BOMB THE ROOT: The James 'Son' Thomas Interview

In this 1983 interview from the BOMB Digital Archive, the Mississippi-born blues guitarist and sculptor—considered one of the finest folk artists of the 20th century—talks about making art.

James "Son" Thomas

BOMB Magazine is a Brooklyn based arts publication. Since 1981 the magazine has been bringing artist's perspectives to the public. Unlike traditional arts criticism, BOMB asks artists to interview each other, and the resulting conversation is published. Though the transcripts are edited, the artists participate in every step to ensure that the final piece is authentic to their voices.

To celebrate the completion of the BOMB Digital Archive, The Root is launching BOMB The Root, a thirteen-part series of interviews, audio pieces, and video that we have carefully culled from BOMB's collection. The series will highlight the many interviews with black artists and intellectual luminaries published by the magazine over the past 28 years.

Born in 1926 in Eden, Mississippi, James "Son" Thomas was a legend in the Southern blues scene known for his deft guitar playing that typified "bottleneck blues," a Southern style of blues where a broken bottleneck was used to play slide guitar. Thomas, however, had other artistic talents. Considered one of last century's finest American folk artists, Thomas' clay figures, including human heads embellished with real human teeth, have been shown in folk art exhibitions all over the country.

Since Thomas died in 1993, this interview, conducted 10 years earlier, is one of the gems of the BOMB Digital Archive. In it blues guitarist-and legend in his own right-Philip Walker talks to Thomas about making his first sculpture (of a mule) and what inspired his life-long art making. Though the interview was edited before publishing, you will notice that BOMB kept intact Thomas' highly particular way of speaking, this interview is a fantastic document of a specific, Southern dialect and masculine sensibility.

And of course, don't miss Thomas' story about meeting Nancy Reagan shortly after his wife had shot him in the stomach. You can read the full interview at BOMB Magazine.

-Adda Birnir