Minister's son Timmy Thomas was an in-house keyboard player for Gold Wax in Memphis before moving to Texas to become a teacher. King Sporty, who wrote the Bob Marley & The Wailers' classic "Buffalo Soldier" brought Thomas to Miami-based TK Records in 1970 where he did session work on hits for Betty Wright, among others. "Why Can't We Live Together" was his only solo hit.
Thomas recalled the story of the song to Spin; "I had just moved to Miami. And I'll never forget, I was sitting in the study, because I was getting ready to teach school, higher education… I was sitting in my study, and I heard Walter Cronkite. I'll never forget this. He said, '35,000 Viet Cong died today, 15,000 Americans.' I said 'WHAT?! You mean that many mothers' children died today? In a war that we can't come to the table and sit down and talk about this, without so many families losing their loved ones?' I said, 'Why can't we live together?'"
"Bing! That light went off. And I started writing it then. 'No more wars, we want peace in this world, and no matter what color, you're still my brother.' And then after that, put it on this little tape, and went to WEBF, which was a local radio station. And they played local artists then… they played it, and the phones lit up. They said 'Man, who is that?'"
"And I did it as a one-man band! That was my foot playing bass, that was my left-hand playing guitar… Could never believe that as a one-man band, something like that would've been played that much. But I do believe that the world was ready to start changing a little bit. And that song made the change."
The song has been covered by many artists, including Sade (1984, on her debut album Diamond Life) and MC Hammer (1991 on his Too Legit to Quit album).
Drake sampled this in 2015 on his "Hotline Bling" rap single. Thomas admitted he had no idea what the Toronto MC was rapping about. He recalled: "I was excited that my kids had to say 'Daddy, here's what he's saying.' It's like I had to get into a rap dictionary to find out some of the things he was saying."