One of the pre-eminent Southern rock guitarists has died. Hughie Thomasson went out to dinner with his wife Mary on Sunday (Sept. 9), went home, got comfortable in his favorite chair to watch football and then passed away from a heart attack during a nap. He was 55 and lived in Brooksville, Fla., near Tampa.
Born Hugh Edward Thomasson Jr., Hughie Thomasson joined a fledging Tampa-area bar band named the Outlaws in the late ’60s. With David Dix on drums, Thomasson quickly made a name for himself as a no-nonsense guitar master. The group disbanded, but Thomasson reformed the Outlaws in 1972 with guitarist Henry Paul, drummer Monte Yoho and bassist Frank O’Keefe. (Paul later enjoyed a successful country career as a member of BlackHawk.) Guitarist Billy Jones joined in 1973.
Known as the Florida Guitar Army for their triple-lead guitar attack, the Outlaws were the first group signed by former Columbia Records head Clive Davis when he formed Arista Records. He flew to Columbus, Ga., in 1974 to see the Outlaws perform with Lynyrd Skynyrd at the Columbus Civic Center and went to the Ramada Inn after the show and made an offer.
Their 1975 debut album, The Outlaws, quickly sold gold, and they were signed as the opening act on the Doobie Brothers’ Stampede tour. The band went on to record 13 albums in all, with such hits as “Green Grass and High Tides” and “Hurry Sundown,” both of which Thomasson wrote. His signature Fender Stratocaster guitar sound and vocals came to define the group.
The Outlaws disbanded in the mid-’90s when Thomasson joined Lynyrd Skynyrd. He added his distinctive guitar sound to Skynyrd’s robust lineup and co-wrote many of the band’s later songs. In 2005, Thomasson left Skynyrd and reformed the Outlaws with drummers Yoho and Dix, bassist Randy Threet and guitarist Chris Anderson.
They toured extensively this year and performed with the Charlie Daniels Band, the Marshall Tucker Band and Dickey Betts and also played a festival in Amsterdam with Aerosmith. The Outlaws’ last concert took place Saturday (Sept. 8) at a casino in Nevada, and they had 15 concert dates scheduled through mid-December of this year. A final, completed album, tentatively titled Once an Outlaw, which Thomasson produced, has not yet been scheduled for release. Thomasson had also planned to re-release his solo album, So Low, under the new title, Lone Outlaw.
Memorial plans were incomplete as of Tuesday afternoon (Sept. 11).