New Q&A from RT!

Hermosa asks: We love your all request shows at Montalvo. Have you considered doing an album of cover songs – or does that not spark any interest for you?

RT: I do consider it from time to time, and I’m considering it right now in response to your question… and the answer is…definitely maybe! We do now have a lot of live covers from the all-request nights, and if I could have the patience to trawl through those tapes, I might find enough for an album. At your instigation, I shall take it from the back burner, and place it on the middle burner.

Paul Kirsten asks: Whilst not a musician I`ve often been mesmerized (in the best possible way) by the tuning(s) of your guitar. In plain English I`d like to know if you tune your guitar(s) to standard tunings or to something different.

RT: I play electric guitar in standard tuning and drop D. I play acoustic guitar mostly in drop D, also in DADGAD and CGDGBE, and a couple of other tunings. Hope that’s helpful. As you may be aware, acoustic guitarists use open tunings to get a bigger sound out of the guitar – more open strings ringing.

Guitar Player Interview

On the Path: Richard Thompson playing “When the Spell is Broken

Bruce Fulton asks: Richard, are you a fan of the pedal steel guitar and, if so, do you have any favorite players? Have you ever had a go at pedal steel yourself?

RT: I was intrigued by the sounds of the steel and pedal steel guitar back in the mid-60s, because we really didnt hear much Country music – very little on the radio. Country fans in the UK tended to be tucked away in unfashionable places like Chelmsford, and they were usually fans of all things American – the cars, movies, Elvis, etc. and tended to dress in cowboy hats and have Confederate flags painted on their cars; so one tended to think poorly of Country because of the kind of people who listened to it, which is, of course, unfair. There was a shop called James Asmans, in Covent Garden, that imported the records, so I started buying a few. The first record I got that was all pedal steel was a compilation on Starday, that had Buddy Emmons, Herb Remington, Jerry Byrd, and others. My favourite players would be:

Emmons - the most sophisticated.

J D Maness - played on Sweetheart Of The Rodeo.

Cindy Cashdollar - great non-pedal player.

Lloyd Green - great stuff with Charlie Pride, among others.

Tom Brumley - saw him play with Rick Nelson, and all those great Buck Owens records.

Ive had a go from time to time. If I was going to play it, Id have to marry it – bit like the Irish pipes. It would take a lifetime.

Cls asks: I saw Fairport at the Filmore East sometime in the summer of 1970…you were on the bill with Traffic, Mott the Hopple and some other group who name escapes me at the moment…Fairport blew the house down and I have been an ardent fan of yours ever since!! I was wondering who performed at that concert {Band Members}. What I recall is that it was the “Full House“ line up but research says not so… You were using a Les Paul during the performance. When did you switch or start pursuing the Strat tone you use with such finesse.

RT: It was the Full House line up – was Savoy Brown the other band? Fairport were Dave MattacksDave PeggDave SwarbrickSimon Nicol, and me. I switched to a Strat around that time, playing Fender and Gibson for a while.

Dominic Keating asks:  For the terminally sad amongst us, are there are any plans to reissue either “Sunnyvista”or “1st Light”on cd ?

RT: Still looking, and finally making progress on, where the masters are. Thats the first step. Be of good cheer.

W Barker asks: Richard,the biographical notes I have read suggest that as a child you had a speech difficulty. How did you overcome it, and did the problem influence the way you have approached other challenges?

RT: I dont think it ever completely goes away. I can keep it under control most of the time, but Im bad sometimes on the phone, or if Im talking to people who talk faster than me, or who interrupt a lot. If youve seen The Kings Speech, youll see some of the therapies that can be adopted, and I use some of those. I dont see it as relating to other obstacles in life.

Kevin Asks: I was active with the Web and around the campfire during The Old Kit Bag era. I was able to see you perform live several times in a 2 or 3 year span. I assume you recall the fellow with the faulty camera as my pals attempted to get a shot of you and I in Iowa City after your performance one eve. I have not been to a show of yours for several years. How, if at all, do you feel your music and guitar playing have changed or evolved over the past several years.Any insight or preview to the upcoming shows with Teddy?  I plan to see at least one show.

RT: The shows with Teddy are now in the past, such is the nature of my speedy replies! I hope you enjoyed them, we had a great time.

Improvements, musical evolution, experimentation – all these things are daily and incremental, and I cant always see progress in the short term (there are also a few steps backwards) – but over, say, 15 years, I can see improvements in technique, and changes of ideas and approach, and a broader knowledge of music.

Doug asks: Hi Richard, What’s new on the horizon any new CD’s or DVD’s.Thanks for the music.

RT: Our next 2 releases are an acoustic classicsCD, coming very soon, and a band EP later in the year – stay tuned for further details!

MB Miller asks: Richard, what is your favorite thing to do besides play/write music?

RT: Aside from answering your questions? Id say, gardening, tennis, movies, reading, drugs, sex – by drugs I mean, of course, mint tea.

Randy asks: Was there a specific source of inspiration for “Poor Will and the Jolly Hangman”?Any details on the recording history of the song, which is in two different versions, alternate takes? I think it is a really beautiful performance.

My favorite Richard Thompson song is the solo “Flowers of the Forest”released on “Doom and Gloom”.

RT: Fairport’s roadie, Harvey Bramham, served time for manslaughter for the tragic accident we had in 1969. It was absolutely no fault of Harveys, and it gave us an ugly taste of the workings of the British legal system. That was the jumping off point, anyway. There is an alternate version, the same track with an improved’ vocal, which appeared on, I think, Guitar/Vocal 

Alfredo Marziano asks: Surfin’ the Web I learned two brand new songs have recently surfaced on your setlists. Are they going to be shelved for a possible inclusion in your next full-length album or are you pondering the option to put out unreleased material in the form of digital EPs or so from now on? Do you still value the album, and the physical product, as a viable form of expression/delivery of your music to the marketplace? (I do hope so).  Thanks a lot.

RT: These new songs will be on the forthcoming EP, mentioned above. This is an interimrelease, so that you dont forget us, before the next CD, probably next year. I personally like CDs, and I hope theyll hang around a bit longer. Am I just one of the album generation, who saw the emergence of the longer form in the 60s as being more grown-up than singles?

Julie Roylance asks: Hi Richard. Firstly many thanks for all the music over the years. When are you coming back to Australia? I appreciate its a long way but we miss you!Many thanks!

RT: Weve had plans before that have fallen through, but were now looking at 2015 to come down under.

Jason asks: Richard, I just saw (and met you) in Des Moines. I had many questions running through my head when I shook your hand but all that came out was ‘mumblemumblemumble’. Here’s what I wanted to ask. 5 questions, just pick your favourite(s) I suppose.

1) Are you a wizard?

RT: In every sense except music – I have the pointy hat to prove it.

2) Who would win in a fight between you and Robert Plant?

RT: An unlikely coupling – handbags at 50 paces. Hed probably win.

3) What made those high pitched string sounds in “The Lobster”?

RT: Milk bottle scraped across the strings – must be British pint bottle to have right weight.

4) With many artists revisiting entire albums in a live performance these days, what would you throw your hat in the ring with on that sort of scale?

RT: I cant think of one Id want to do, of one I like enough.

5) “Sally B” has a songwriting trick I can never get enough of – when the vocal simply follows a simple guitar line. I call this the “Black Sabbath” trick. Do you like Black Sabbath?

RT: I hate Black Sabbath! Its an old British traditional trick as well, long before the Sabbs came along. Not to mention Puccini uses it a lot, and just about all Middle Eastern music.

It was a great show! Was expecting at least a few more from “Electric” but getting a preview of “Fork In The Road” made up for it.

Walter Dufresne asks: Thank for rescuing Max Martin’s “Oops …I Did It Again”. Are there other neglected songs you’ve considered?

RT: A lot of what we do in the 1000 Years Of Popular Music show is to shine the light on neglected songs through history. I have a few ready for the next incarnation of that show, but it wouldnt be a surprise if I spilled it all here – so – see you at a show near you!

Tom asks: Prior to playing “The Great Valerio” you made an off-hand comment to the effect that the song demonstrated youthful naiveté. You also mentioned how you included a bit of Erik Satie at the end.This got me to wondering – were you referring to the treatment of the subject in The Great Valerio as evidence of youthful naiveté, or were you referring to the audacity of including Erik Satie (on guitar) as evidence of youthful naiveté? From the context in the show, I thought you meant the former. But after mulling it over, I think that you might have meant the latter. On that point, do you have songs that you feel like, “Oh gawd, I can’t play that one” because of a particular point-of-view you held during it’s creation that you feel now is no longer valid or useful? I can’t imagine that you would, but your interstitial comments got me to wondering. Thanks for the great show at City Winery Chicago Feb 24th!

RT: I meant that there is some youthful altruism, not unusual for the early 70s, in the lyric, that I can perfectly well live with. If I were starting again from scratch, Id do it differently, or not do it at all; but it is what it is, and its too embedded now for me to think of changing it around. There are a lot of songs Ive written that I can no longer see quite what I was thinking, and these songs tend to get played less, or not at all.

Question: As I follower of your music and a reader of Jack Kerouac I couldn’t help notice some similarities. I know you mention Kerouac in your song “Sibella” but in particular your song “Sights and Sounds of London Town” the characters and events you describe remind me of a trip through England that Kerouac wrote about in his book “Vanity of Dulouz.” I also believe that in your lyric writing you have an affinity for the “average” Joe, the downtrodden, the beat individual. I see that manifested most recently in lyrics such as ”Stuck on a Treadmill.” My question would be to you is, what are your literary influences? Do you feel that a particular literary style has influenced your writing? What authors do you have an affinity for and have they crept into your thought process when writing a lyric?

RT: The biggest influences on my songwriting are other songs, especially the traditional songs of Britain and Ireland. Very secondary to that would be poetry and prose. I think my reading habits are too wide to pick out a particular author as influential. probably my favourite era and nationality of writing would be British and 1930-60.

Ann B asks: Dear Richard Thompson, Long time no see! My gang had our fingers crossed that you might grace the Newport Folk Fest this year, but we understand that old England has its appeal. Whenever you’re missin’ those dreamy Narragansett oysters, we’d love to see you again!My question has to do with your song, “Dimming of the Day.”  When did you stop drowning in a river of your tears, and start drowning in a fountain? While ‘drowning’ and ‘fountain’ share that satisfyingly similar ‘owie’ vowel sound, a river, as a means of demise, is superior in ways such as historical imagery, depth of emotion, and geological legitimacy — let alone the lyrical alliteration.  So, what is it about the fountain that you can see?

RT: I kept hearing river of tears’ in other songs and poems, and decided I could do better. Riverand fountaincreate a similar image – basically, a lot of liquid – and you dont hear fountain’ too often, unless you go back 400 years to John Dowland, where you hear it in every other song.

Hope to be back at Newport soon – its a great festival.

Thank you for your continued support!

December/January Q&A

RT Question and Answer Archive