Ramblin' Rhodes: Musician Erin Thomas learns new career

Horn player turns to writing, singing

Growing up in Bath, S.C., Erin Thomas certainly never expected one day to be touring with country music superstars and even headlining her own shows.


“This whole thing just fell into my life,” Thomas said last week from her home near Nashville, Tenn. “I can’t even describe what this feels like. I never thought I could write a song, and I never thought I could play a guitar, and yet I’m doing both now.”

Apparently she’s doing something right, because her upcoming shows include appearances with bluegrass music star Missy Raines and country star Larry Gatlin.

And on her new album, You Don’t Know Me, she sings her original song That Kind of Love with country balladeer Vince Gill.

She’s performing in Eddie’s Attic in Decatur, Ga., Thursday, March 14, and at Hendershot’s Coffee Bar in Athens, Ga., on Friday, March 15.

From there, she heads back to familiar territory to perform at 8 p.m. Tuesday, March 19, at the Red Pepper Café, 725-A Silver Bluff Road, in the Centre South Shopping Center in Aiken. Call (803) 649-9915.

You can keep up with her travels and music at sweeterin.com.

In one of her videos she tells the audience, “I’m from Bath, S.C. It’s a tiny little mill town between Augusta and Aiken. I’m not from Augusta, and I’m not from Aiken. I’m from Bath.

“I grew up in a log house that is between the railroad tracks and the (Horse) creek, and I played on both of those things and in both of those things constantly as a kid.”

Thomas was born in Aiken and lived in Bath until she graduated from Midland Valley High School in 1997 and headed for Trevecca Nazarene University in Nashville to study classical horn playing.

Her interest in French horn playing came originally while attending Langley-Bath-Clearwater Middle School. She later, after graduating from Trevecca, would do graduate studies at the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, N.Y., before moving back to Nashville.

Her love of religious music came from attending St. Bartholomew’s Episcopal Church in North Augusta and Midland Valley Community Church of the Nazarene.

She also had been exposed to a wide range of music growing up thanks to her mother, Virginia, a teacher, and her father, Jimmy Thomas, whose collection of albums she describes as “out of control of all genres of music.”

Thomas, a former cameraman with WAGT-TV in Augusta, also was a best friend of Augusta’s legendary singer and songwriter Larry Jon Wilson, who Erin frequently heard perform in person.

“I can’t believe he is gone from this earth,” Thomas said of Wilson, who died in 2010. “Anybody with that kind of energy is certainly going to be missed. He and my dad were friends from grade school. I heard him both playing on the porch of my house and at the Bluebird Café once I moved to Nashville.”

Thomas quickly gained a solid reputation for her French horn playing with the symphony orchestras in Nashville and Chattanooga.

And she began being hired to play her French horn on tours with country celebrities (beginning with Vince Gill and Amy Grant) and on recordings by other stars such as Garth Brooks and Carrie Underwood.

She even would marry another classical musician, saxophone player Brian Horner, who also promotes independent artists through his Sound Artist Support media company in Old Hickory, Tenn.

After 20 years of performing with her French horn, a frightening thing happened. Thomas incurred a neurological disorder (focal dystonia) which affected muscles in her lower lip and caused her to lose control of her playing.

“It was terrifying and horrible,” she said. “Until that time, I had a really cool career going and was doing exactly what I wanted to be doing in life. But I was fighting with my horn every time I picked it up. It was a real battle.”

She started seeing a specialist in New York City who put her in touch with a trumpet player and muscle disorder teacher named Laurie Frink. It was Frink who advised Thomas to leave her horn completely alone for awhile and try another form of music.

Thomas thought about her love of acoustic music through her early years in Bath, and she decided to learn how to play a guitar.

“My husband knew a few chords, and it wasn’t long before I learned my first song, If I Needed You, by Townes Van Zandt.”

That led to Thomas writing her owns songs beginning with If You Were Mine. She decided after nine months of writing to take the next steps of performing and recording her songs.

“My first solo show in August of 2011 was at the Family Y in Nashville, and it turned out great,” Thomas recalled. “I was more nervous about how my guitar playing would be than my singing, but my friends came and the place was packed.”

Besides her own original songs that she recorded for her CD You Don’t Know Me is her cover version of Larry Jon Wilson’s song New Beginnings.

Thomas hasn’t written any songs about turning lemons into lemonade but, considering her change of career paths, it just might be a good idea.