By LA Weekly
By Henry Rollins
By Weekly Photographers
By Shea Serrano
By Nate "Igor" Smith
By Dan Weiss
By Erica E. Phillips
By Kai Flanders
Thompson’s wife, Nancy, is a California girl whom he met during her tenure as McCabe’s Guitar Shop concert director. He displays his utterly dry trademark wit when he explains that, after endless commuting, they moved to Los Angeles 15 years ago after Jack was born because they felt Los Angeles was “much richer in educational possibilities than England.” When an interviewer expresses shock at that statement, the poker-faced guitarist retracts: “No, that’s not true. It’s sunnier here actually.”
It seems as if he’s always got some big project he’s working on. In recent years he’s recorded an album called 1000 Years of Popular Music which covered madrigals, carols, sea chanteys, music hall, Gilbert and Sullivan, early jazz, Cole Porter, honky-tonk music, the Kinks, the Easybeats, Squeeze, and, yes, Britney Spears’ “Oops!... I Did It Again.”
“Harmonically, it’s not that different from an Italian dance tune from the 1500s,” explains Thompson. “It fits right in there to make the point that things change but basically not that much, and it all comes round again.” He scored Werner Herzog’s documentary Grizzly Man and recently composed a 75-minute orchestral song cycle for the International Society of Bassists.
It’s debatable why Thompson isn’t more popular. His work has all the characteristics of commerciality: melodies and hooks, enticing and memorable lyrics, killer musicianship. Mass acceptance has been elusive, but it doesn’t appear as if Thompson cares. “What I’m trying to do is to write a kind of British music that includes the lingua franca, which is rock & roll. But it’s culturally rooted in British traditional music. That’s what Fairport was trying to do in 1969. I’m still writing for that cult audience. If I do something that has a wider appeal, it’s more by accident.
“I’m not writing for the American public,” Thompson says. “I’m writing for a British public that isn’t there anymore. I think they died off. Or maybe they never existed.” He stops joking — momentarily. “There’s a limited number of people who will immediately get it. This is home for me. The average listener would have to put out a small amount of energy and effort to get into the music.” It’s worth the work. Unlike some of his peers, Thompson’s still at the top of his game: voice strong, chops hot, songs sublime. As the man says, “I’m as excited as I ever was about music.”
Richard Thompson,Walking on A Wire: Richard Thompson (1968–2009) (Shout! Factory)