NPR Weekend All Things Considered

Interview: Singer Chris Thomas King discusses his unique style of blues music and his role in the new film "O Brother, Where Art Thou?".(8:00-9:00 PM)(Broadcast transcript)


Growing up in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, singer and guitarist Chris Thomas King learned his craft firsthand from this father Tabby Thomas, owner of a famous club called The Blues Box. But Chris Thomas King wasn't satisfied playing only the old blues from years gone by. He was also intent on fusing it with R&B, reggae and hip-hop. And he found he had to move to Europe to be accepted on his own terms. After four years there, he moved back to the States and now lives in the heart of blues country, New Orleans.

(Soundbite of song)

Mr. CHRIS THOMAS KING (Singer): (Singing) Why can't we live in a world that gives? What can't we be the one to make it positive? Why can't we try a natural high? Don't tell us that to get to here we all have to die. Why? Tell me why. Whyyyyyy? I want to know why.

SIMEONE: In addition to releasing his latest CD "Me, My Guitar and the Blues," King also has a role in the Coen brothers' new film "O Brother, Where Art Thou?" Chris Thomas King joins us from New Orleans.

Hello, Chris.

Mr. KING: Hello. It's nice to be here with you today.

SIMEONE: Now this is your first role in a film; not just singing and performing with music, but also acting. I mean, you actually portray a character. Was it fun?

Mr. KING: Yeah, it was a lot of fun. But at the same time, it was a pretty big challenge for me. But I really did my homework. The character's name is Tommy Johnson and the movie is set in Mississippi in the 1930s during the Depression. And the character--yes, he claims that he sold his soul to the Devil at the crossroads.

SIMEONE: My understanding is that Tommy Johnson was a real blues musician.

Mr. KING: Of course. Yeah. One of his most famous songs was "Canned Heat." And for those that don't know what canned heat is, that's moonshine whiskey and--homemade whiskey. And he seemed to have a taste for that. And he recorded about nine songs in his short career. And it was he--and not Robert Johnson--who actually went around the Delta telling people that he sold his soul to the Devil to play his music.

SIMEONE: Tell me about this. The story has always come up that it was Robert Johnson.

Mr. KING: No. No. This was before Robert. …

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