Songwriting Mainstay Phil Thomas Passes

Phil Thomas

Country songwriter Phil Thomas, a presence on the Music Row scene for three decades, died Saturday (Jan. 5) at age 74.

Thomas’s songs were recorded by such superstars as Country Music Hall of Fame members George Strait, Alabama, Randy Travis and Barbara Mandrell.

He is perhaps best known for the 1978 “signature” songs he wrote for Johnny Paycheck, “Colorado Kool-Aid” and “Me and the I.R.S.” The former was a chart hit and the flip side of the five-million-selling “Take This Job and Shove It.” The latter was a top-40 hit that reflected its singer’s personal life.

Phil Thomas’ co-written “Drinkin’ My Way Back Home” was a top-10 hit for Gene Watson in 1984. His charted titles also included singles by Mel McDaniel (1987’s “Now You’re Talkin’”) and Tari Hensley (1985’s “Hard Baby to Rock”).

Raised in Memphis, the Army veteran was a starting quarterback at Oklahoma State and Mississippi State. Although scouted by the NFL’s Washington Redskins, he became a high-school football coach.

A natural storyteller, he was encouraged to become a songwriter by his first wife, Jan Scaife, and her family. Music City publisher Bill Hall signed him as a staff songwriter in 1978. Thomas remained with Hall’s descendent Welk companies through 2001.

Among those who charted with his songs were Mandrell (1989’s “Mirror, Mirror”), Paul Proctor (1988’s “Tied to the Wheel of a Runaway Heart”), McDaniel (1984’s “Most of All I Remember You”), Shylo (1977’s “Drinkin’ My Way Back Home”) and Susi Beatty (1989’s “Hard Baby to Rock”).

Montgomery Gentry (“Blackjack Fletcher”), Strait (“Baby Your Baby”), Paycheck (“Billy Bardo”), Alabama (“Fireworks”), Travis (“My Heart Cracked,” “Anything”) and John Conlee (“Walking Behind the Star,” “The Shade”) included his songs on their top-selling albums.

Phil Thomas’s daughter Kori Plunkett has hosted the radio show “Plunkett’s Playhouse” on WMLR in Hohenwald, Tennessee. The veteran songwriter’s home was in nearby Linden.

Daughter Brandi Warden is the wife of musician Monte Warden in Austin, Texas. His band The Wagoneers scaled the country charts in 1988-89 and remains an Austin favorite. Monte Warden also performs in the Austin jazz group The Dangerous Few, which will issue its debut CD this year.

Father-in-law Phil Thomas was regarded as an ace rhythm guitarist as well as an entertaining raconteur. His Nashville songwriting collaborators included Ronny Scaife, Mark Collie, Bobby Barker, Don Scaife, Bobby Neal and David Luttrell.

“He was a character, a patriot, a cowboy philosopher, a playful prankster,” writes Brandi. “He left an indelible mark on everyone who knew him. He was a rock-solid friend.”

In addition to his daughters, Phil Thomas is survived by wife Hunny, stepson Tony Pruitt and grandchildren Van, Sam and Brooks Warden.

At his request, a private graveside service was held at the family’s cemetery in Perry County, Tennessee, “in the spring when the buttercups are up,” writes Brandi.

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Category: Artist, Featured, Obituary

About the Author

Robert K. Oermann is a longtime contributor to MusicRow. He is a respected music critic, author and historian.

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