Cliff Thomas Biography
PI-3521 by the Jackson, Mississippi-based brother/sister team of Cliff, Ed and Barbara (Thomas) appeared in the second mailing of PI releases. The first five singles had gone out together four months earlier. Wisely, Phillips waited until much of the reaction to “Raunchy” had died down before releasing this effort. It’s hard to know whether Sun had a national market in mind when these sides were shipped. Like Ricky Nelson, the Thomases had a TV show (although they didn’t go coast-to-coast) and were guaranteed intense exposure for teen heartthrob Cliff. A casual glance at the wholesome Thomas siblings gathered around the piano is not going to trigger the same response as watching Gene Vincent and the Bluecaps, but the truth is that Cliff, Ed and Barbara made some surprisingly good music. If nothing else, they were listening to (and absorbing) the right sources. But unlike their labelmate Johnny Carroll, they were not borrowing them literally.
“I’m On My Way Home” is better than it has a right to be. There’s not a wasted note here, from Ed’s powerful bluesy piano, to Cliff’s socko vocal, to the minimal and effective choral work by Ed and Barbara. You could easily mistake the first eight bars here for a Fats Domino record until the vocal jumps in and takes this outing into its own original territory. There are touches of both Fats and Jerry Lee in Ed Thomas’ piano but, ultimately, he’s his own man. Although this production is decidedly minimalist, it is also competent and slick. The debt to Fats is even more explicit on “Treat Me Right” (not to be confused with the Elvis tune “Treat Me Nice” from the same year). They’re plainly pushing the limits of Cliff’s very teenage vocal equipment here, but the track still works largely because of Ed’s powerhouse piano. Everything about the vocal and choral work just exudes blues, yet it remains original and melodic (just listen to the last four bars). Can you imagine how trite this kind of white brother/sister trio might have been if these sides had been recorded in New York or Los Angeles?