Richard Thompson

"Imagine encountering Ö someone who had never heard of Jimi Hendrix, who had never been moved by the great singers and session groups of golden-age Motown, or who, by whatever unimaginable means, had managed to remain incognizant of the collected masterworks of Lennon and McCartney.

"Apart from chance encounters with the deaf, the dead and the Pennsylvania Dutch, the actual existence of such a person is well-nigh inconceivable.
And yet, how many Americans remain unaware of the work of
Richard Thompson?"

-Rolling Stone (1985)

It was 1985 and I was going through a rough time in my life. My biweekly issue of Rolling Stone was waiting for me when I got home and I sat down to read for a bit. Springsteenís Born in the USA was still doing well on the charts. John Fogerty had just released Centerfield and it was nice to hear a familiar voice from the past. Dire Straitsí next album (Brothers in Arms) was due out later in the Fall and was widely anticipated to be a top album of the year.

Turning to the record review section, I noticed something unusual. The lead review featured not one or two, but five albums. None of the album covers pictured with the review were familiar to me.

I then began reading the review, which started, as you may have guessed, with the statements shown at the top of this page. For some reason, I was totally captivated by the description of the musical work of this British folk-rock musician and his (ex-) wife, Linda. I made up my mind to buy at least one album to check him out.

By sheer chance, the record (yes, real vinyl records) store had only two Richard Thompson albums: I Want to See the Bright Lights Tonight and Shoot Out the Lights. SOTL (get used to abbreviations when discussing RT) had a sticker proclaiming that it was "Rolling Stoneís 1982 Album of the Year", but I liked the review of IWTSTBLT that I had read, so I bought both.

 

I Want to See the Bright Lights Tonight (1974)

Shoot Out the Lights (1982)

A favorite subject of discussion among RT fans is exactly which song(s) would be the best to play for someone unfamiliar with RTís work. For me, it would have to be "When I Get to the Border", which was also the very first RT & LT song I ever heard. I just plunked IWTSTBLT down on my turntable, not knowing what to expect, and the skirling sound of RTís guitar introduced this song, the very first track on the record. Fortunately, I had a stereo system that could do justice to his songwriting, his guitar work and singing, and Lindaís beautiful voice. I just sort of sat there mesmerized throughout the entire album. As the reviewer had written, there was "Önot a song that is less than luminousÖ." on the entire album. I played it a second time and then eagerly put SOTL on and listened to it twice. I was stunned. I immediately dubbed both albums to cassettes so I could listen to them as I commuted to work.

RT (ca. 1968)

Linda

(ca. 1975)

Richard

(ca. 1975)

RT (ca. 2000)

One of the many qualities I enjoyed about the music was RTís songwriting. He definitely takes a realistic (read, "gloomy") view of most subjects. This has actually grown to be somewhat of a joke among fans, and Flypaper has issued a cassette of his songs titled Doom and Gloom from the Tomb. (Sorry, limited edition and I donít think that they are available anymore.) Of course, this fit in with my mood at the time I discovered him, but not in the way you might think. As with most good music, I identified with the songs and felt like they spoke to me. Their sheer beauty rescued me from serious depression. They cheered me immeasurably.

Enough of the drama. As you may imagine, I quickly became a great fan and purchased every album of his that I could get my hands on. I still havenít collected all of his albums, or the many albums on which he has played with others. But I do have most of them, including some rarities, like an original cassette copy of The Bunchís Rock On and the Across a Crowded Room live performance video. The depth of RTís talents continues to amaze. The effortlessness with which he switches between authentic British folk music and electrified rock (and everything in between) is just awe-inspiring. You have not seen or heard a truly great guitarist until you have heard someone of RTís caliber. He blends musicianship with technical proficiency so seamlessly that you forget just how difficult and rare are his talents. See him perform live, if you possibly can. Trust me, it is worth taking a trip to just about any venue to see him in person.

OK, so I have you intrigued. Which album should you buy to get your own introduction to this amazing musician? I have some suggestions here. If you would like to make your own suggestions, please drop me a line.

Warning!! If you think that Steve Vai and Eddie Van Halen are the greatest guitarists in the world, you do not need to listen to Richard Thompson. You are obviously someone who mistakes speed, technique, and volume for musicianship.

Yes, I would like to hear a musical genius. Please make some suggestions about albums by RT.

For no good reason, I want to read about your most memorable RT experience.

If you want to correspond with me about RT, Iíd be happy to give you my poor opinions. Just send mail to me. I would be particularly interested in your comments on the artist.

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