Rob Thomas keeps cool perspective on success

Matchbox Twenty's lead singer holds 'selling records' separate from his personal life


Times Entertainment Writer

Rob Thomas, lead singer for Matchbox Twenty, is one of those push-overs who just can't say no to friends.

Most of the time, anyway.

When Carlos Santana called, Thomas co-wrote and sang on the Grammy-winning song "Smooth" from the album, "Supernatural.''

When Willie Nelson called, Thomas contributed three songs to Nelson's soon-to-be-released album, "The Great Divide,'' and sings backup vocals on one of them.

But when Mick called - yes, Mick Jagger - Thomas had to call back the Rolling Stones' legend and tell him - ouch - no.

"I thought I was going to cry," Thomas said, recalling the moment during a recent phone call.

Thomas had to say no because he'd already said yes to his wife, model Marisol Maldonado, as in in yes, he would save that time for her.

"I had just promised my wife that when we had a couple of weeks between tours that I would spend it with her," Thomas said. "When I got his (Jagger's) first call to come out to L.A. to write with him, I thought, 'That's a long way from New York.'

"I knew he'd been working on the record for a while, so I called him back, and said, 'I don't know how to say it, but I can't do it.'"

Not many people probably turn down Jagger and get a second chance, but as it turned out, the Rolling Stones' playboy understood, eventually came to New York, and the two got together and wrote a couple of songs.

Still, the episode is the first clue Thomas isn't from the typical rock 'n' roll-comes-first, everything-else-doesn't-matter mold, even though his career has exploded the last few years.

While Matchbox Twenty is selling a gazillion records, he needs a new trophy case for his Grammys and is as hot as any singer/songwriter around, Thomas' priorities are still cool - spending time with his wife, being straightforward and polite - even to the sharks that surface in the media - and humble enough to admit he's a fan just like the rest of us.

"I try to put a perspective on my job, as much as it sometimes gets blurred," Thomas said during a break in his recent tour. Matchbox Twenty, Train and David Garza perform here Tuesday at the Von Braun Center Arena.

"I love my job - it's so much a part of Matchbox Twenty, Train and David Garza perform here Tuesday Singer Continued from page G1 who I am - and exists because of creating something within you," he said. "But you have to separate the two (work and personal life). I hate to call it a job, because I feel so fortunate at the end of the day. But that's what it is - selling records."

And he's certainly done that. Matchbox Twenty, with hits like "Push," "3 a.m.," "Real World" and "Back 2 Good," sold over 11 million copies of its 1996 debut album, "Yourself or Someone Like You," an achievement few artists have reached. And the follow-up, "Mad Season by Matchbox Twenty," with hits "Bent," "If You're Gone," "Mad Season" and "Crutch" has gone triple-platinum.

Also, Thomas was honored with three Grammy awards for "Smooth," the 1999-chart topping collaboration with Carlos Santana. The song earned "Song of the Year," "Record of the Year," and "Best Pop Collaboration with Vocals." Thomas had previously earned a Grammy nomination for Matchbox Twenty's "Push."

"I just fell bass-ackwards into luck again," Thomas said of his success with "Smooth." "Everything about 'Smooth' has been so special and so beautiful. We were taking our time making 'Mad Season,' so 'Smooth' became this really good bridge.

"It (Grammys) definitely put a different slant on me. Our band had sold over 10 million records, but nothing prepared me for that. After 'Smooth' we were big, (bleeping) rock stars. It took me to another level and gave me respect for where success is and for Mr. Carlos."

The collaboration with Santana certainly gained him additional respect as a songwriter/singer, but it's also helped lure new fans to hear what he and his regular band are doing.

"The favorite thing to me, about the band, if you look in the audience, it ranges from 50s and 60s to 10-year-olds," Thomas said. "And, I don't think that would have happened if not for 'Smooth.'

"We like to think we're a band that's everywhere. People know when Matchbox is coming out 'that's the guy from "Smooth." 'I make that transition from Rob in Santana to Rob in Matchbox Twenty."

His most recent project with Willie Nelson is one of those labors of love he's always dreamed of doing. He contributed "Maria," "You Won't Catch Me Cryin'" and "Recollection Phoenix" to Nelson's album and sings backup on "Maria." He's also submitted songs to Tina Turner, Mary J. Blige and may have a song on Tim McGraw's next album.

"I've been writing for Willie all my life - he just didn't know about it," Thomas said, laughing. "The funny thing is, when Willie and I got together, I had three songs already written. They weren't Matchbox songs, they were too Willie. So, when I played them for him, he liked them.

"That's the only reason I do it - I'm a fan. I've turned down more money than I've made to do things like this. I've got a gig, so it's good I can. I'm being nice to that 16-year-old who stood in front of the mirror playing a tennis racket and dreamed of being a rock star."