The loss of singer B.J. Thomas, who gained national fame through songs like “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on My Head” and “Hooked on a Feeling,” is being felt in suburban Chicago, where fans flocked to see him at venues like the Arcada in St. Charles.
Ron Onesti of Onesti Entertainment not only booked those shows, but developed a friendship with Thomas, who died Saturday from lung cancer at age 78,
Thomas shared his personal struggles, musical memories and even cultivated a taste for Onesti’s meatballs.
In fact, before the COVID-19 pandemic, Thomas told him, “Man, I can’t wait to come by and have your meatballs. I might have to bring some home with me,” Onesti said.
Before falling ill, Thomas had been scheduled to perform at the Arcada on May 23, in a concert that had been rescheduled after the pandemic postponed an August 2020 performance.
Onesti said the connection between he and Thomas started a quarter of a century ago.
“He was always very accessible,” Onesti said. “He was a very humble, very soft-spoken guy.”
The two would hang out after shows, talking for a couple of hours in the dressing room. That’s when Thomas shared with Onesti his love for rhythm and blues music.
“That’s where his love for music really came from,” Onesti said. “People thought it was Christian (music), originally. But back in the day, his thing was R&B.”
Onesti said Thomas performed with Dionne Warwick, who introduced him to Burt Bacharach, writer of his biggest hit, “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on My Head.”
Onesti said Thomas also was open about what he called the “dangerous game” he played with alcohol and drugs.
“He wasn’t shy about those earlier years, because it nearly killed him,” he said.
Onesti said he booked Thomas early on at festivals. He later appeared at the Arcada at least once a year for the last 16 years.
Local audiences would greet Thomas with enthusiasm, he said.
“The fans that would come to the theater in St. Charles would come early and would be just giddy and couldn’t wait for the show. It would be nice to have B.J. here, because the crowd was nice and they truly loved him,” Onesti added. “And he loved his fans. Last time he was by us, he had four encores. And he just kept on giving more.”
Onesti said there will be a tribute event to Thomas, either with celebrities or local performers.
“He was just one of those good guys that had that voice that affected so many different generations,” he said. “He just was so unassuming, so kind, so giving to the fans. We should have had him another 10 years.”