Make us your home page

In Frank Thomas, an heir to the legend of Will McLean

Frank Thomas, a noted singer-songwriter, is a seventh-generation Floridian.

Times file (2010)

Frank Thomas, a noted singer-songwriter, is a seventh-generation Floridian.

SPRING LAKE — When Frank Thomas hears the names of musicians and singers such as Tom Petty, Pat Boone and Gloria Estefan, all of whom are to be inducted with him later this month into the Florida Artists Hall Of Fame, it gives him a chuckle.

"At least most folks know who those people are. They're famous," Thomas says in his distinctive Southern drawl. "Me, I'm just a guitar picker from Polk County."

But those who have listened to some of the more than 500 songs that Thomas has penned during his 59 years would agree that he is very much worthy of the prestigious honor.

A seventh-generation Floridian who grew up in Clay County, Thomas is celebrated by many in the state's folk music community as the legitimate musical heir to the legacy of Will McLean, the legendary troubadour for whom this weekend's annual three-day music festival at Sertoma Youth Ranch is named.

As always, Thomas, who sits on the board of the nonprofit Will McLean Foundation, will be there to perform and to cheer on the young and upcoming musicians who have also chosen to champion the state through song.

"Listening to the songs of those young people makes you realize how deep the roots of Will's music go," said Thomas, who is co-chairman of the festival committee that chooses the best new Florida song entry each year. "That to me, that's his true legacy, and one that will never die."

Thomas first met McLean briefly in the late 1960s while he was member of the country group Arkansas Travelers. Later, when Thomas returned to his Polk County residence, McLean invited him to attend the annual Florida Folk Festival with him. After watching and listening to McLean mesmerize the audience with his soulful baritone voice, Thomas became a convert.

"Will convinced me I should quit trying to write love songs and start writing songs about Florida," Thomas recalled. "It was good advice because I never did too well writing love songs anyway."

For more than 20 years, Thomas and his late wife, Ann, were a mainstay at Carl Allen's Historical Cafe in Auburndale, performing original tunes such as My Polk County Home, Spanish Gold and Suwannee River Sunrise. In addition, the couple hosted a long-running radio show, Songs of Florida, on Tampa's WMNF-FM that often featured well-known Florida folk performers such as Gamble Rogers, Jim Ballew, Don Grooms and Bobby Hicks.

Thomas said he appreciates hearing from people who say they've actually learned something meaningful about Florida from one of his songs. Packing history and lore into his verses, he tries to bring listeners a real sense of Florida that they will likely never experience.

"I see it as a way of educating the audience," Thomas said. "So many people have a skewed vision of this state. They forget that Florida was here before developers arrived. I want to share what I know about it with them."

Logan Neill can be reached at or (352) 848-1435.

The 24th annual Will McLean Music Festival

When: Today through Sunday; performance times are from 12:30 to 11 p.m. today; 10 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. Saturday; and 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday

Where: Sertoma Youth Ranch, south of Spring Lake on Myers Road, near the Hernando-Pasco county line. From State Road 50 in Hernando County, take Spring Lake Highway south to Church Road. Turn left onto Church and go east to Myers. Turn right on Myers and go south to the ranch. From Interstate 75 in Pasco County, take Exit 293 and go east on County Road 41, then turn north on Clay Hill Road.

Admission: Weekend admission is $37. Daily admission is $17 today, $20 Saturday and $17 Sunday. Children younger than 12 admitted free.

Information: For ticket and camping information, call (352) 465-7208 or visit

In Frank Thomas, an heir to the legend of Will McLean 03/07/13 [Last modified: Thursday, March 7, 2013 5:53pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Robert Pattinson is better than 'Twilight.' 'Good Time' proves it




    Don't judge actors by the books they cover on screen. It appears truer with each performance that two of our finest got their starts with the Twilight franchise.

    Robert Pattinson hooks viewers in Good Time, an inventive crime story.
  2. In 'George and Ruth,' letters unearth revolution and romance amid Spanish Civil War



    The versatile Whitney James headlines Whitney James: Guitar Hero With Dan Heck and LaRue Nickelson on Saturday, Aug. 26, at the Palladium in St. Petersburg.
  3. Friday's a busy night for art lovers, while art meets fashion on Saturday

    Visual Arts

    Arty Apparel: Wearable Art 13

    The lines between art and fashion are so often blurred that they're nearly non-existent. The Dunedin Fine Art Center has been celebrating that connection for 13 years, with Wearable Art, which returns Saturday. Designers including Julian Hartzog, Lina Teixeira …

    Exhibiting designer Sue Woodall-Metas will showcase her creations at Wearable Art Thirteen.
  4. Social Distortion, Craig Morgan, Lalah Hathaway lead weekend concert slate

    Music & Concerts

    D-LIGHTFUL: Social Distortion

    Frontmen don't come much realer than Mike Ness, the tattooed, throwback leader of Social Distortion. Since 1978, his SoCal punk outfit has fused power rock, cowpunk and rockabilly in a unique and influential fashion, scoring a few iconic singles (Ball and Chain, …

    Social Distortion plays its first local show since 2010 on Sunday, Aug. 27, at Jannus Live.
  5. Eat 3-course meals for $35 at these 100 restaurants for Orlando's Magical Dining Month

    Food & Dining

    In the early 1900s, hotels offered "table d'hote" or "prix fixe" menus as a form of loss leader. Hotels didn't necessarily make money on these lower-priced, multi-course meals, often served at communal tables, but they made up for it on the booze. Prohibition may have contributed to a gradual shift toward a la carte …

    Bulla Gastrobar serves a variety of Spanish and Portuguese dishes.