Friday, April 3, 2009

Marking Six Decades for Richard Thompson

THE godlike guitarist and peerless singer-songwriter richard thompson turns 60 today.

thompson is in my dont-get-me-started category of musical obsessions: i've loved his work since i was a teenager and songs like "valerie" and "a bone though her nose" were showing up on alt-rock radio. when i dropped into his back pages i was riveted; speaking to him over the years has been a real education.

Here -- one of my proudest moment from my on-again-off-again music journalism career -- i talk this englishman about his decades living in los angeles, and about how they have and havent changed him.

but for those new to the party, RT is the former guitarist for british electric folk band fairport convention, who after a fruitful (and painful) partnership with wife linda went off on a solo career that has to be seen to be believed. i mean that literally: seeing RT live, esp in a solo acoustic setting, is about as close to a religious experience as your humble blogger can report.

in a nutshell, his song takes the tradition of english/scottish folk (he played guitar on some of nick drake's finest tunes, incl "time has told me") and bends it around chuck berry, chet atkins and sufi modalism. he's an encyclopedia of guitar styles, but it doesnt come across like pastiche. his songwriting is often heartbreaking, other times wryly funny.

play around on youtube for him -- a solo valerie, a solo 1952 vincent black lightning, and i misunderstood following a quick interview. (and after a similar interview, perhaps his finest acoustic song, beeswing. fans of acoustic guitar might enjoy this 07 ucla rendition of cry me a river.)

i will shock and appall many for saying this, but compared to that other LA-based singer-songwriter bob dylan, i would take RT's output of the last 25 years over st. bob's any day of the week. the englishman has certainly not done anything to touch "highway 61 revisited" or "blonde on blonde" or a few others. but his work since the mid-70s has been very fine and there are not troughs like there are with dylan's career.

either way, i will hoist an english pint to this non-drinking sufi tonight.

Flickr user 6tee-zeven

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