The Austin Chronicle

Thursday SXSW Interview: Timmy Thomas & the Overtown Soul Revue

By Thomas Fawcett, March 18, 2016, Music

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."

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