Funk Originator & 35-Year James Brown Bassist Fred Thomas Releases Solo Debut Single w/ Clyde Stubblefield on Drums

Article Contributed by Nick Loss-Eato… | Published on Friday, May 3, 2024

Fans have heard Fred Thomas on James Brown & The J.B.s’ “Pass the Peas,” “Hot Pants,” “Doing it to Death (Funky Good Time),” “Get on the Good Foot,” and other hits from the origins of funk. From 1971 to 2006, Fred Thomas of the J.B.’s was the primary bassist for the Godfather of Soul, Mr. James Brown. This spring, he will release his first singles as a bandleader, starting with the powerhouse “Living In New York City” May 3, continuing with the soul ballad “Nothing’s Gonna Change (My Love For You)” May 17; and followed by the funk workout “For a Lick and a Promise” May 31.

"Living in New York City":

After 1976, Fred took extended breaks from Mr. Brown, going back to his own roots as a bandleader and vocalist. It was during this time he wrote “Living in New York City.” “I wrote the song back in the late 80's before I rejoined James Brown in 1992. I was just rolling along doing what was necessary and available to me to keep on doing my best. Some time down and out but I had to keep on moving and never was in doubt,” recalls Thomas, who first moved to New York City in 1965. The song sounds like a soundtrack to a long-lost NYC film.

Longtime guitarist and collaborator, Gabriel Caplan had demoed “Living In New York City” with Fred after Fred first showed him the chorus riff in a dressing room at Millennial Park backing up Naomi Shelton & the Gospel Queens. They started production at the top of 2023, featuring drums by Clyde Stubblefield available from Yurt Rock.

Caplan said, “Fred’s tenure with Mr. Brown lined up mostly with drum greats Jabo and Morgan. Fred and Clyde didn’t actually record together in their respective eras. When hearing the multitracks of Clyde, I knew this would be a beautiful way to kick off Fred’s first recording as a solo artist, reconnecting two legends.”

Thomas has an awe-inspiring and tight band in Brooklyn these days, consisting of both young players and veterans he’s known for decades. They tracked the song at their home base, Sisserou Sounds in Dumbo, Brooklyn. Fred’s tenor player, Kaori Kiki Nakajima, was brought in to arrange Fred’s horn part with her and Tyrone Cox (founding member of Crown Heights Affair, touring musician with Wilson Pickett, Ben E. King, The Isley Brothers) on trumpet, and supplemented with regulars Jackie Coleman, trumpet, and Alex Asher, trombone.

Gabriel had Bruce Cox in the studio, home from tour as drummer for Fred Wesley. While there for the other songs, Bruce laid down conga for the track.

Fred and Gabriel brought “Living in New York City” for mixing with their production partner and touring drummer, Andy Bauer (Kendra Morris, Say She She, Twin Shadow, West Division), at his studio in the heart of the creative scenes in Bushwick, Brooklyn,

The song was mastered by Kevin Blackler (Antibalas, Eli “Paperboy” Reed, Dreams Girls Original Motion Picture Soundtrack, Toots & The Maytals).

In recent years, in addition to leading his own band in NYC, Thomas has toured Europe, played the prestigious Telluride Blues & Brews Festival, played Carrboro, will play NC’s Freight Train Blues series on May 19, and has been recording with the Music Maker Blues Revue (with fellow J.B.’s alum Robert Lee Coleman).

Upcoming performances including the Montana Folk Festival can be found on his website:

James Brown's bassist for over 35 years, Fred Thomas occupies a very special niche in the history of R&B. As James Brown’s principal bassist since 1971 (the “Make if Funky” era), he participated in one the most prolific periods in the Godfather of Soul’s incredible career as a member of Brown’s band, the J.B.'s.

Fred can be heard on hits such as: “Hot Pants”, “Papa Don’t Take No Mess,” “Make it Funky,” "Get on the Good Foot," "Doing it to Death," "I'm a Greedy Man," "I Got Ants in My Pants," "There it Is," "Stoned to the Bone," and instrumental classics like “Pass the Peas” and “Gimme Some More.” His lines heard on songs like Bobby Byrd's "I Know You Got Soul", Lyn Collin's "Think" have been sampled numerous times.

He's on the seminal "Live at the Apollo Vol. 3 Revolution of the Mind" and can be seen in "Soul Power" (2008) documentary of James Brown's 1974 concert in Zaire, and in the many James Brown "Soul Train" appearances.

In his band, Fred Thomas is front and center singing, playing bass and tearing into a mix of blues and soul classics and the JB hits he recorded on.