Within the first five minutes of meeting Will Thomas, I’m convinced that the Daughtry fans at Monday night’s sold-out gig at The Paramount Theater will be all over him. Whether they mob him for his skill as a musician or for his uncanny similarities to Chris Daughtry is another matter entirely.
Thomas, born and raised in Charlottesville, has the same polished tough guy exterior as Daughtry, the former Fluvanna County resident prematurely punted from “American Idol” in 2006. Both have torsos like trains and chins that call to mind Vin Diesel, and both dress like bouncers at Sunset Strip nightclubs—tight, dark jeans and gripping shirts. Both have bands named after themselves.
Get your rock hands out! Local Will Thomas (center) mugs with former “American Idol” standout Chris Daughtry (left) and his guitarist, Brian Craddock (right) during a songwriting session in Nashville. Will Thomas Band opens for Daughtry at The Paramount Theater on Monday.
Pop in the groups’ records and the number of similarities grows faster. On the self-titled, quadruple platinum 2006 album, Chris Daughtry performs songs like “Over You,” in which he sings to an ex-love that he “should’ve started running a long, long time ago.” On the recently released This Is Your Life EP, Thomas sings songs titled “Go” and “Leaving,” in which he croons to a flame that he’s “running away” in a throttling vocal that sounds similar to the “Idol” contestant’s—forceful, but without that Eddie Vedder grit.
In fact, the highlight of Will Thomas Band’s latest EP sounds like it could’ve been written by Daughtry himself—a studio-slick crusher of a tune that’s man enough for a mosh pit, but pop enough for Top 40 love. And there’s a reason for that.
|Listen to "Live This Life" by Will Thomas Band
“On This Is Your Life, there’s a song called ‘Live This Life,’ which Chris and I wrote together, with the help of BrianCraddock [, lead guitarist in Daughtry],” said Thomas. “We all sat down in a hotel room together and kinda figured things out, and then started recording.”
Tempting as it may be to pass off Thomas as a Daughtry doppelganger, he’s a different man. He’s younger, for starters, the type of person that cites what grade he was in when something happened to him—started writing songs in fifth grade, formed The Guilty Party with current bassist Derek Cason in seventh grade, toured with Brian Craddock and My Dog Lucy with his high school band Johnny on the Spot. He’s also tried on more musical hats than Prince; Thomas spent a few years of college in Tennessee on a bluegrass scholarship, played in a metal band called Father of 12, and spent time in local alt-rock act Under the Flood.
“Then, after playing in so many bands and always having someone else’s influence determine where I was gonna be, I decided to take everything upon myself,” said Thomas. “And with Will Thomas Band, this has definitely been the most focused group of musicians I’ve found that can make a sound.”
Thomas wrote many of the songs that make up This Is Your Life with Craddock, now a full-time member of Daughtry. “When I was a little kid…Brian used to work in Charlottesville Music,” explained Thomas. “Wally [Worsley, WTB’s second guitarist] did, too. And I always used to come in there and bug them to death, pluckin’ on all the instruments.” Along with Lucy bandmate Shep Stacy, Craddock produced the band’s first EP, complete with Thomas’ Daughtry-assisted tune.
Currently, Will Thomas Band is back in the studio, recording songs for a second, yet untitled EP at Full Moon Studios with Ron Ruane, a prize the group nabbed for winning a battle of the bands in Scottsville. “We’re really focusing on three new songs,” said Thomas, who mentions that local rock anthem auteur Andy Waldeck chips in on a song called “Shot,” a tune that Thomas calls one of his most important songs yet.
And, though Will Thomas Band will keep things reasonably acoustic for the show with Daughtry at the Paramount, the band cranks the amps back up for an August 7 Outback Lodge gig. In the meantime, listen to “Live This Life.” And if the similarities between the two get to be too overwhelming, remember: Think Daughtry, rock Thomas.
“Have a nice trip, see you next fall”
Speaking of the Paramount, most of the Downtown theater’s fall schedule was in place by the time it announced the start of a 90-day interim consulting agreement with SMG, a venue management company whose clients include the John Paul Jones Arena. But SMG still had a hand in finalizing the Paramount’s upcoming season.
“Myself and some corporate folks looked at the lineup that was proposed, spoke with agents involved with the particular acts, then took all that and put it into financial model to make sure it worked with the Paramount,” said Larry Wilson in a phone interview last week. Wilson, SMG’s general manager of John Paul Jones Arena, is currently acting general manager of The Paramount Theater. “So, I was very involved with the final product.”
We’ll get to the product in a moment, but there are a few key things to note: First, the average ticket price for the 20-plus act fall season is $39.33. Second, according to Wilson, “a majority, if not all of the acts, have played at SMG facilities.” Third, yes, The Paramount knows that they’re bringing a lot of the same acts back!
“At the end of the day, JPJ brings in some of the same acts every year,” says Wilson, citing events like the Professional Bull Riders and the admittedly awesome Monster Jam truck smash-a-thon. “A lot of buildings do that; they have their mainstays every year. If they didn’t do well, we wouldn’t bring them back.”
So all of you folks buying tickets for Ricky Skaggs and Nebraska Theatre Caravan will get more of what you crave. And hey, Paramount is also bringing electric folk- punk Billy Bragg and a pair of reputable dance acts in January. For the full schedule and ticket info, check www.theparamount.net. For a few musts and a wish list, read Feedback.