The Guitarist’s Guitarist
By Contentment Health & Lifestyle Magazine Staff
In the cold embers of the year, when joy and comfort disappear, the sharp notes of Richard Thompson’s expert guitar and the bite of his gallows humor might be just what you need.
Thompson’s music has a uniqueness that breeds fervor in his fans, and has since virtually inventing British folk-rock with his group Fairport Convention in the 60s. From the sharp, Fender-soaked pitch of his barbed-wire solos to his deep understanding of music that folds in a taste of a minor note in a delightfully unexpected way, he’s not afraid to break the rules. He pairs achingly honest lyrics with groundbreaking musicality, resulting in a sound that resonates on an emotional level with listeners. And we’re no exception.
“He writes better lyrics than almost anyone else’s you’ll ever hear,” said Publisher David Boring. “He writes in every single color of the human emotional wheel with eloquence and accessible stories.”
Thompson “talks in couplets,” producing meaningful and well-written lyrics that span every emotion. He sings about disappointment, heartbreak, sorrow, loss, and betrayal as these are emotions his music thrives in. The poetry in his words is viscerally present in each of his songs, such as the “Woods of Darney,” wherein a man goes to war and finds a picture of a young woman in a dying corporal’s pocket. He seeks her out after the war to love her, but spends the whole relationship wondering if it’s the corporal she sees in him.
“He continues to evolve so we can evolve with him,” Boring explains. “He continues to push the envelope. He can write 10 different songs about betrayal, and they’ll all be from a different perspective. His evolution includes touring with five to six band members early in his career to stripping it down to a trio in recent years. It allows the listener to hear how tight the rhythm section is, and Thompson’s signature guitar is now undeniably filling in the mix. It’s a treat for those that relish every emotion-filled note.”
He does not repeat himself—even in his music. Thompson figures out how to recompose his music so it can be played both acoustic and electric, giving a bottom and top to his sound.
“When you hear 1952 Vincent Black Lightning, you can hear what happens there,” said Boring. “It’s him doing a baseline while he’s fingerpicking the high notes. And it can sound like two guitars. When you see him do it in person, it’s kind of jaw-dropping.”
“Richard Thompson is the greatest guitarist in British folk rock—and that’s only one of the genres he has mastered. Try to see him live, with an electric band: the solos run long and wild.” —Rolling Stone’s’ 100 Greatest Guitarists: David Fricke’s Picks
Boring was walking off an elevator in Saratoga after bringing six close friends to see Richard Thompson. Boring’s passion for Thompson began in 1987. He was just coming from an Eagles background, and had a taste for bending notes from “Hotel California” where Don Felder and Joe Walsh bent nearly every one. He then evolved to Elvis Costello’s mature songwriting and melodic adventurousness. Upon listening to Thompson, however, Boring discovered the musician not only bent the notes and wrote expansive lyrics, but did both in ways he’d never even heard before.
“He’s a guitarist’s guitarist,” said Boring. “If you’re a guitarist, and you’re paying attention, you know exactly who he is.”
The powerful quality of Thompson’s lyrics got Boring through whole stages in his life, and so he’d make a habit out of attending every show he could. Finally, that morning after the concert in Saratoga, Boring was given the ability to speak to him.
“Great show last night.”
“Thank you,” Thompson said. The musician had paused outside the elevator doors: he didn’t get on. He simply stood and talked to Boring, like old friends chatting. They spoke a while about Thompson’s songs before Boring made his pitch.
“I keep bringing people 80 miles to see you,” he said. “I cannot get everybody I know to see you, but I’d like all my friends and all my family to. If you ever get a call from a place called The Gallo Center for the Arts in Modesto, it’ll likely be in part because I will press them until they say yes. Please—take that call and take (the show) because then I can invite all my friends.”
By this time, Thompson had gotten on the elevator, but it was clear he’d gotten the message. Just as the doors began to close, he repeated it:
“The Gallo Center.”
This isn’t the first gig Boring’s been insistent about. He also worked to convince the Strawberry Music Festival to book Thompson with the caveat that he’d do the artwork for free. When Thompson was booked, however, he wasn’t the headliner.
“At that stage, bookers may not have seen him as a headliner,” said David. “The problem with that is that if you put him in front of someone else, he’s likely going to steal the show.”
Sure enough, Thompson ended with his song “Tear Stained Letter,” and everyone sang along. It was a large group of people that hardly knew who he was before he got up onstage, and they were all won over with a performance. They were singing five thousand strong, and not even the MC could get them to stop. Even as everyone was filing out of Strawberry that night, they were singing “Tear Stained Letter” as they carried out their chairs. He’s been a headliner ever since and has been back four times.
“I wish he was playing in front of fifty thousand people every night,” said Boring, “but one of the joys of being a Richard Thompson fan is that you get to see him in venues where you can actually appreciate his talent. It’s one of the great gifts in the music world to me to have someone that talented, but has a career that’s given him a devout following of people. You still get to see him in a smaller setting and realize and appreciate his dazzling talent.”
“His performing in Modesto will be a bucket list dream come true for me. The Gallo Center has an amazing sound system, so hearing his music there will be magical—and with so many of my friends and colleagues!”
On behalf of Contentment Health & Lifestyle magazine: whether you’re feeling good or feeling low, you need to see this show. Look for the “Richard Thompson/Blind Boys of Alabama” show at the Gallo Center for the Arts on Oct. 27 at 7:30 p.m., a double act where Richard Thompson will be performing a solo acoustic set.
- Orville H. Gibson Award (1991) – Best Acoustic Guitar Player
- Americana Music Association in Nashville Lifetime Achievement Award — Songwriting
- Britain’s BBC Awards Lifetime Achievement Award— Songwriting
- Ivor Novello Award (1997)— Outstanding Song Collection
- Order of the British Empire by Queen Elizabeth II (2011)
- Nominated for the Americana Music Association “Artist of the Year” and “Song of the Year”
- Nominated for Countless Grammys
- Still (2015) Reached #6 in the UK Charts
- Rolling Stone’s’ 100 Greatest Guitarists: David Fricke’s Picks