From a telephone interview on June 3, 2015, with Phyllis Korkki, assignment
editor and reporter for the New York Times Sunday Business section.
Just look at Linval Thomas. From the time he was in his early twenties,
Thomas wanted to record a reggae album, 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.
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