Category: Movies and TV

Interview: Eddie Trunk Discusses New AXS-TV Series, ‘Trunk Fest’

Photo: Stewart Volland/AXS TV

He’s known as the go-to authority for his hard rock and heavy metal expertise, but now radio and television personality Eddie Trunk is hitting the road. Taking viewers on a behind the scenes journey to experience the sights, sounds, stunts and culinary cuisine at some of the country’s legendary music festivals with his brand new AXS-TV series, “Trunk Fest”.

As one of the genres leading proponents as well as an encyclopedia of rock music [Trunk’s famous “Stump The Trunk” segment was a fan favorite on “That Metal Show”], “Trunk Fest” takes Eddie out of his comfort zone and has him doing things he never would do. Whether it’s getting schooled in the ways of motorcycle stunts with daredevil Doug Danger at Sturgis Motorcycle Rally at Buffalo Chip or making jambalaya at the New Orleans Voodoo Fest + Art Experience, “Trunk Fest”  is more than just music. It’s an overall experience.

In addition to interviewing such diverse artists as George Thorogood, Taylor Hawkins [Foo Fighters] and Tom Morello and Chuck D [Prophets of Rage], the series also gives viewers an inside look into what really makes the festivals tick.

Future episodes of “Trunk Fest” include excursions to Kentucky’s Larger Than Life Festival; a jaunt to the California coast for the eclectic KAABOO festival, and a trip to scenic New York for Mountain Jam.

I recently spoke with Eddie Trunk about “Trunk Fest” and more in this exclusive new interview.

How did this new series, “Trunk Fest” come about?

Eddie Trunk: I had done some things with AXS over the last few years. Most recently, I hosted a documentary film series called “Reel To Real”. They came up with the idea of covering music festivals and wanted to know if I’d be interested in hosting. The executive producer, Evan Haiman, is an old friend and the two of us got together over lunch and talked. It was a no brainer and now here we are. What’s cool for me is that the show takes me a little bit out of my wheelhouse. It’s still music related and talking to artists, but it’s also about traveling and the festival experience. It’s taken me to some really cool places and taught me some things along the way as well.

What was the filming process like?

ET: Most of the shows we’ve done have been two day shoots. Normally, I’d come in and shoot all my segments [the interviews, the stand up] over the course of a day and the crew would usually stay on an extra day to shoot B-roll footage. Then it’s all edited up. It’s a great crew and they do a great job. We were in some amazing places shooting outdoors and the show looks incredible.

What was your favorite part about doing the series?

ET: I’ve interviewed artists my entire career in radio and TV and love it, but my favorite part about this series is that it’s not just doing interviews. It’s taking me out of my comfort zone; putting me in different situations and discovering things I normally wouldn’t discover. Like being on a motorcycle; firing guns; being to cities I haven’t been to in a long time and experiencing foods I’d never tried before. For me, it’s about the exploration. We have more festivals in America now than we’ve ever had and it’s cool to get out and explore what’s happening. The experience is the buzz word for this show.

Click here for a preview of the premiere episode of “Trunk Fest”.

You mentioned learning some things while filming this series. What were some of the revelations?

ET: One of the things I was surprised about was an episode we shot in New Orleans for Jazz Fest. It has of all the music genres (pop, hip-hop, rock, classic rock) but the least amount of jazz [laughs]. That was eye-opening. There was another huge festival in San Diego I’d never heard of called KAABOO, which was also really interesting. Then there were moments with Chad Smith from Red Hot Chili Peppers, Taylor Hawkins from Foo Fighters and Tom Morello, who’s a good friend. The whole experience has been phenomenal.

Did you always know you wanted to have a career in entertainment?

ET: The number one thing for me from the time I was in high school was how can I take the music I love and share it with other people? Over the last thirty-five years, I’ve done radio and TV; worked in a record store; did freelance journalism; worked for a record company; managed artists, and have written two books. But it’s never been about trying to promote me or becoming famous. It was always about promoting the bands and helping to push them.

You’ve always had a strong opinion when it comes to The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. Has that opinion changed with the recent induction of bands like Deep Purple, KISS and Bon Jovi?

ET: It actually has. I’ve been a vocal opponent of the Hall of Fame but have to give credit where credit is due. There’s still a lot of work to be done, but seeing Alice Cooper, Rush, Bon Jovi and Deep Purple be in there is a positive movement. About four years ago, they [The Rock Hall] made me a voter, and that’s another good sign. Even though I beat the hell of them, instead of holding it against me, they brought me in and let me have a voice.

Are there any other projects you’re currently working on?

ET: Right now, my focus is on getting word out about “Trunk Fest”. Ever since “That Metal Show” ended, I’ve been busy doing radio. I do six live shows a week on Sirius/XM; one daily on a channel called Volume that airs every day from 2-4 p.m. ET and replays at 9-11 p.m. ET. Outside of that, I’m doing a lot of hosting and appearing at festivals. I also just recently got confirmed to go on tour with Deep Purple in November and host their shows in Mexico. After all these years to know artists and have these opportunities is amazing. I’m really lucky.

What excites you the most about the new series, “Trunk Fest”?

ET: A lot of people know me for being a music junkie, but this show has me doing things I normally wouldn’t do. The show is very real and honest. I also don’t go into a situation knowing all the background. I’m learning right along with the audience as we go. The other thing is that any festival I would normally go to would be more hard rock-based, but I went to one in Mexico for Zac Brown and others that focused more on EDM and pop. Even though that music might not be my favorite stuff it’s been really educational and I’ve learned a lot. I think the audience will as well.

Trunk Fest premieres Sunday, July 1st at 9:30 p.m. ET / 6:30 p.m. PT on AXS-TV

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Katie Daryl Discusses The New Summer Season of AXS-TV’s “The Top Ten Revealed”

Photo: James Michael Photography / AXS TV

The Summer of 2018 just got a whole lot hotter. That’s because AXS-TV’s popular music countdown series, “The Top Ten Revealed” is returning this July and kicks things off by featuring “Songs About Sex” on Sunday, July 1st at 9 p.m. ET. It will be followed by “Epic Songs Of `73” on Sunday, July 8th at 9 p.m. ET.

Executive producer and host Katie Daryl returns for the new season and is joined by a panel of musical icons and industry experts counting down some of music’s greatest songs as decided by viewers.

In the premiere episode, “Songs About Sex,” artists like Dee Snider, Lita Ford and Steven Adler join award-winning songwriter Allee Willis and KROQ DJ Nicole Alvarez to discuss hits from chart-toppers such as Def Leppard, Donna Summer, Madonna and Meat Loaf, among many others.

The following week, the show takes an in-depth look at “Epic Songs Of ’73” and is loaded with standout Southern, psychedelic and shock rock from the likes of Alice Cooper, The Allman Brothers Band and Lynyrd Skynyrd. Notable guests on this episode include Eddie Money, Jack Russell (Jack Russell’s Great White), Clem Burke (Blondie) and renowned music expert, Matt Pinfield.

Upcoming summer episodes feature themes that include “One Hit Wonders,” “Sports Jams,” “Songs About Drinking,” “Rock Star Collaborations,” “Epic Songs of ‘78” and “High Note Hitters”.

‘The Top Ten Revealed” is a program that’s sure to fuel intense debate among music aficionados, but it’s also one that will bring back good memories and keep your toes tapping long after the music fades.

I recently spoke with Katie Daryl about the new summer episodes of “The Top Ten Revealed” and more in this exclusive new interview.

How has reaction been to “The Top Ten Revealed” since its inception?

Katie Daryl: The response has been fantastic. Sometimes when you do a list you have to worry that people will think you got it wrong, but that isn’t the case here. Everyone has been very supportive. And even if they didn’t agree with the list they couldn’t be angry because at the end of the day, they’re ten songs that are pretty rad to listen to.

What do you think makes the show so special?

KD: What I find epic is that we’re hitting on topics that take people down memory lane. Not only are we celebrating classic rock music, the genre and the bands, but we’re also taking people on a musical journey that brings them back to a place that instills emotion that a lot of us don’t have on a day to day basis.

Click here for a preview of the new season of “The Top Ten Revealed”.

What can fans expect from the new summer episodes of “The Top Ten Revealed”?

KD: All of the new episodes really speak to classic rock fans. Trust me, if you like rock and roll and classic rock, or if you’ve ever enjoyed a single song from AC/DC, you’re going to love every single one of these lists.

What’s the criteria for determining which themes are involved and which songs make the list?

KD: First and foremost, it starts with Mark Cuban at AXS-TV. He’ll ask me about the lists and the questions we plan to ask for each new round. I’ll put those in from of him and he’ll sign on or offer suggestions. Once we get the generalized list, I’ll go out and do research and come up with a top fifteen or twenty. It’s like cramming for a final in college. It’s not only reading articles, lists, comments and fan responses, but it’s also watching videos and footage that speak to these topics. Once that’s complete, we’ll put the questions out on social media. It then goes through old-fashioned tallying to see which songs rank and everything falls into place from there.

Do the guest artists and industry experts have any idea of the song rankings beforehand?

KD: They know some of the songs from the list but not necessarily all ten or their ranking. I’ll usually give them a few of the songs ahead of time so they’ll be prepared for what we’re going to talk about. I love to include artists like Lita Ford to provide color commentary and Matt Pinfield, who’s an encyclopedia of music.

Was there something you learned during filming about the songs or artists?

KD: Learning is actually one of my favorite things about the show. We incorporate not just reaction and comments, but we also like to make sure we take you back to that old school, water cooler conversation about rock and roll. Through the process, I’ve learned so much. One of my favorite facts came from the song “How Long” by the band, Ace. Everyone thinks it’s a cheating song and that some guy’s heart has been broken. It has, but not by a woman. It’s actually about a cheating band member! One of the guys in the band was moonlighting on the side with another band and everyone found out about it. They were all like, “How long, dude? How long?” [laughs].

Photo: Stewart Volland / AXS TV

 What can you tell me about your  background in entertainment?

 KD: I’ve always loved music and started out  as a radio DJ. I then did a year at MTV before  going back to radio in Dallas. That’s  where I  stumbled upon the world of Mark  Cuban,  who was launching a new TV network, HD  Net, and another local show. I tried out to be  his co-host and was hired to host a  basketball show with him. In talking on set,  Mark was telling me about this new music  network he had coming out and  asked me if  I had any ideas. It was a dream come true.  So, I spent the first six years of my career  interviewing rock stars like Ted  Nugent,  Tommy Lee and Maroon 5. I eventually  transitioned within the network and Mark Cuban’s companies.

What excites you the most about the new season of “The Top Ten Revealed”?

KD: I love all of the new guests we have. The first round had some fantastic names, and we still have Steven Adler, Lita Ford and Matt Pinfield. But our cast has now doubled in size and includes even more artists that have a great insight into these songs: Dee Snider, Jeff Pilson (Foreigner), Clem Burke (Blondie), Rikki Rockett (Poison) and Eddie Money. In fact, one of Eddie’s songs actually made our list of hits from 1978. To have Eddie Money talking about Eddie Money? I just geek out on that sort of thing! [laughs].

The new season of “The Top Ten Revealed” premieres Sunday, July 1 at 9 p.m. ET / 6 PT on AXS-TV.

Interview: David Duchovny discusses his new album, ‘Every Third Thought,’ songwriting

David Duchovny, the award-winning actor, director and novelist has just released his new album, Every Third Thought. It’s the follow up to his 2015 debut, Hell or Highwater.

Crafted with elements of folk, classic rock and pop, Every Third Thoughtshowcases Duchovny’s eclectic influences, which range from artists like The Beatles and David Bowie to the bright, haunting and acoustic-driven songs from 1970’s bands like America.

Recorded in Brooklyn in December of 2016, Duchovny finds a deeper level of lyrical maturity and musical expression with Every Third Thought. His honest storytelling speaks of personal reflection but is meticulously crafted with universal themes.

AXS recently spoke with David Duchovny about Every Third Thought, songwriting and more in this exclusive new interview.

AXS: How does Every Third Thought compare to your first album, Hell Or Highwater?

David Duchovny: This album is more musically varied and ambitious. The songs all started the same way, which was me throwing chords together with an acoustic guitar and then singing my words over it. Once I started collaborating more with my band–who are such advanced musicians–it allowed them to bring in their own sonic tastes. So, it wasn’t just me saying I’ve got this song but was more like I’m hearing a David Bowie, “Heroes” vibe, which was the case with the song, “Half Life.” Or from me saying “Last First Time” feels like a 70’s power rock ballad. They were able to open the song up and execute the things that I couldn’t.

AXS: Have you found that your lyrical style has matured with this new album?

DD: Having written a bunch of songs, I’m starting to get a better feel for how lyrics work. I still very clearly recall writing my first song, “The Things” on Hell or Highwater. I remember thinking that if I’m going to write a song, I’m not going to say anything specific in it because I don’t want people asking me what it means. And what could be more neutral than saying, “It’s about this “thing” [laughs].” I try to straddle the line of a song being very personal but also universal. Everybody’s life has a very similar shape. You try to write as personally as you can and write to the shape of everybody’s life.

AXS: What was the writing process like for Every Third Thought?

DD: It’s always different. Sometimes, I’ll have a melodic hook in my mind and a chord progression waiting for words. Other times, the words will come first and they’re waiting for a melody. I’ve got a bunch of lyrics off to the side on my iPad and a bunch of progressions off to another side. Sometimes, I’ll sit down and start introducing them to one another and see who wants to make out [laughs].

Read the rest of my
Interview with David Duchovny by Clicking Here!

‘Dinner With The Alchemist’: Jenna St. John Discusses New Supernatural Drama

In the early 1900’s, a wealthy alchemist, Jacques St. Germaine, [Dan Istrate], travels to New Orleans to seek help from the legendary voodoo priestess Marie Laveau [Dionne Audain]. When a spate of murders are uncovered, Jacques and the quarreling locals butt heads as they try to discover the identity of the killer.

Featuring a cast of characters pulled directly from actual police reports, “Dinner with the Alchemist” weaves historical fact and imaginative storytelling into a mysterious supernatural drama.

Written by Jenna St. John [who also appears in the role of Abigail] and directed by Kevin Good, “Dinner With The Alchemist” is part love story, part supernatural thriller and part historical documentary of life in early twentieth century New Orleans.

With its rich musical score, brilliant cinematography and a diverse and believable ensemble cast, the filmmakers have succeeded in delivering one of the best and most imaginative independent films of 2018.

“Dinner With The Alchemist” also stars Megan Graves, Tamara Johnson and Regen Wilson.

I recently spoke with Jenna St. John about “Dinner With The Alchemist” and more in this exclusive new interview.

Where did you draw the inspiration for “Dinner With The Alchemist”?

I had gone on vacation to New Orleans with my sister, and the two of us walked around the city and visited a lot of restaurants. They have plaques on buildings describing a lot of mysterious creatures and dark things that had happened there, and we came upon one story about Jacques St. Germaine that seemed too spooky to be true. So, we spent some time in the library going through microfiche to see if there were any news clippings that could prove or disprove it. We wound up finding a police report that verified some of the events. At that moment, we said this has to be a movie already. When we found out that wasn’t the case, I realized it was something I had to write. That’s how it all began.

What’s your writing process like?

For this film, I did a lot of research, and the first several drafts of the script were just me getting to know the characters. I don’t have a particular time and day that I write, but I have a personal rule to write at least one line a day. Sometimes, it may only be just that one line, but usually it will turn into a few pages.

How would you describe the story of “Dinner With The Alchemist”?

For me, it’s a big ensemble piece where every character and arc has its own love story. That was the driving backbone and connective theme. It’s also a story about people in New Orleans from all different walks of life who are affected by these strange murders. We have the wealthy alchemist, two dock workers, police officers and prostitutes, and these events affect each of them in different ways. My character, Abigail, is one of the prostitutes that lets the others know there’s a real threat to them. Without her, there would be this false sense of security.

What was the filming process like?

It was a very tight schedule. We had a small budget, a huge cast and a bunch of locations.  Principal photography was sixteen days, but Kevin made the most of every moment. I don’t know anyone more capable of directing this piece other than him.

Photo by: Kevin Good

The musical score for “Dinner With The Alchemist” is so beautiful. What can you tell me about it?

We got really lucky when we got composer, John Piscitello. He gave an organic quality and life to the music. We had a tense soundtrack, with a lot of Phillip Glass and Clair De Lune that we used as inspiration. John worked really hard to get the perfect sound.

Did you always know that you wanted a career in entertainment? Was it something you always aspired to do?

I originally went to grad school to be a novelist. I had done some acting in the past and after I left school I started looking into producing, which naturally led to screenwriting. This is the place that feels most natural for me.

What’s the biggest difference between writing a novel as opposed to a screenplay?

The biggest difference between writing books and screenplays is that in books, so much of the dramatic action happens in the reader’s head. You can’t really do that when writing a screenplay. Structure is key.

Are there any other projects you’re currently working on right now?

I’m working on another teen-oriented feature right now that has supernatural elements to it. I also have a television pilot called “Sexpectations” that we’ve screened at a few film festivals. I plan on releasing it sometime next year.

What excites you the most about the release of “Dinner With The Alchemist” and this next phase of your career? What are you looking forward to most about the future?

I’m looking forward to finding more stories that interest me and figuring out better ways to tell them. I’m also looking forward to sharing this film with everyone. We had a small team of people working on this film who are all are super-talented. Showcasing everyone’s work is what I’m really excited about.

“Dinner With The Alchemist” will be released on Tuesday, February 13 on VOD, iTunes, Google Play and Amazon Prime.

Interview: Thomas Ian Nicholas Discusses New Film, ‘Living Among Us’ and Upcoming Tour

Perhaps best known for his role as Kevin Myers in the “American Pie” films, multi-talented actor/producer and singer/songwriter Thomas Ian Nicholas continues to entertain audiences with his clever filmmaking and passion-driven acumen. Nicholas’ new horror film, “Living Among Us” continues this trend by also applying a new twist on the methodical vampire genre.

The film, written and directed by Brian A. Metcalf, is a fictional found-footage documentary where Mike, (played by Nicholas), and two members of his team are invited to film a group of vampires in an attempt to prove or disprove claims of the undead mythos. The documentary crew soon finds themselves in extreme danger after uncovering a deadly secret, and a fight for survival ensues.

Like many found-footage films, “Living Among Us” shines by delivering seemingly helpless characters in a visually appealing environment as well its use of extended takes. One scene in particular, which takes place in the dining room, will have audiences talking long after the credits have rolled.

“Living Among Us” also stars Andrew Keegan, Esmé Bianco, William Sadler and John Heard (in one of his final film roles).

An acclaimed musician, Nicholas and his band are also gearing up for a new tour this year in celebration of the 10th anniversary of his album, Without Warning.

AXS recently spoke with Nicholas about “Living Among Us”, his music and more in this exclusive new interview.

AXS: How did your involvement in “Living Among Us” come about?

Thomas Ian Nicholas: I have a production company called Red Compass Media, where my business partner, Brian A. Metcalf (writer/director), and I have a slate of projects we’re doing. The first one was “The Lost Tree”, which recently came out on DVD and Blu-Ray and stars Michael Madsen and Lacey Chabert. “Living Among Us” is the second of three that we’re doing. It’s very exciting.

AXS: What was it about this particular story that piqued your interest?

TIN: When we were finishing up “The Lost Tree”, we had the opportunity to do another project. What they wanted was a found-footage film, but one that included an all-star cast. Brian is a film buff and told them that you can’t really do a found-footage film with well-known actors because it would be too difficult for viewers to believe. He suggested that we do a documentary-style American New Wave film. A movie within a movie. One where you’re fully aware of the filmmaking process but are still drawn into the story.

The other thing I really dig about this film is that it’s a new twist on the subject of vampires.

Read the rest of my
Interview with Thomas Nicholas by Clicking Here!

‘The Top Ten Revealed’: Katie Daryl Discusses New AXS-TV Countdown Series

It’s a program that’s sure to fuel intense debate among music aficionados. AXS TV’s all-new original series, “The Top Ten Revealed” [which premiers on Sunday, Feb 11] is a countdown show unlike any other. One where fans choose the best of the best.

In each episode, host and executive producer Katie Daryl (“The World’s Greatest Tribute Bands”) counts down a list of genre-defining songs and orchestrates discussion with a rotating panel of icons and music industry experts. Each of them examining the musicians and music that have left indelible marks on the rock n’ roll scene.

Episode one opens by counting down the top ten “Guitar Rock Intros” and includes discussion by special guests like Guns N’ Roses legend, Steven Adler, former Pantera percussionist, Vinnie Paul, and the Queen of Metal herself, Lita Ford. Future episodes in the new series include the top “Songs Named After Women”, “80s Rock Ballads”, “Vietnam Era Rock”, “‘70s Hard Rock Hits” and “Hits That Were Covers”.

In the end, “The Top Ten Revealed” is an infectious series where the world was invited to vote and viewers may have to agree to disagree. But if you’re patient and understanding you’ll find that these lists are only a whole lot of fun, but ones that will keep your toes tapping long after the show is over.

I recently spoke with Katie Daryl about “The Top Ten Revealed” and more in this exclusive new interview.

How did the idea for “The Top Ten Revealed” originate?

I’ve worked for Mark Cuban’s TV network since it was created, and being a music-driven network, we’re always picking our brains about what our viewers might like to see. We frequently have water cooler chats about our favorite artists and what everyone is listening to, and a lot of these conversations end up in debate. So, we might be talking about AC/DC vs Led Zeppelin and who does better at X,Y and Z. That’s when we realized that we didn’t have any shows on the network that allowed people to rank and argue classic rock. The idea was spawned. We knew that if our viewers liked to argue and debate music as much as our editors and writers did, then this was going to be a hit.

Katie Daryl – Photo by Stewart Volland

How much research was done in compiling the list of Guitar Rock Intros for Episode One?

Doing the initial ranking was a long process. Before we even began, we made sure that we set some parameters. In this case, it was guitar intros from bands that originated in the 60’s, 70’s and 80s. That’s why songs like “Johnny B. Goode” wouldn’t make the list, because that song initiated in the 50’s. The first thing to do was to create a list of about twenty-five intros that you can think of off the top of your head. Next, we did research to see what other people were talking about. Finally, we put the question out to social media, and people started responding. Just from us asking the question, it fueled debate, which helped us formulate a final list of ten.

What criteria was used in ranking the final ten intros?

The final listing was shaped by social media and from logging on to AXS-TV. It was fun to open it up, cast a wide net and get other people’s opinions.

Were the artists invited to participate in the show aware of the final rankings?

Everyone knew going in what the topic was about, but we didn’t tell any of them how the intros were ranked. Some of the artists were only given a few songs to talk about, and it was fun to see if their reactions coincided with how our social media vote came in.

What else can you tell me about this season of “The Top Ten Revealed”?

There are six episodes this season with topics ranging from “Guitar Rock Intros” and “Songs Named After Women” to “80’s Rock Ballads” and “Vietnam Era Songs”. What’s great about this show is that these songs are going to get stuck in your head. They’re all songs we love and that’s what makes them so classic.

Were there any guitar intros that didn’t make the list that you thought should have been included?

There’s a few Nirvana intros I would have put on the list, but those didn’t make it because of the parameters we set. We also had another parameter where each band could only be included on the list once. Thank goodness, because we could easily have had an all AC/DC list [laughs]. They’re a guitar intro machine!

Did you always know that you wanted to have a career in entertainment?

I did, although I have to admit I thought I’d always stay in radio. I was lucky enough to have a few early opportunities to be on television and make a career out of it. Presenting information in an entertaining or news format has always been something that gets me excited.

What excites you the most about this season of “The Top Ten Revealed”?

I cannot wait to see the social media reaction and the agreeing and disagreeing that will come out of these episodes. People are passionate about their opinions, and especially when they can hide behind the Internet [laughs]. It will be interesting to see how it all turns out and to see if everyone can play nice in the sand box.

The Top Ten Revealed” hosted by Katie Daryl debuts Sunday, Feb. 11th at 9:30 p.m. ET/6:30 p.m. PT on AXS-TV.

Actor Ernest Thomas Discusses His Career And The 40th Anniversary of The Doobie Brothers Appearance on ‘What’s Happening!!’

It could’ve been when Ernest Thomas’s character, Raj, delivered the classic line, “Which Doobie you be?” Or maybe it was the argumentative exchange between Shirley and Al Dunbar at Rob’s Place. It might also have been Rerun’s hilariously failed attempt at bootlegging a Doobie Brothers concert. Whatever the case, there’s no question that the “What’s Happening!!” two-part, “Doobie or Not Doobie”, which first aired on January 28th, 1978, has remained one of the series’ most iconic episodes.

Much like The Doobies themselves, actor Ernest Thomas has remained as beloved and relevant as ever these last forty years. In addition to having starred in the successful spinoff series, “What’s Happening Now!!”, he’s also been featured in films like “Malcolm X” as well as the series “Everybody Hates Chris”. These days, Thomas is also an accomplished author as well as an in-demand mentor and public speaker.

I recently spoke with Thomas about the 40th anniversary of the famous “What’s Happening!!” episode with The Doobie Brothers, his career and more in this exclusive new interview.

It’s been more than forty years since “What’s Happening!!” first aired, and it remains one of the most beloved shows of all time. When you look back now with so much perspective, what thoughts come to mind?

I pinch myself and cry out to God in gratitude. Recently, I was on a military base doing a book signing, and the people there were telling me how much the DVDs had meant and given comfort to the solders in Iraq and Afghanistan. I’m mystified and thankful that it continues to make people so happy.

How much of Ernest Thomas was in the character of Raj?

That’s a great question. In the original “Cooley High” [which “What’s Happening!!” is loosely based on], Preacher Jackson, who was played brilliantly by Glynn Turman, was a good kid, but was a little more street and mischievous. After my audition, I started thinking about how my grandmother, mother and pastor had crafted me and decided to go in to talk to the producers. I told them I didn’t see Roger as street at all. I told them I saw him as a person who loves everyone and was always trying to keep the peace. He was everyone’s best friend; every teacher’s favorite student and every woman’s ideal husband. Roger is every man. I remember they looked at me like I had just about lost my mind [laughs]. They thanked me for sharing but later wound up shaping Raj more like me. That’s why in the intro of the show, when you see me open the door and walk out with the big smile on my face, that really is me.

What do you think made the show so timeless and special?

I think it was because it was a show that people could easily identify with. That’s why it crossed all racial lines. Growing up, everyone has the heavy-set friend (Rerun); the shy, little Dwayne and the baby brother or sister who’s a little tattletale or snitch. Then you had Mama, who was going to spank you if you were bad. That was a real situation. The truth is, we had a divine chemistry. I remember when I first set eyes on Fred Berry, Haywood Nelson, Mabel King, Danielle Spencer and Shirley Hemphill, there was an instant familiarity. We all loved each other and it became more like a family.

This year marks the 40th anniversary of the two-part episode with The Doobie Brothers. What was the inspiration behind it?

The director knew the band and saw that they were going through a transition with members. They really needed something to give them a hit. So, he came up with this crazy idea that they had gone to our school. Here you had these white, long-haired rockers coming back to the same teachers we had, and no one even questioned it. In fact, America ate it up.

Even today, when I talk to them, they’ll tell me how people always come up and ask them about “What’s Happening!!” It’s not about the music or even the next album. They want to know what the experience was like on the show [laughs]. I even remember seeing an interview with them where they said they think the band’s epitaph is going to read, “The Doobies Brothers. We’re what’s happening.” [laughs]. 

Just like The Doobie Brothers, you’re still as relevant as ever forty years later. What new projects are you’re working on?

I’ve recently written my autobiography, “From Raj to Riches: Overcoming Life Through Faith.” It’s something I’ve wanted to do for a long time. It’s a testimony that supernatural faith brings supernatural results. I want kids to know that I was bullied in grade school, and it didn’t help that I was into the church. At times, it felt like it would never end, but I was taught to have faith in God and to have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. The book also talks about my time working on the show and “Malcom X” as well as my relationships with people like Muhammad Ali and Dr. Maya Angelou. People have really responded well to it, and I thank God for what the book has done.

I also have a lot of other things brewing right now. I did a film called “Two Wolves” that will hopefully be coming out this year. There’s also a series called “The Chosen Ones” that’s a retelling of The Gospel of Christ, where I play a blind man who Jesus heals. I’m very excited about it.

You also recently did a short film, “Earworm” that was quite a departure for you. What can you tell me about it? 

Tara Price wrote and directed the film and did such a great job. She and I had met on another film and liked each other immediately. At first, I was hesitant about doing it, because I didn’t want to look feeble and like someone who couldn’t take care of myself. But that’s part of life, and Tara told me that it would be a challenge for me to not always play the hero or be the one that has all the answers. It was a long, twelve-hour day of filming, but I’m so happy for her and the producers. She lit a fire with it.

Of all the highlights of your career, what stands out to you as most memorable?

If I look back, “What’s Happening!!” was like Heaven on Earth because at one point, we were so huge that we were seen by fifty million people in America. Suddenly, everyone knows your name. Although I love the people and the nostalgia of the show, for me, the best time is right now. I love that there are new films of mine that people have yet to see, and I’m also excited about how well the book is doing. I love the past, whether it’s “What’s Happening!!” or being in “Malcolm X” with Denzel Washington, or meeting Muhammad Ali and having him take me under his wing, call me a friend and really say that he loved me like a brother. All of those things were out of body experiences, but I believe that right now is the best time. My greatest joy is making people happy.