For over three decades, James Ray Thudpucker has cast a mesmerizing light from his polestar position in the pantheon of rock stars.
In his various incarnations -- as wunderkind, megastar, anti-star, has-been and been-there elder pop statesman -- JT has always been the Voice of His Generation, even as that particular demographic has sunk out of sight. He is, as his publicist once put it in a moment of rare insight, "a legend's legend."
Thudpucker burst out of sessionman obscurity and onto the national scene in the late '60s with a heart-stopping performance at Newport, followed by a galvanizing set at the Vietnam Moratorium march in Washington, D.C. The young bluesman's album So Long was a chart-topper -- and offered a trenchant post-mortem of U.S. policy in Indochina.
The album's first single, "Ginny's Song," written for an unknown but sincere California Congressional candidate, made Thudpucker a household name in more than 30 states, a fan base that Jimmy methodically built on with subsequent albums like Fool's Gold (double platinum) and Growing as an Artist (triple platinum with oak clusters).
His career as a mainstream sensation peaked in 1978 with the release of Jimmy Thudpucker's Greatest Hits, which landed him on the cover of Rolling Stone for the second time.
Refreshingly modest in an era before even false modesty was fashionable, Jimmy made a point of crediting much of his success to the studio rats in his backup band, the legendary Walden West Rhythm Section, featuring Steve Cropper, Donald "Duck" Dunn, David Foster, and Jay "Wah-Wah" Graydon.
Never entirely comfortable with the trappings of godhood, Thudpucker became known for walking out of recording sessions to be home in time for dinner. Indeed, such was his ambivalence about fame that he retired following 1979's Greatest Hits Pacific Basin Tour. In a move that stunned associates and inspired at least several other musicians, he returned to college, where he majored in English.
Thudpucker emerged from retirement only twice in the ‘80s, both times for a worthy cause; he issued Egg Man, a tribute album for murdered pal John Lennon, and in 1985, was lured by Michael Jackson to Quincy Jones' studio to contribute five key words to the legendary "We Are The World" session. Typically, JT followed through on this commitment by traveling to Addis Ababa on behalf of USA for Africa, before returning to family life.
In 1993, he re-emerged on the music scene as Jimmy Ray Thudpucker, making a controversial move to the country category. The stylistic change was soon followed by a geographic one. By the mid-'90s he had established himself in Vietnam as the premier American song stylist, performing lite classics with his band Hearts & Minds. His album of Vietnamese oldies endeared him to the in-country audience, especially after the issue of his cover hit, "He Who Comes to Cu Chi, the Bronze Fortress in the Land of Iron, Will Count the Crimes Accumulated by the Enemy."
In October, 1999 JT recorded "Too Poor", an anthem written for NetAid, a global Internet and broadcast event to raise awareness and support for UN efforts to end extreme poverty. Rough tracks and weekly diary entries were posted on the Web site as the song evolved, and the final mix and video were Web-only releases.
By 2002 Thudpucker was acknowledged as the most-downloaded artist in history. An outspoken champion of file-sharing, he regards it as offering an historic opportunity to liberate artists from the hierarchical tyranny of record sales.
Re-branding himself as James R. Thudpucker III, his career was reignited by a 2005 album of standards, followed a year later by a successful Christmas album Jimmy T's Jingle Juke. He then began recording with Burger King Records - 11,000 outlets in 61 countries -- and found further success as a ring-tone artist.
Applauding the possible demise of the music industry as we know it, he looks forward to a post pop-star model where music is free and performers make a modest living through touring. Jimmy and his wife Jenny currently live in southern California.