Rob Thomas doesn’t let success get in his way. He’s sold 80 million albums, but that number and the achievement it represents means little to him.
“When people recognize what you do, it’s the most amazing thing ever,” Thomas acknowledged. “But you have to put it in perspective. You can have a No. 1 record this week, but next week somebody else will have a No. 1. You’re only as good as what you’re writing now.
“Good is relative,” Thomas said in a characteristic rush of words. “Every songwriter I know has heard a song that just breaks them. You hear a great song and think, ‘I gotta go write.’”
While Thomas keeps his eyes on the future, fans who come see him in concert — either as Rob Thomas, solo star, or with the band he became a star with, Matchbox Twenty — can guiltlessly enjoy his nearly 20 years of hits.
With Matchbox Twenty, Thomas released the No. 1 songs “Push,” “3AM,” “If You’re Gone,” “Bent,” “Disease,” and “Unwell.” The group’s other hits include “Real World,” “Back 2 Good,” “Mad Season” and “Bright Lights.”
After selling 15 million records with Matchbox Twenty during the 1990s, Thomas’ collaboration with Latin-rock star Carlos Santana, “Smooth,” took him even higher.
Released in 1999, “Smooth” occupied the No. 1 spot on the Billboard Hot 200 for 10 weeks. The song ranks at No. 2 on Billboard’s “Hot 100 All-Time Top Songs” and No. 1 on the magazine’s “Top Hot 100 Rock Songs.” It earned three Grammy Awards for Thomas and Santana.
“Smooth” appeared on Santana’s “Supernatural” album, which features the guitarist with an all-star cast of special guests, including Eric Clapton, Dave Matthews and Lauryn Hill.
Thomas, both the writer and singer of “Smooth,” didn’t hold the song in high regard at first.
“I just wanted to work with Carlos,” he explained. “He’s a legend.”
Thomas’ wife, Marisol, predicted “Smooth’s” success. The first time she heard it, she said, “This is gonna be big.”
“But when the album came out,” Thomas recalled, “I was never mentioned in the press about it. I didn’t think about it until I was in Soho in New York. I’m walking down the street and I hear ‘Smooth.’ I turn around, there’s a convertible full of hot girls, blaring ‘Smooth’. I was like, ‘Oh, OK. We’re on to something.’ All of a sudden ‘Smooth’ started to eat the world.”
A star who distains celebrity, Thomas keeps himself busy with touring and writing new songs. In August, he released his third solo album, “The Great Unknown.” He’s been on the road through much of this year.
“The job I’m lucky enough to do, it melds right into my life,” he said. “Writing is who I am. Playing music is who I am.”
And playing and creating making music, in the studio or on stage, never feels like work.
“That is the most fortunate thing, having grown up in a really low-income, blue-collar family, with a dad who hated his job every day and worked 60 hours a week just to put food on the table, I really appreciate that I get to do something that I love. I can’t wait to work. It’s a blessing.”