No. 1 hit made Mickey Thomas a shooting star
Considering Mickey Thomas’ high-reaching harmonics and Elvin Bishop folksy, front-porch style of singing, it might be hard to find a greater contrast of musical voices. But when the song “Fooled Around and Fell in Love” by the Elvin Bishop Band hit the top of the carts in 1976, there was confusion.
“The natural assumption was that it was Elvin Bishop who was singing,” Thomas said.
Bishop, a former guitarist with the Paul Butterfield Blues Band, was already established in the blues world. But the single sung by Thomas brought mainstream attention to Bishop’s new band, and listeners had a burning question: “Who is this mystery voice?” said Thomas, who remembered how hearing himself on the radio changed his life.
“A lot of peers found out about me through that, and ultimately I did get credit for it,” he said. “It opened a lot of doors for me. I feel fortunate and thankful.”
Thomas was not the lyricist, although he did improvise a verse that remained in the song’s final cut.
“Free, on my own. That’s how I used to be. But since I met you, baby, love’s got a hold of me,” Thomas sang into the phone for an appreciative Lake Tahoe Action reporter.
Thomas first musical inspiration came in 1965 when he saw the Beatles in Atlanta. Afterward, he and his friends started a band with Thomas, trying to emulate John Lennon, singing and playing rhythm guitar.
“We were pretty terrible, but it was a start,” Thomas said.
A native of Cairo, Ga., a coastal town just north of Tallahassee, Fla. known for producing athletes, not musicians, Thomas went on to play in a rock and R&B band called the Jets.
Gospel singer Gideon Daniels befriended Thomas and changed his musical direction.
“He inspired a vocal style rooted in black gospel,” Thomas said. “Really, pure emotion is what it’s all about.”
It was Daniels who convinced Bishop to hire Thomas.
On the heels of “Fooled Around and Fell in Love,” Thomas was set to launch a solo career when his telephone started ringing. Jefferson Airplane was reforming the band without Marty Balin and Grace Slick and they wanted Thomas to be the new singer. After meeting Paul Kantner at his home, Thomas joined the band.
Slick eventually rejoined the band, sharing the vocals with Thomas. Renamed Jefferson Starship and later simply Starship, numerous hits filled the air, including “We Built This City,” “Winds of Change,” “Jane.” “Stranger,” “Find Your Way Back,” “Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now,” “It’s Not Over (‘Til It’s Over)” and “Sarah,” a song Thomas wrote about his wife who he reportedly met in South Lake Tahoe.
Today, with no Jefferson Airplane members remaining, the band is called Mickey Thomas and Starship. Thomas, who also has two solo albums, said he plays about 75-80 shows a year.
A Starship’s greatest hits live album is planned for release next summer on Sony Music.
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