Mickey Gilley's band that backed me at Taylor hall, but as I said it's been so long ago, for me anyway."

After "Sometimes" reached No. 51 on the Billboard Hot 100, Thomas reached the charts again with "Baby's Gone" in 1963. He then went to work as a songwriter for famous Nashville publishing house Acuff-Rose and later had some more chart success as a member of Everly Brothers-ish Gene & Debbe, a country-pop duo who scored several other hits, the biggest of which 1968's "Playboy."

Debbe was Debbe Neville, to whom Thomas was also married.

Thomas' songs were recorded by dozens of country and pop stars, including George Jones, Don Giibson, the Everlys, Dean Martin, Eddie Raven, Freddy Fender, Paul Revere and the Raiders, Roy Orbison, Carl Smith, Mickey Gilley, Connie Smith, Johnny Lee, Charlie Louvin and Dottie West.

His "Lay It Down" was recorded by Kenny Rogers, Waylon Jennings and even Tina Turner on her 1973 album Tina Sings Country.

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So sorry it took more than a year for me to learn the sad news of Gene Thomas' death in 2012.  He was always BIG in Texas ... I was surprised to learn of his limited chart success nationwide. To me all his songs were hits. I spent about 15 years during the 70's and 80's searching record stores in Houston, Austin, and San Antonio until I had collected all his 45's I remembered from the 1960's, right up through "Playboy". I particularly like the early songs with the killer saxophone.

I put together a "Gene Thomas Greatest Hits" cassette tape, as well as a tape of the songs I remembered being on the jukebox at Garner Park. I ended it with "Last Song" just as they did each Saturday night when it was time for the Pavilion to close.


Gene was a great friend of myself & my father. I knew him since 1956 he & my father played music together, I was learning to play the guitar. I was only 5 years old at that time. I have followed him all these years & way sad to hear of his passing. He was a great guy! Kenny 

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