From the time he was in his early twenties, Thomas wanted to record a reggae album, wrote Phyllis Korkki, a New York Times journalist in her book, The Big Thing (August 9, 2016), but life kept getting in the way. When I talked to him by phone, he was in Kingston, Jamaica, preparing for the release party for his first full-length album. He was sixty five years old.
During our phone conversation, Thomas frequently burst into song. "When I came out of my mother's womb, what was perceived to be crying was singing," he said. "That was my first composition." Growing up in Jamaica, he became hooked on reggae music; this was further reinforced by the early morning conga drumming he could hear from the Rastafarian community living in the Wareika Hill area nearby. Early on, Thomas wanted to produce the reggae music that he was hearing in his head, but the path to that goal took a detour when his father and stepmother moved to the United States. As he was preparing to join them, he found out that his girlfriend was pregnant. Eventually they married, and he moved his family to the United States, where his wife soon had another daughter.
It was his father's dream for Thomas to join the air force, and that is what he eventually did, rising to the rank of senior master sergeant. Music was always on his mind, though. He even went back to Jamaica while in his thirties and recorded some songs, but they were never released.
A second marriage, two sons, and a second divorce further delayed his dream. His first wife had primary custody of his daughters, but he gained custody of his sons. He had to give over his life to working and raising his boys. But as a devout Christian, he had faith - literally - that he would eventually achieve his Big Thing.
Thomas retired from the air force 1993, while living in Illinois, and got a job as a teacher's aide for an elementary school. He became involved with the reggae community there and performed some local gigs. Some of the songs he had recorded received radio airplay. But he still hadn't accomplished his lifelong dream: recording an entire album.
Reggae was a staple in his household. "I said to my boys, I always told you that my passion is music. That's all I've ever wanted to do. And they said 'We're re sick and tired of hearing that, Dad. We don't want to hear that anymore.' " By which they meant: it's time to do something about it.
Finally, In 2013, Thomas put everything he owned in storage and found a place to live in Jamaica. Using his retirement savings, he hired musicians, singers, and technicians and recorded an album of his songs at Bob Marley's studio, Tuff Gong. (His voice has a rasp in it that wouldn't have been there when he was in his twenties.) He joined ASCAP and created his own record label to release the album, Call Me. After the album release party, he was planning to go on tour.
Of course Thomas wouldn't mind becoming famous and wealthy because of his album. But his main goal from the start, he said, was to create his own version of the reggae music he had loved since he was a child.
I wouldn't call Linval Thomas a late bloomer as much as a long, slow bloomer.
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