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Remembering Bill Thomas

by Chris Porter on November 10, 2011

We lost a great one this past weekend with the passing of voice talent Bill Thomas.

Bill was a throwback, a character, a curmudgeon, as well as a true professional, and if you ever had the chance to get to know him you probably have a story or two to tell. To honor Bill, I’d like to share some of those stories, along with some of the incredible work that Bill did behind the mic.

Bill will always be remembered for his big voice. As fellow voice talent Joe Van Riper said the other day, ‘God must have needed a better voice’. And that’s saying something, coming from a guy like Joe.

He was such a staple at the ProComm studios that it’s hard to imagine him not being around. Before the days when everyone had a home studio you could usually find Bill in the ProComm talent lounge talking politics (As Bill would say, he was ‘somewhere right of Atilla the Hun’ in his political views), sharing stories and arcane trivia, or just dozing on the couch between sessions, with Mike Burke, the studio cat napping on top of him.

I remember one session years ago working with Bill and Lindsay Ayliffe on a spot for Chili’s. Given a short piece of country music and a few lyrics Bill and Lindsay brought to life this classic scenario of overbearing boss and quirky employee, sitting around the campfire… in the office. It was Bill’s idea to have the boss join in the sing along.

Bill Thomas and Lindsay Ayliffe for Chilis

btw, that’s Bob Morgan, another great talent from the old days as the announcer. I imagine Bob and Bill are up there in heaven right now riffing on Bugs Bunny characters.

Another favorite of mine comes from the ‘Welcome to Procomm’ skits that we sent to clients as promotional material. George Olsen was the writer on this piece. It still makes me laugh today. James K Flynn is our spokesperson, Harry Resonance, and Bill is the memorable Herb Glottle.

Welcome to ProComm – Herb Glottle

Here’s how ProComm producer and voice talent Dan Friedman remembers Bill…

From a whisper to a scream Bill Thomas could do it all. There are few voices that are as big and booming and yet still as versatile as was the voice of Bill Thomas. There are even fewer people left in this industry who have the knowledge, perspective and technical skill that Bill possessed.

While Bill was often cantankerous and opinionated outside of the booth, he was also supportive and caring of those around him. He could drive people crazy and even make a person angry when he expressed his personal views and thoughts about the world. However, he never said a bad word about anyone personally. In fact, whether you agreed with him or not, he would still treat you with genuine respect, care and concern.

He was always at his best when he was in front of the microphone. I will remember him most fondly for being incredibly diverse, remarkably charming and exceptionally talented. His comedic timing, microphone technique and copy interpretation were all pure perfection. He was generous with compliments to the talent around him, including the writers, directors and engineers. He had a great ear and never complained about doing more takes if needed. He generously offered to work “until the point of diminishing returns” as we would frequently say. It was as though he never wanted to leave the mic.

I will miss working with you Bill. I will end with the same words with which you often ended your recording sessions, “It was an honor and a pleasure.”

Dan Friedman

Dan put together some of Bill’s best material in this audio collage. It reminds me just how versatile he was.

Bill Thomas – voice collection

A lot will be said about Bill the voice talent. Here’s a note from fellow voice talent Anne Lalley about Bill the man.

I always told Bill that I loved him in every session. Bill was not only a great talent with an amazing voice, but more importantly, a true blue friend. I loved working with him. He was always so supportive in and out of the studio. Once when my car had broken down and I was worried about the expense, Bill stepped outside on the old ProComm front porch, opened his wallet and said, “Take what you need.” And he meant it, no strings attached. I’ll never forget his kindness.

Anne Lalley

That was Bill Thomas. A great talent, and a great guy.

So what do you remember most about Bill?

***updated***

Fellow producer and voice talent Zak Miller passed along this note:

I was going through my archives and found a Disney Tower of Terror tool kit from ’03 (hence the ‘wxyz’ ref) and thought I would let you guys hear some magic from Bill that you may have never heard.

He had such a range and a gift for this craft.   I always told him that when I grow up I want to be your voice!

Bill Thomas – Tower of Terror

{ 14 comments }

Mike Harrison November 10, 2011 at 4:50 pm

Never met Bill and, as far as I know, never worked with him (via ISDN; I’m sure I’d remember if I had). But Dan’s words and the quick montage of Bill’s work he put together leave me in awe. The rest of us can only hope we are half as good behind the mic as Bill clearly was.

BJ Koonce November 10, 2011 at 5:35 pm

As Anne said…His kindness and generosity…in every way…was unmatched. As was his humility. How blessed we all were to know him and work with him.

Thomas Rohe November 10, 2011 at 6:30 pm

Chris, thanks for presenting Bill exactly as he was and why we all loved him and feel such a deep loss. I’m laughing now thinking back to when we’d be in the old PC location and in the middle of a conversation there’d be a lull…and then a big SNORE from Bill! He loved that couch and that black kitty resting on top of him. I miss seeing him and hearing his big, booming voice, hard lined opinions on everything from politics to microphones to whatever could be debated and his sweet, gracious manner.

It’s a very special memory of mine to think back when Bill, Anne, Grace, Ron and I were hanging together waiting for our sessions with Bill leading the way in conversation and bursts of laughter. You’re right, he and Bob Morgan are definitely up there carrying on and goofing off. Bill was a tender spirit inside a tough exterior and I’ll miss him dearly.

Just had a thought…I bet he’s giving Andy Rooney a run for curmudgeon of the week! 😉

Thanks for posting the pics too!

Tom (formerly known as Cassidy) Rohe

Mike Cunningham November 10, 2011 at 6:45 pm

Bill did some great work for me back in my days at the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, especially a wonderful interpretation of a glib, cocky and nostalgic George Washington holding a garage sale. His voice was on many of my spots, and for good reason… his was the best. I remember one spot that wasn’t really buttoned up (there were many!) and Bill saved me with a great ad lib. My thoughts and prayers are with all of you who knew him so well. I wish I’d had the honor and pleasure as well.

Martin Gleitsman November 10, 2011 at 6:48 pm

I worked with Bill for over 17 years, and discovered right away that the best way to direct him was to send him the copy and then stand back, because nothing I could come up with would be one tenth as good as what he did. Bill is irreplaceable.

Bill Ebmeyer November 10, 2011 at 10:32 pm

Bill, you were one of a kind. You are already missed.

When I was a young up and comer I landed a huge account with the biggest Ad Agency in Las Vegas.
One of the scripts was titled “Travel Talk” which evolved around a semi-hostile Talk show host discussing Travel destinations.
Bill did the Host and 2 or 3 of the callers, one was Jewish, one was Texan and I can’t remember the third.
I was left alone to produce and when I played it for the agency they asked where I found all the great character voices. I told them the all the Males, with the exception of one, were ONE GUY!
They rewound the cassette (like I said it was a long time ago) and played it back at least 3 times trying to guess the odd guy out. They asked again “Really, where did you find all of the voices?” And I responded in kind, all but one were the same guy. To this day they don’t believe me.

I thought I was pretty good at direction at that time. And Bill would kindly suffer my direction to a tee.
When I thought I had a keeper, Bill would casually ask, can we do one more?
Invariably, that “one more” found its way into the spot.

I learned SO much from a guy that I only knew over an ISDN or phone line.
He spoke volumes. Both on the mic and off. How do you replace that?
Thanks Bill, for everything.
Everyone else, keep those photos of Bill coming, I can’t get enough.

Zak Miller November 11, 2011 at 12:59 pm

Chris, thank you for taking the time to put this together. It was hard to read this through misty eyes. Bill would have asked you not to draw the attention to himI am sure!

I had the pleasure of working with Bill for 12 years, and we became forced family and I am truly blessed for that. Bill was one of the first talent that I engineered a session for and he could not have been more gracious while I stumbled and bumbled through that horrible session. (I made it horrible, Bill made it awesome!)

For a long stretch I was lucky enough to work with Bill on a daily basis. He would express his opinion and sometimes it was a tough opinion to hear, but when the light went on it was show time and Bill stepped up and shinned! He was an awesome man, and a fantastic talent. His gift for understanding the concept on the page in front of him was only matched by his never ending goal to please the client.

My favorite thing that Bill would say after a session and the client was off the line was… ‘Well, we beat that one bloody!’

Not a session went by that Bill did not thank me at the end for making him sound good. HA! I had no part in him sounding good… he did that all on his own. He will be missed. Zak

Chris Porter November 11, 2011 at 1:02 pm

Tom – I remember first coming to ProComm and meeting all these amazingly talented people, Bill being one of them. I learned so much from him and the others. Agreed on Andy Rooney:)

Chris Porter November 11, 2011 at 1:10 pm

Zak – Jim and I were talking about that the other day. When we were both young, green audio engineers Bill more than once covered for our mistakes. And yes, I can remember many sessions getting levels set as Bill groused about the length of the copy, but as soon as the client was on he was as pleasant as could be and made sure the final product was top notch.

Remember what he would say after the quick, one line revision session that took about 5 minutes? ‘Like a sugar-dipped dwarf – short and sweet’:)

Jerri Ebmeyer November 11, 2011 at 10:43 pm

I will miss Bill very much. He always had a kind word and a funny story, When ever we needed “The Voice of God”, we called Bill.
We have many scripts on file that read at the top
Music up an under:
“Voice of God” (Bill Thomas)

I usually send a quick e-mail to talent…but I always CALLED Bill. I wanted to hear his voice and a funny story. I always hung up the phone with a smile on my face.

I will miss hearing his voice, his kind words and lovely stories. A truly great voice talent and kind human being.

Lindsay Ayliffe November 13, 2011 at 1:31 pm

Ahhh Bill. Couldn’t have disagreed more on our respective politics. Couldn’t have had more respect for your talent, humor, professionalism, and the best Colonel Potter impression ever. It always brought out the Radar in me. I’ve lost track of the number of spots we did, me playing the high-pitched, cracked-voice subordinate to your pompous, overbearing Boss…or all the spots with my pissed-off/panicky Elf deferring to your ever-patient Santa (right, Jacqui?).

Christmas will be a little quieter, a little less ho-ho-ho this year without your incredible voice, Bill.
We will all miss you.

Ron Whittemore November 16, 2011 at 11:19 pm

Thanks ProComm for the tribute to a wonderful talent. Bill was one of the originals….I ditto all that has been said. Our love and prayers go out to his family and friends…he will be missed!!

Brad Jones November 19, 2011 at 10:41 pm

I’ve worked with some really great voice talents over the years, but there was only one voice talent that was always professional; always willing to read whatever what was written; always kind and gracious to the engineer, always kind and helpful to the other voice talent, and most importantly always kind, professional and appreciative to the client… Bill Thomas.

Whenever I had a session with Bill, I could always count on him to give me and the client exactly what was needed. It was like recording a voice over on “autopilot”. I never had to worry about him making a mistake that was not caught, because he caught ALL of his mistakes; and I never had to worry about him being fussy, agitated, irritated, in a bad mood, or any other normal human characteristic. Bill was always “on” and always ready to give every job his very best!

The world lost not only a wonderful person, but also a truly gifted and professional voice talent.

Rest in peace Bill, you will be missed…

Duane Evans August 13, 2012 at 9:25 pm

Bill used to be a staple at Williamson Evans, as many of our most gifted voice talents were. He was just SO versatile, and professional. I used to say that his voice sounded like a really good “kick drum.” That was about the only way to describe it. Pipes. Bill had the pipes. He was not only a talented voice, but also a very capable technician. He knew his capacitors and resistors and all of the x’s and o’s of electronics. He could surprise you with versatility as well, which only happens when a talent not only has a great voice, but a great “ear.” Bill certainly had that.
Oh, and his opinions… he certainly had those, as well. And was always quite willing to share. But NEVER in any egotistic sort of way. He was always more submissive than missive, in my opinion, which led to his being the man that he was and the memory that he is, at least, for me.
And the line Bill Thomas spoke that lives forever in Williamson Evans lore, is a line spoken clearly from ego and not knowledge of economics. We were discussing the dropping prices of blank ‘CDs’ and I simply stated that soon they would be sold at the check out lines in Bi-Lo for about a nickel apiece. Bill heard my prediction and in a loud and steady “BT” type voice stated, “Impossible! They will NEVER go below 5$ because the technology involved is impossible in our market!” I will refrain from going in to further detail, but hope that those who knew Bill will regard this as what it was… Bill being Bill.
I respect and love Bill Thomas and still to this day will state in a loud and steady (as best I can) Bill Thomas style voice… “blank CDs will NEVER be sold for less than 5$ a pop!”
Especially when I’m in the check-out line at my local Bi-Lo paying a nickel apiece.

R.I.P. Bill Thomas!
Duane Evans

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