The Drake effect
Another “very special guest” is promised.
The first 100 people at the MoCA show will get a CD single of “Opportunity,” from Thomas’ first studio album of new material in two decades, “Wings of Change,” due for release in September.
“It’s just for the fans, to say, ‘Timmy Thomas is still here, and he still has it,’” Bowker says.
There are many legitimate reasons to celebrate Thomas’ career again, but it might not have happened if not for rapper Drake and a little song called “Hotline Bling.”
It was days after the July digital release of “Hotline Bling” that Thomas’ greatniece in Evansville, Ind., where he was raised, called to tell him that Drake was “playing your song.”
“I said, ‘Drake who?’” Thomas recalls, laughing.
His 19-year-old granddaughter, who lives with Thomas and his wife of 50 years, Lillie, helped him get up to speed on the Internet. He found that Drake had not merely covered “Why Can’t We Live Together” but had used the distinctively jazzy chill of Thomas’ original keyboard track, stripped of its vocals, as the basis for “Hotline Bling.”
Thomas also discovered a couple of other things. One: “It’s a super big song, you know?”
Indeed, “Hotline Bling” was one of the most inescapable hits of 2015, topping out at No. 2 on the Billboard singles chart and landing on many critics’ year-end best-of lists, with an accompanying video that launched a thousand memes.
Thomas wrote “Why Can’t We Live Together” at home in a fit of anguish after watching newscaster Walter Cronkite inform him that tens of thousands of American and Vietnamese soldiers had died that day in 1972 in the Vietnam War. Thomas’ appeal for peace and brotherhood later became the theme song during the historic 1994 South African general election that installed President Nelson Mandela.
“Hotline Bling” is Drake whining about the fact that the girl he broke up with has moved on. Spin magazine called it a “skanking late-night moan.”
But Thomas has no problem with the repurposing.
“Oh, man, I wanted to jump a couple of flips. I was very happy that he brought my music back and got it heard again,” says Thomas, who read that Drake and his producer, Nineteen85, called his work “the most dopest” keyboard track they could find. “I had to learn what ‘dope’ means,” he says, laughing.
Another thing Thomas discovered: Drake and Nineteen85 acknowledged him in the credits on “Hotline Bling” for writing the music, which Thomas owns. If a dime is paid every time the song is played, Thomas says he and Drake each get a nickel.
Broadcast Music Inc., which collects license fees on behalf of songwriters and composers, distributes royalties quarterly starting nine months after a song is published, Thomas says, acknowledging the first check should be coming soon.
“I just got a call from BMI. They said, ‘Is this Timmy Thomas? We just want you to know that you’re looking good this month,’” Thomas says, smiling. “They didn’t tell me how much. They can’t tell me that yet. But I can put something on layaway, if you know what I mean. I’m 71 years old, man. My God!”
Timmy Thomas and the Overtown Soul Revue will perform 8 p.m. tonight at the Museum of Contemporary Art, 770 NE125th St., in North Miami. Admission is free. Call 305-893-6211 or go to MOCANoMI. org.