September 9, 2007 – Hughie Thomasson (The Outlaws) Born Hugh Edward Thomasson Jr., Hughie Thomasson joined a fledgling Tampa-area bar band named the Outlaws in the late ’60s. With David Dix on drums, Thomasson quickly made a name for himself as a no-nonsense guitar master. The group disbanded, but Thomasson reformed the Outlaws in 1972 with guitarist Henry Paul, drummer Monte Yoho and bassist Frank O’Keefe. (Paul later enjoyed a successful country career as a member of BlackHawk) Guitarist Billy Jones joined in 1973, completing the guitar army rock approach.
Known as the Florida Guitar Army for their triple-lead guitar attack, the Outlaws were the first group signed by former Columbia Records head Clive Davis when he formed Arista Records. He flew to Columbus, Ga., in 1974 to see the Outlaws perform with Lynyrd Skynyrd at the Columbus Civic Center and went to the Ramada Inn after the show and made an offer.
On the way to the stage for Lynyrd Skynyrd’s set, lead vocalist Ronnie Van Zant said to Clive Davis who was with Charlie Brusco: “If you don’t sign the Outlaws, you’re the dumbest music person I’ve ever met and I know you’re not.”
Their 1975 debut album, The Outlaws, quickly sold gold on the strength of songs as ‘There Goes Another Love Song’ and Green Grass and High Tides’, and they were signed as the opening act on the Doobie Brothers’ Stampede tour. The band went on to record 13 albums in all, with such hits as “Green Grass and High Tides” and “Hurry Sundown,” both of which Thomasson wrote. His signature Fender Stratocaster guitar sound and vocals came to define the group.
Their 1980 cover of “(Ghost) Riders in the Sky” from the album Ghost Riders was their biggest single chart success, reaching No. 31 on the Billboard “Pop Singles” chart
While the Outlaws are generally considered to be a part of the Southern rock genre, there are distinct differences in their approach and their influences. Their primary similarity to other Southern rock bands is the dual lead guitar interplay, a defining characteristic of many Southern rock bands. However, the Outlaws’ mix of country and rock elements displays the vocal harmony influences of groups like Buffalo Springfield, the Byrds, Eagles, New Riders of the Purple Sage, and Poco. Their use of three and four part harmonies set them apart from their contemporaries who usually relied on a single lead vocalist.
The Outlaws disbanded in the mid-’90s when Thomasson joined Lynyrd Skynyrd. He added his distinctive guitar sound to Skynyrd’s robust lineup and co-wrote many of the band’s later songs. In 2005, Thomasson left Skynyrd and reformed the Outlaws with drummers Yoho and Dix, bassist Randy Threet and guitarist Chris Anderson.
They toured extensively in 2007 and performed with the Charlie Daniels Band, the Marshall Tucker Band and Dickey Betts and also played a festival in Amsterdam with Aerosmith. The Outlaws’ last concert took place Saturday September 8 at a casino in Nevada, and they had 15 concert dates scheduled through mid-December of the year.
But then on September 9, just one day after that show, Hughie Thomasson went out to dinner with his wife Mary, went home, got comfortable in his favorite chair to watch football and then passed away from a heart attack during a nap. He was 55 and lived in Brooksville, Fla., near Tampa.
A final, completed album, tentatively titled Once an Outlaw, which Thomasson produced, has not yet been scheduled for release. By December 2015 it was rumored that “Once an Outlaw” will never be commercially released. But that said, it is out there in select hands in two versions – 11 tracks and 13 tracks. Some say that it is Hughie’s finest work when the truth is Hughie had a hand in authoring less than half of the tracks. LA writers wrote the majority except for those HT collaborated on and the excellent “Almost Home” that was penned by bassist Randy Threat and his wife, Alex. The disc is a fine piece of work yet contains an unclear history that HT worshipers refuse to embrace. Line-up was: Hughie Thomasson (guitar and vocals, Chris Anderson (guitar and vocals – lead vox on Trail of Tears), Randy Threet (bass and vox -lead vox on Almost Home), Monte Yoho and David Dix (drums).”
Thomasson had also planned to re-release his solo album, So Low, under the new title, Lone Outlaw.
RIP Hughie, you blew me away from the first time I heard Green Grass and High Tides. Go show them how it’s down up there in the Blue Yonder.