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Fast-forward to 2012. Thomas was in a writing session with buddies Luke Laird and Barry Dean and the three decided that rather than the slow song they were working on, they would swith their focus to penning an uptempo tune. The original was a love song about a guy and a gal in a favorite romantic spot, listening to Rhett's hero, Joe Diffie, on their boom box. The writers morphed that idea into a more upbeat number and "1994" was born. The song is Jason Aldean's current single from his Night Train album.
Thomas reveals it was his idea to include the "Joe, Joe, Joe Diffie" phrase at the end of the chorus, because he felt like the song needed a little something extra. There is also a line about "doing the Diffie," and during his live shows, the singer-songwriter busts out a few dance steps to accompany the tune. The writers also included the titles of a few of Joe's songs as well.
"It was one of those crazy things where we wrote it and demoed it, it was cut two weeks later and then it was on Jason's record," Thomas tells The Boot. "Jason heard it when Luke was playing some songs for his producer, Michael Knox, at ASCAP, and he happened to stop by. He started listening to the songs that were being pitched for him, and I was told that '1994' was the only one he asked to hear again. The next day they told us he was cutting the song and it was going to be the third single off the record. I'm still soaking in the fact that Jason not only cut one of my songs but put it out as a single. It's been a really cool experience."
Thomas has a special tribute to the song and the singer on stage with him every night. The word "Joe" is on the kick drum as a tribute to the man whose other hits include "Pick Up Man," "So Help Me, Girl" and "Prop Me Up Beside the Jukebox When I Die."
As the opening act on Jason's Night Train tour, the singer-songwriter gets to hear his song during each one of Jason's shows. "Watching him play it live is really cool," Thomas admits. "The tour has been incredible. I've been blown away by some of the places we are getting to play this year, including Madison Square Garden a couple weeks ago. Playing with Jason, every place you go to is huge. The seats go up a mile and you can't even see the people in the back of the arena. It's taken some getting used to, trying to figure out how to be everywhere at once, because the stage is ginormous and you have so many places to walk. And you have to figure out how to entertain a crowd in 20 minutes of time.
Thomas' buddy, Jake Owen, is also on the tour. "We've known each other for a while and we're golfing buddies," he says of the singer. "It's so cool to be out there with Jake and his guys."
The Night Train tour heads north for a few dates next week, including Madison, Wis., on March 21, Duluth, Minn., on March 22 and Grand Forks, N.D., on March 23. Keep track of Jason's tour schedule here.