Thursday SXSW Interview: Timmy Thomas & the Overtown Soul Revue

Thursday SXSW Interview: Timmy Thomas & the Overtown Soul Revue

Timmy Thomas & the Overtown Soul Revue

8:30pm, Saxon Pub

"I was watching Walter Cronkite give the news on the Vietnam War in 1972, and he said, '35,000 Viet Cong died today and 15,000 Americans,'" remembers 71-year-old soul survivor Timmy Thomas. "I said, 'Man, come on – these are mothers' children. We're losing too many lives.' All of a sudden – ping! – it came out: 'Why can't we live together?'"

"Why Can't We Live Together," title track from his 1972 debut LP, took Thomas to the top of the charts (No. 1 R&B, No. 3 pop) globally. His anti-war anthem became the theme song for the 1994 South African general election that swept Nelson Mandela into power and marked the end of apartheid. "No matter, no matter what color," the song goes, "You are still my brother."

"There were tears rolling down my eyes," remembers Thomas of his South Africa trip. "There were long lines of people voting for the first time in their lives, and you could hear my song all over Johannesburg. I couldn't believe it."

And he did it all with a single instrument and a few simple chords.

"I went to the recording studio with just my organ. The engineer said, 'Where's the rest of the band?' I said, 'No, it's just me.' It was my left hand playing the guitar accompaniment, my foot playing the bass, my right hand playing the organ, and I was singing. I did all that at one time!"

Drake borrowed the beat wholesale for viral hit "Hotline Bling."

"That makes me feel good, because I've grabbed younger people with my rhythm, and I'll ease in a message. I sing songs that mean something to the world, and I'll keep doing it until the last note I hit before I go to glory."

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for almost 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

READ MORE
Playback: Biggest Austin Music Stories of 2016
Playback: Biggest Austin Music Stories of 2016
Looking back on the biggest Music news headlines of the year

Kevin Curtin, Dec. 23, 2016

Playback: Welcome to Terrordome: Sixth Street During SXSW
Playback: Welcome to Terrordome: Sixth Street During SXSW
Appraising APD's solution to Sixth Street during SXSW

Kevin Curtin, April 8, 2016

More by Thomas Fawcett
Colombian Folkloric Post-Punks Nemegata Drop Four-Star Debut
Colombian Folkloric Post-Punks Nemegata Drop Four-Star Debut
Local trio finds the fire of the jaguar

July 3, 2020

Khruangbin Slows It Down Houston-Style
Khruangbin Slows It Down Houston-Style
New album continues trio’s international success

June 26, 2020

KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

Timmy Thomas, SXSW Music 2016

MORE IN THE ARCHIVES
NEWSLETTERS
One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Can't keep up with happenings around town? We can help.

Austin's queerest news and events

New recipes and food news delivered Mondays

All questions answered (satisfaction not guaranteed)

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle