Angels on the Backroads
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Angels on the Backroads

Iuka, Mississippi, United States

Iuka, Mississippi, United States
Band Americana Acoustic


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"Crown Hotel, Nantwich, England"

This appearance in Nantwich formed part of the second tour of the UK by Eddie and Frank Thomas within the space of six months. The brothers from luka, Mississippi, received rave reviews from their first tour in the spring of this year and were in great demand to make a return visit. Furthermore, their Angels on the Backroads 65-song, four-CD tribute to blues and jazz was awarded a '10' by Mike Mager in the June 2005 edition of Blues In Britain. On witnessing this performance, it is not surprising that their talent, warmth and charm touched the hearts of so many people.

Eddie and Frank wonderfully combine their respective skills of musicianship and filmmaking to provide a riveting melange of music, history and geographical images around a journey along Highway 61 from Memphis to New Orleans. Eddie sings and plays the music and delivers a commentary on Frank's sensitively compiled film, which depicts the Mississippi river, the railroad and Highway 61 itself and the cities and townships along the way. It also gives a flavour of the ancient and modern aspects of the cotton industry from the old buildings on legendary plantations to the current machinery that has replaced the labour-intensive cotton picking methods that inspired and nurtured the blues.

The musical element of the show fully demonstrates Eddie Thomas's remarkable versatility, embracing fine vocals, intricate finger-picking on acoustic guitar, authentic slide on his 1932 National, occasional blues harp and some beautifully controlled artistry on muted trumpet. The first set of the programme began very appropriately with Rice Miller's "Good Evening, Everybody", followed by the "Downtown Blues" of Frank Stokes. The National was introduced on terrific versions of Charlie Patton's "High Water Everywhere", describing the devastation caused by the flood of 1927, and Robert Johnson's "Crossroad Blues", while the trumpet was initially employed to accompany footage of Po' Monkey's (the Poor Monkey Lounge juke joint in Merigold, MS). The acoustic guitar was reintroduced for Mississippi John Hurt's "Avalon Blues" and the steel for Patton's "Pea Vine Blues" over pictures of the Dockery Farms. To end the set, we were treated to another helping of fine trumpet playing, which included "Hotter Than That" in affectionate memory of Louis Armstrong.

The delight was undiminished throughout the second set, which featured music by Arthur 'Big Boy' Crudup, Gus Cannon, Bukka White, Big Bill Broonzy and Lonnie Johnson. In contrast and by way of acknowledging the simultaneous and influential development of jazz and country music, it also contained a splendid rendition of "Mr Jelly Lord" in homage to Jelly Roll Morton and Jimmie Rodgers' "Mississippi River Blues". Finally, this unique presentation of superb entertainment was brought to a close by Louis Jordan's "Let The Good Times Roll", which, in truth, was an entirely inappropriate and superfluous exhortation, as the good times had already rolled in abundance all evening.

- Lionel Ross - Blues in Britain

"Bluesnights@Dorchester Arts Centre"

Kicking off this, their second tour of the UK, Eddie and Frank Thomas from the tiny town of luka, Mississippi, brought their fascinating show Angels on the Backroads to Dorchester. Frank, the photographer and filmmaker, and Eddie the multi-instrumentalist and vocalist, had taken for their theme the famous Highway 61, focusing on the southern section which runs from Memphis to New Orleans. As the film rolled Eddie provided a verbal commentary and at various points along the route they stopped off and checked out the history. This was a very rich and illuminating experience, encompassing the origins of Delta Blues and its evolution.

Eddie played harmonica, trumpet and two guitars -one being a National Steel evidently once owned by Bo Carter. As this journey unfolded we heard the music of artists who had played a significant part in the development of blues and jazz - Sonny Boy Williamson, Frank Stokes, Jim Jackson, Charley Patton, Son House, Robert Johnson, Muddy Walters, Mississippi John Hurt; the roster even featured Jelly Roll Morton, Lester Young and Satchmo himself. Eddie's playing and singing were superb, delivered with grace and panache. He is a natural entertainer and made everyone feel at home. The visual and audio quality of the film were excellent helping to bring all the well-known place names into focus and bring the audience closer to the music and those who created it. This was a very informative and well thought out concert. Two particular highlights for me were Arthur "Big Boy" Crudup's "Mean Ol' Frisco" and Mississippi John Hurt's "Avalon Blues". The tiny auditorium, with just 90 seats, was full to overflowing, proving that shows like Angels on the Backroads offer not just great live music, but also an opportunity to discover some of the rich history that has shaped blues and jazz. I would highly recommend it.
– Lewis A. Harris - Blues in Britain

"The 15th Banbury Blues Festival, England"

Eddie & Frank Thomas...
...took to the stage armed only with a guitar and trumpet, well that was Eddie. Frank had handfuls of remote controls, a DVD player, projector and screen. These two brothers from luka, Mississippi, have been researching the history of the blues along Route 61, from Memphis to New Orleans. They have been back to many of the places mentioned in the history books and played a song or two that would have originally been played there. They have filmed the area as it is now and recorded the songs. This afternoon's performance was an extract from those performances. Eddie played the songs live while Frank played the films showing the locations, complete with their sounds. This presentation was so spellbinding and absorbing that your reviewer was left with a blank page in his notebook by the end. I can only sum it all up in the statement 'I've got to go there!' - Blues in Britain

"The 17th Burnley International Blues Festival, England"

I was not alone in wondering just who The Thomas Brothers were - and what they were going to entertain us with? It turns out that these two sons of luka, Mississippi have their own film production company. Their latest joint venture is Angels on the Backroads, a four CD set.

Eddie and Frank recently embarked on a musical tour of discovery down U.S. Highway 61. Filming and playing at every major location between Memphis and New Orleans, they captured the heart and soul of traditional US blues. The end result is a well-crafted film that we saw a large extract from this afternoon, complete with musical accompaniment and dialogue from Eddie, while Frank took care of the projectionists role.

Playing a variety of 6-string acoustic and Dobro guitars and the odd trumpet solo, Eddie ranged through a variety of material from the new CD, including Frank Stokes' "Downtown Blues", Jim Jackson's "JJ's Kansas City Blues", Charlie Patton's "Pea Vine Blues", and even a song from Satchmo himself, the 1926 "Hotter Than That". There were also tunes from Arthur "Big Boy" Crudup, Gus Cannon and Buddy Bolden, rounded off with Bukka White and Jimmy Rogers.

To hear Eddie range through this illustrious repertoire and see the accompanying film on the big screen is the closest thing to actually being there. The Thomas Brothers have produced a work of considerable achievement, and it is conveyed with a sense of total commitment to what they do. - Blues in Britain

"Review of 4CD Angels on the Backroads Box Set"

Eddie & Frank Thomas - Angels on the Backroads The Thomas Brothers are sons of luka, Mississippi, and have their own film production company. This latest joint venture is a mammoth four CD set.

Eddie and Frank recently embarked on a musical tour of discovery down U.S. Highway 61. Filming and playing at every major location between Memphis and New Orleans, they captured the heart and soul of traditional US blues. The end result is a well-crafted film that the Thomas Brothers have recently been touring. This is the accompanying CD set.

Eddie takes care of the performing duties and sings and plays all of the instruments heard on the CDs, whilst Frank does the studio and location recordings.

Volume 1. Memphis to Clack's Store kicks off in the lobby of the Peabody Hotel in Memphis with Kid Bailey's "Mississippi Bottom Blues", originally recorded at the same location in 1929. It romps through a selection of tunes from the likes of The Memphis Jug Band and W.C. Handy before culminating at the site of Clack's store north of Robinsonville, with Son House's "Shetland Pony Blues".

Volume 2 continues from Robinsonville to the Valley Stores at Avalon, home of Mississippi John Hurt and inspiration for his "Avalon Blues". Along the way we are treated to songs from Robert Johnson, Sonny Boy Williamson. Muddy Waters and Howlin' Wolf, all of whom lived and played in the locations featured here.

Volume 3, Mounds Landing (where the levee broke in 1927) to Crawford Street in Vicksburg, encounters Big Bill Broonzy. Robert Petway, Arthur Crudup and Skip James, before closing with Willie Dixon's "You Can't Judge A Book".

Volume 4, the final leg, documents the odyssey from Levee Street in Vicksburg to the journey's end at St. Louis Cathedral in New Orleans. Tunes from the likes of Sleepy John Estes, Jimmie Rodgers, Huddie Ledbetter, Jelly Roll Morton and Louis Armstrong complete the final CD.

This is much more than a labour of love from the brothers. It is an inspired and visionary collection documenting the birth, infancy and subsequent progression of delta and country blues. Extensive liner notes and a map are included.

It should be an essential component in the collection of every blues fan (in spite of the cost).

Rating: 10 - Mike Mager - Blues in Britain

"The Thomas Brothers"

Angels on the Backroads...
... is a live music and film performance, by brothers Eddie and Frank Thomas, who will be touring in the UK again in October and November. This email from Frank Thomas covers the brothers' history and explains what their performance is about.

Mississippi... both the River and the State have a certain exotic appeal, and for people interested in the growth of Country Blues, the Delta lies near and dear to the heart of an amazing story.

Eddie and I grew up in the hills of northeast Mississippi in the small town of luka. Culturally and geographically, the hills of Mississippi don't much resemble the Delta, and we grew up not realizing that the roots of the music that rocked our early lives in the 1950s and 60s ran deep in the soil of our native state, soil only a dusty day's ride to our west. It was the British musical invasion of the US in the 60s that really brought the importance of this land to our attention, but the extent to which the Delta in Mississippi has shaped our music didn't reach us until much later.

Eddie and I both played trumpet in our high school band and sang in the church choir (had to, our mother was the choir director). As a child Eddie was further inoculated with music by listening to obscure radio shows like Randy's Record Shop out of Gallatin, Tennessee, listening over a 6 transistor radio while hiding beneath his bed sheets late at night. He performed this music too, in small combos throughout his high school and college days. He began playing folk guitar in the 1960s and during the 1970s played in a musical duo along the rocky coast of Maine in New England.

When I finished college, the two of us formed a partnership to combine our talents, Eddie's music and my interest in telling stories with film and writing. We did promotional films - ski resorts, tennis camps and the like, and a few entertainment pieces of our own.

A film we planned for the Natchez Trace, an American Indian trail and frontier road that runs through Mississippi, turned into an audio driving tour instead. Travelers along the Natchez Trace Parkway now use our Natchez Trace: A Road Through the Wilderness to learn the history of this ancient roadway as they travel its 450 miles from Nashville, Tennessee to Natchez, Mississippi. Eddie wrote an album of original music as part of this audio tour, which led us to spend more time on our music.

Following the success of Natchez Trace: A Road Through the Wilderness we decided to do a similar tour for Highway 61, the blues highway, along the section from Memphis, Tennessee to New Orleans, Louisiana. This goes through Mississippi and the Delta. Rather than using original music for this journey, we focused on classic as well as obscure roots music created by the early heroes of blues and jazz. To make this a special tribute to these Angels on the Backroads, we recorded faithful renditions of their music while on location on the land and in places that inspired them. The resulting 65 song, 4 CD tribute to blues and jazz, Angels on the Backroads, has tunes we recorded in barns and cotton gins, atop parked train cars and a Memphis office building, alongside roads, rivers and a cypress swamp, in a hotel lobby, in theaters, at train stations, dusty store fronts, juke joints, churches and a cathedral choir loft....

Eddie performed all the music, and I recorded it. During our journeys we learned about the people, the land and the music. It surprised us that many of the people in today's Delta have lost the history of this music and the importance their land and culture played in the music's growth. We determined that when our CD tribute was finished we would return to help rekindle their interest. We were given the opportunity, by grant money provided through Delta State University, to make a musical tour to high schools in Mississippi during the fall of 2004. To help the story relate to students, we videotaped scenes of the land that we projected during Eddie's live performance. It was a delight to see children in the high schools of Mississippi connecting with their history and music.

John Morgan at the Carrick Music Agency in Scotland was planning our first tour to the UK for the spring of this year when he saw clips from one of our high school performances. He felt that UK audiences would appreciate seeing these Mississippi images too.

So... We made our first trip to the UK for five weeks in March and April and had the time of our lives lugging two guitars, a harmonica, a trumpet, and a video projector over 3500 miles of England, Scotland and North Wales. It was a whirlwind experience for two guys from Mississippi, and we were treated royally everywhere we went. I love the review Simon Heath posted on the Otterton Mill website following our performance at the mill on March 31:

"One of the best nights we've had here - an absolutely magical journey down the Mississippi with wonderful film and photographic images accompanying stories and songs - if you get the chance to see this show, grab it with both hands!"

Nice huh? Well, you will be the final judge of how we've done with our efforts, but that's the way I'll forever remember this first magical trip to the UK - five weeks packed with that kind of enthusiasm.

From time to time people have asked what makes Country Blues and the Delta so special. I hope our show helps audiences to ponder and come up with their own thoughts and answers to that. I know it can add a dimension to the music by taking a look at the Delta today. A lot has changed in the Delta and throughout the world since this music was created, and much hasn't changed at all, since the human heart is just as pure and innocent, just as corrupt and guilty as ever. What the Angels on the Backroads did with their music and their lives, perhaps without even intending it, is help give eyes and ears to better understand our world. How rare and important a gift for us today!

Eddie and I hope to see many of you when we return to the UK on tour in October and November 2005.
- Frank Thomas - Blues in Britain

"Angels on the Backroads"

Call it a labor of love, because there’s really no other way to describe this undertaking. Sixty-five songs, recorded not for posterity or for big bucks, but for the sheer love of the music. Sixty-five songs, recorded on the site the song was originally recorded, or, if that was impossible, on a site that proved inspirational to the original songwriter. Sixty-five songs, lovingly performed by Eddie Thomas and – just as lovingly – recorded by his brother, Frank Thomas.

The first disc in this collection, subtitled Memphis To Clack’s Store, follows the duo from the Peabody Hotel, where Eddie plays a stirring acoustic rendition of Kid Bailey’s laconic Mississippi Bottom Blues, before traveling over to Beale Street for Alberta Hunter’s Downhearted Blues, captured, appropriately enough, at the Orpheum Theater. Will Shade’s Memphis Jug Blues is cut outdoors in Church Park, while When the Levee Breaks is recorded not far from Memphis Minnie’s stomping grounds on the levee outside of Walls, Mississippi. The CD ends perfectly with a faithful replaying of Son House’s Shetland Pony Blues at the former site of Clack’s Store, just north of Robinsonville, where folklorist Alan Lomax first recorded that tune in 1941.

Robinsonville To The Valley Store continues the Thomas’ odyssey, as they follow the Mississippi River southward. Robert Johnson’s Crossroad Blues is played at a quiet intersection outside of Commerce, Mississippi, while Willie Brown’s M&O Blues is performed atop a railroad tanker car near Coahoma. Mounds Landing To Crawford Street captures Charley Patton’s pivotal High Water Everywhere on land that was probably flooded when he originally sang the tune, then moves south for Skip James’ Cypress Grove Blues, recorded at the Blue Front Café, a juke joint in Bentonia. Finally, Catfish Row To Jackson Square finds the brothers meandering through Vicksburg before they head to New Orleans to touch on Jelly Roll Morton, Lonnie Johnson, Leadbelly, and the Hackberry Ramblers.

Eddie Thomas excels at more than just guitar—he’s also a talented trumpeter, pianist, and harmonica player. His storytelling introductions pull the listener into the history of every song, while detailed liner notes in each disc further chronicle the selections. Frank Thomas captures every note with precision, somehow making the environment an unmistakable part of the mix. Inspiring in idea and execution, Angels On The Backroads deserves closer scrutiny.

-- Andria Lisle - Living Blues

"Highway 61 Visited"

Route 66 may have its partisans but the cognoscenti know that Highway 61 is the most important interstate in American music. As it winds its way north from New Orleans through the Mississippi Delta up to Memphis and on to Chicago, Highway 61 connects the birthplaces of blues and jazz, and it became the main route those styles followed before they spread out to the rest of America. No wonder Bob Dylan chose the highway's name as the title of one of his greatest recordings.

In 1994, two brothers from , luka, Mississippi, decided to honor the legacy of Highway 61 by recording some of the songs associated with the towns and cities that fell along the road's route. After nearly nine years of work, Frank and Eddie Thomas have released Angels on the Backroads (www.Angelsonthebackroads.corn) , a four-CD set of 65 blues and jazz songs that trace the musical path of Highway 61 from Memphis to New Orleans. "Our first idea was to make a spoken-word narrative recording that you could listen .to as you drove along the highway," Frank explains. "We had done a similar thing following the route of the Natchez Trace. But we realized that the songs could tell the story far better1han we could."

Eddie has played trumpet and guitar since he was in high school in the early 1960s, and Frank has worked as a sound engineer on location for various motion pictures. Together they founded their own company to produce industrial and independent films. For Angels on the Backroads, they came up with the idea of recording the songs in the actual spots mentioned in the lyrics. "After years of researching and learning old blues and jazz songs, we made our first recording on October 9, 1998, in a barn on Stovall Farms near Clarksdale, Mississippi," Eddie says. "That barn was about a half mile from the cabin where Muddy Waters grew up, so I thought it would be appropriate to play his song 'Country Blues.'"

That first session was fraught with technical difficulties, but when Eddie and Frank heard how well it turned out, they knew that they would just have to figure out how to make it work. "It was amazing to hear the difference between what Eddie practiced at home and what we got on tape in the field," Frank says. Eddie used a number of vintage guitars for the on-site recordings, including a Martin 00-18, 1930s National Triolian, 1930s wood-body National Trojan, circa-1900 Bay State parlor guitar, and 1923 Gibson L-1 archtop. "Time and again the location just seemed to inspire him," Frank notes. "'Mississippi River Blues' is a different song when you record it sitting on the porch of an old abandoned house at sunset looking out over the river than it would be in the studio. Leadbelly's 'Midnight Special' takes on a whole new depth when you record it at the Angola prison farm where he was once incarcerated."

Eddie has a hard time narrowing down the high points among so many treasured memories. "Our visit to Mississippi John Hurt's hometown of Avalon was exciting," he says. "We met an older gentleman there named Guy Duke who used to know John Hurt. He took us to the Valley Store, where John used to sit and play on the porch. When I played my version of 'Avalon Blues' on that same porch, Guy said, 'Sounds like old John to me,' but I knew he was just being polite."

The Thomases also made a visit to perhaps the most famous spot in the Mississippi Delta: Robert Johnson's crossroads. "We jokingly said that we were going to find the actual cross- roads, even though it's most likely a myth," Eddie says. "But we knew that Robert Johnson lived in Robinsonville, near the town of Commerce. We reasoned that he could have written the song inspired by a nearby crossroads. We spent the afternoon searching for a likely spot and finally found a set in a cotton field that was in the process of being picked. We didn't go at midnight because it would have been too difficult for us to see what we were doing, so we recorded 'Crossroads Blues' in the late afternoon. The sun was setting on the levee, the harvest moon was rising behind us, and we could hear the distant sounds of the machines picking cotton. It was a magical time."

Eddie and Frank ended their journey in New Orleans. On the front porch of Jelly Roll Morton's boyhood home, they recorded a guitar version of his "Mr. Jelly Lord," and in Congo Square, now part of Louis Armstrong Park, Eddie recorded his guitar rendition of 19th-century New Orleans pianist and composer Louis Moreau Gottschalk's Afro-Caribbean-inspired "Bamboula."

Their final recording was made in St. Louis Cathedral. "We chose to perform the old hymn 'Sweet Hour of Prayer,'" Eddie says. "As I finished the piece, the church bells started to ring. And as the sound faded, we could hear the sounds of bands playing for tourists in the square outside. It was a nice reminder that our journey down Highway 61 was over but that the music goes on."

-Michael John Simmons - Acoustic Guitar

"The Music Continues"

Music has always played a major role in the lives of Frank and Eddie Thomas. Growing up in Iuka, their mother was a choir director, a position Frank holds today. During the 1960s, Eddie played trumpet in an award-winning local band and later learned to play the guitar.

Today, it's the blues that has captured the brothers' energies. Their latest project combines authentic Delta blues songs and arrangements with some of the very spots where those melodies were born.

Frank and Eddie first attracted attention several years ago when they created a unique audio cassette self-guided driving tour of the Natchez Trace Parkway. The 8 1/2 -hour series, "Natchez Trace: A Road Through the Wilderness," included original music and tales keyed to the historic road's mile markers. After experiencing success and critical acclaim, the tow realized they might be on to something, and they turned their attention to Mississippi's other famous road-Highway 61. The brothers planned to research, then record, 61 songs while journeying down the legendary "Blues Highway." Hours of listening to scratchy records at the Blues Archive of the University of Mississippi's Center for the Study of Southern Culture enabled them to figure out how original composers tuned their guitars for certain songs. They also learned where many songs had first been performed. They compiled a list of 120 significant song writers and musicians, whose work they whittled down to 65 songs-they couldn't bear to narrow it to 61-for the four-CD series, entitled "Angels on the Backroads." The first two CDs were released in the fall of 2002 and the third in April; the final CD is timed for release by this summer, since 2003 has been designated the Year of the Blues.

On October 9, 1998, they made their first recording amid the hay bales of a barn on Stovall Farms outside of Clarksdale. "I remember the date and associating it with the weather," said Eddie, who sings and plays the music while Frank handles the technical side of the recordings. "Muddy Waters had left Stovall Farms (where he had worked for much of his youth) to catch the train to Chicago, taking the blues with him. We has struggled so hard to set up in the huge red barn where Muddy Waters might have been, where he had walked around. Sitting in the barn, a huge flock of birds flew past, and the way the music sounded in that barn brought chills."

Later that day, they taped "Sweet Home Chicago" by Robert Johnson while sitting on a bench in front of a closed store in Robinsonville, and Willie Brown's "M & O Blues" while sitting on top of some tanker railroad cars sidetracked alongside Highway 61. "It's like a crow's nest up here looking out over ocean waves of cotton," Frank wrote in the liner notes that accompany the first CD. "This day lives a life of its own. A couple of chords, a few gusts of wind, and slowly our ship of blues begins to move us on a sunward journey."

Back in their Iuka studio, they realized two things: the wind could be heard along with the music, and this project wasn't going to be as easy as they had imagined. They considered recording everything in the studio, but they knew that wouldn't be true to their mission to use the locations to introduce folks to Mississippi and its musical heritage.

"It was maybe a year before we made the next recordings," Frank admitted. While in Memphis on business, they decided to set up at the Mississippi River. "lt was an easy day," Frank recalled, "windy, but we got a good recording." Eventually they decided the serendipitous background sounds were an integral part of the settings.

Over the next few years, they worked their way down Highway 61 playing music and making audio and photographic records at each stop. They share that journey on their website, In Memphis, they recorded Frank Stokes' "Downtown Blues" while riding the Main Street trolley. "I couldn't hear what I was doing," Eddie said to Frank when they finished. "Was I in tune?"

Using a vintage trumpet, they re-created the opening notes of W.C. Handy's "St. Louis Blues" on top of Memphis' Falls Building. In 1914, Handy had played that song for the first time in the same spot -then the "swanky" Alaskan Roof Garden.

While playing "Shetland Pony Blues" by Eddie James "Son" House in a field near Robinsonville, a mockingbird landed on a telephone pole nearby and sang along. When the song ended, the mockingbird stopped.

The brothers learned that in 1903, W.C. Handy had fallen asleep at the Tutwiler depot waiting for a train that was nine hours late. During the night, he was awakened by a little man playing the guitar and singing "Goin' Where the Southern Cross' the Dog." It was the first time Handy had heard the blues.

Frank and Eddie set up for "Yellow Dog Blues" in Moorhead, the destination of Handy's little man. They recorded in a gazebo near the tracks where the Southern Railroad crossed the Yazoo & Mississippi Valley Railroad, known by locals as the "Yellow Dog." Just as the music ended, a dog barked in the distance. "We couldn't have placed it better," Frank said. "We said at the time nobody would ever believe it was real."

At Mounds Landing, where the Mississippi River levee broke in 1927, they played "High Water Everywhere" by Charlie Patton. They found the spot near Vaughan where Casey Jones wrecked the Cannonball, and they recorded "Kassie Jones" by Furry Lewis almost a hundred years to the day later.

They received permission to record inside the derelict King Edward Hotel in Jackson. "The policemen waited outside...while we set up amid the rubble," Frank said. "This was a place where governors and dignitaries had once thrived. It's a bit frightening to think we might well be the last musicians to ever play there." In the studio, Eddie added layers of sound - piano, drums, trumpet and even a jug - to a few of the songs to make them sound as if a full band were playing. Frank engineered the sound mix and wrote the liner notes for the CDs with Eddie's help. "I enjoyed taking the old songs apart to learn how the musicians tuned and played their guitars," Eddie said. "Frank is the technical wizard, making sure the music comes out the way it's supposed to sound."

Along their journey, they made friends in unexpected places. In Avalon - the kind of place where the front of the sign says "Avalon" and the back reads "Avalon" - they found a man working on a motor in a repair shop. When they mentioned they were interested in blues music, the repairman said, "Folks from California, England, and all over ask about John Hurt all the time." An older gentleman leaning against the bench told them he had known Hurt. He led them to the Valley Store where Hurt used to play music. They set up on the same spot for "Avalon Blues."

"I could almost feel John Hurt looking over my shoulder," Eddie said. "Sometimes there's such a connection. It took my breath away."

On the final day of recording, National Public Radio documented Eddie's performance of "Sweet Hour of Prayer" in the choir loft of New Orleans' St. Louis Cathedral. The song pays tribute to the warm and moving spirit of church music and its influence on blues and jazz. Frank said, "As the last notes faded away on Eddie's guitar, all of us there could hear music being played outside in Jackson Square, and then the cathedral bells chimed two o'clock. It struck us that nothing had stopped just because we'd completed our journey. The music continues."

The "Angels on the Backroads" CDs may be ordered by calling 800/896-9892, or through the Thomas brothers' website, Frank and Eddie now plan to take their music back down Highway 61 on a concert tour to high schools.

This article written by Carolyn Thornton - Mississippi Magazine

"Highway 61 Revisited"

There was a time in the South when the dusty back roads that connected the cotton fields to the juke joints were well traveled by heroes of American music. Journalist Francis Davis summed it up when he wrote that "something about the Delta inspired introspection on the part of men whose lives allowed little time for it." Clearly, something in the Delta soil served as the muse for legends such as Muddy Waters, Jelly Roll Morton and Mississippi Fred McDowell.

Brothers Eddie and Frank Thomas spent three years traveling Highway 61 between Memphis and New Orleans. They studied the history of the music created along that stretch of road, then they recorded their interpretations on location at significant spots along the way. The brothers Thomas went down to the very crossroads that inspired blues legend Robert Johnson; they visited "where the levee broke" to play Memphis Minnie. Frank records; Eddie sings and plays guitar.

"Our first interest was the music that came out of the Delta," Frank tells Liane Hansen for Weekend Edition Sunday. "And it seemed that the music in the Delta sort of flowed up 61 to Memphis, then down the Mississippi River to New Orleans."

"You can just feel it," says Eddie. It's in the land. It's in the breeze. It's in the birds. It's just there. It's everywhere. And the music just had to come out."

Later, the pair traveled Highway 61 again, recording interpretations of those songs at points significant to each song's origin. The resulting collection is called Angels on the Backroads. Hansen talks with the brothers about the road, the river, and the songs, from jazz to blues to ragtime. And she joins them for the last stop on their journey: the St. Louis Cathedral in New Orleans, where they recorded the hymn "Sweet Hour of Prayer."
- National Public Radio


Natchez Trace: A Road Through the Wilderness
Vol. 1 - Memphis to Clack's Store
Vol. 2 - Robinsonville to the Valley Store
Vol. 3 - Mounds Landing to Crawford Street
Vol. 4 - Catfish Row to Jackson Square



Angels on the Backroads is a tribute to the musical roots from along Highway 61 by Mississippi brothers, Eddie and Frank Thomas. It began as a 65 song, 4 CD collection of classic blues and jazz recorded on location between Memphis and New Orleans and progressed to a multimedia stage show that has toured both the US and UK.

So much is going on with Eddie’s five guitars, trumpet and harmonica and Frank’s large screen video, it's hard to know exactly where to direct eyes and ears, but all works in sync like magic. Two hours after leaving Memphis, with a collected treasure trove of sights, sounds, songs and stories about famous musicians and historic locations picked up along the way, Eddie blows Frank’s images of New Orleans’ French Quarter into view with a steamy rendition of Louis Armstrong’s Hotter Than That.

Frank’s video production is a combination of his recent, colorful journeys along the backroads of the Mississippi Delta and beyond plus vintage and archive footage from the Library of Congress and Mississippi Department of Archives and History. The four hours of edited video from this award-winning filmmaker gives Angels on the Backroads flexibility. With Eddie’s vast repertoire of classic and original songs acting as travel guide, concert goers are treated to a journey of edutainment where for two hours they are relaxed, carefree, sightseeing vagabonds along the rivers, rails and backroads of the deep Mid-South.

“All you need to do to get Frank and Eddie to reminisce about the stops behind them is ask, and the stories flow like the mighty Mississippi.”

Liane Hansen
Weekend Edition Sunday
National Public Radio


After Frank graduated from Louisiana State University and Eddie from Mississippi State University and The University of Mississippi School of Pharmacy, the brothers returned to their hometown of Iuka, Mississippi. Intent on producing documentary and promotional films, they formed a partnership, Thomasfilms.

Prior to incorporation in 1994, Thomasfilms produced America’s Spirit for Hyde School, Bath, Maine; Burke Mountain for Burke Mountain Ski Resort, East Burke, Vermont; Chase It for Chase Golf and Tennis Camp, Bethlehem, New Hampshire; Film Parade for WTBS Superstation, Atlanta, Georgia; Zeb and Sal (winner of a Gold Award at the 1993 WORLDFEST/Houston International Film Festival); and a documentary entitled The Changing Face of Mississippi.

In 1994, Thomasfilms, Inc. expanded to audio production. They produced Natchez Trace: A Road Through the Wilderness, a six audio cassette, self-guided driving tour of the Natchez Trace Parkway. It was awarded a Benjamin Franklin Award from Publishers Marketing Association, an Award of Merit from Mississippi Heritage Trust/Mississippi Historical Society, and a Certificate of Commendation from the American Association for State and Local History. A radio program entitled Natchez Trace: A Road Through the Wilderness, produced by Thomasfilms, Inc. and narrated by Frank, was broadcast bi-weekly in 1996 and 1997 over Public Radio in Mississippi.

Angels on the Backroads was conceived and initiated in 1995 to tell an audio musical history of blues and jazz along Highway 61, Memphis to New Orleans, in 65 classic songs. On location recording of the 65 songs spanned three years, 1998 to 2001. The Angels on the Backroads 4CD project was completed in 2003. The Thomas Brothers were guests of Liane Hansen on Weekend Edition Sunday (NPR).

To increase awareness of musical history to the residents in the Highway 61 corridor, Memphis to New Orleans, Eddie and Frank initiated a Musical Heritage Tour to Mississippi high schools and colleges. The tour is sponsored by Delta State University and since 2004 has impacted over 25,000 students.

Since 2005, Eddie and Frank have given almost 60 Angels on the Backroads concerts in the United Kingdom in three tours.


An absolutely magical journey down the Mississippi with wonderful film and photographic images accompanying stories and songs – if you get the chance to see this show, grab it with both hands!

The Thomas Brothers have produced a work of considerable achievement, and it is conveyed with a sense of total commitment to what they do.

This is much more than a labor of love from the brothers. It is an inspired and visionary collection documenting the birth, infancy and subsequent progression of delta and country blues.

Blues in Britain Magazine

Some artists create works with a subtle sense of place. Frank and Eddie Thomas overtly push that approach to the limit.

Dirty Linen Magazine

Inspiring in idea and execution.

Living Blues Magazine

I can't think offhand of another album where the recording engineer is listed as one o