Mojo Working

Local R&B pioneer Henry "Mojo" Thompson battles back from a devastating string of operations

"Everybody wants me to play again," he says. "I try to explain, 'Man, I can't carry my amp or my guitar. I'll need somebody to carry them for me.'

"They say, 'Hey, man, we'll work it out.' They say, 'You might become famous now. You'll be the only bass player around with no legs.'" Thompson leans forward in his chair and laughs. His daughter Vickie and his little granddaughter Tia laugh along with him. Thompson's on a roll now: "But they say, 'You've got to find another way to keep your rhythm going, 'cause you can't tap your foot.'" Again, the three Thompsons share a laugh.

Thompson is so quick to poke fun at himself, it's easy to forget what an amazing career he's had in music. He was a member of the Tads, one of the great, early musical forces on the Phoenix music scene. They shared concert bills with Fabian, opened for strippers at the now-defunct Guys and Dolls (on 32nd Street and Washington), and recorded the original version of "Bumble Bee," a song covered by LaVern Baker ("she changed one word and wanted writer's credit").

After dabbling on drums, he realized there was a shortage of bass players in Phoenix, so he bought himself a bass, teaching himself to play by imitating the bass lines of his favorite records. After playing for a few years with Duke Draper, he moved to Buffalo for a year to play with a band called Carl LaRue and His Crew.

He came back to Phoenix for three weeks, and swiftly relocated to Los Angeles where he hooked up with a slick R&B show group called the Harlequins, which soon became known as the Seven Souls.

"We played mostly Top 40, show tunes and things like that," he recalls. "I was the funky singer in the band. Of course, we had the pretty singer, who was the lead singer, and one guy, the sax player, who was writing all the songs."

The Seven Souls had a millionaire sponsor who took them to Europe, where they played swanky venues in cities like Paris, San Tropez, Geneva and Cannes. When Sargent Shriver was U.S. Ambassador to France, the Seven Souls were invited to a party in his honor, where they met Brigitte Bardot. Whenever they cut a new record, it was on European radio the next day.

They eventually came back to the U.S., where they swiftly duplicated their European success. They opened for James Brown in Long Beach, and for the Young Rascals in Hawaii. They established residencies at Las Vegas' two most popular hotels--Caesars Palace and the Sands--where they shared bills with Mel Torme, Buddy Greco and Eartha Kitt. When the Sands threw a big party for Sammy Davis Jr., Thompson and the rest of the band were invited, where they got to schmooze with the Candy Man himself. When Bobby Kennedy was pushing hard to win the 1968 California primary, the Seven Souls played benefits for him, including one in San Diego only two days before he was assassinated.

After the Seven Souls broke up, Thompson put aside his bass and concentrated on carpentry. Only adding to the tragedy of his recent illnesses is the fact that they happened at a time when he was rediscovering the joys of making music again after so many years away from it. But Thompson refuses to succumb to his limitations, and he's slowly warming to the idea of performing again. Hopefully, that will be bolstered on Wednesday, June 9, when a group of his musical friends play a benefit show for him at the Rhythm Room.

"I'm not gonna give up," Thompson says. "I'm gonna hang in there."

California Dreamin': Funk ensemble Polliwog is moving to Ocean Beach, California, at the beginning of June. The band will subsequently focus on extensive touring of the western states, with Arizona stops coming only once every couple of months. The group's local farewell show will happen Monday, May 31, at Sail Inn in Tempe. The music will run from 3 p.m. to about midnight, and will include such performers as High Grass Pickers, Thoughts, Shawn Johnson and the Foundation, Laura Martin, and Joe Mama.

--Gilbert Garcia

Contact Gilbert Garcia at his online address: ggarcia@newtimes.com

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