“Is there any artist you haven’t yet worked with you’d like to work with?”
“Just dead people”

Legendary Musician Richard Thompson
Performing at the MIM June 13th

By Mariah Fleming
An Interview

Richard Thompson - Image by Ron Sleznak

On Wed June 13th at 7:00 p.m. the Musical Instrument Museum in Phoenix presents Britain's Richard Thompson, named one of Rolling Stone's magazines Top 20 Guitarists of All Time. The MIM, a jewel of a museum that is rapidly developing nationwide recognition for its exhibits and performance events, is a perfect venue for Thompson. He is arguably the crown jewel of 20th Century musical icons. Rolling Stone magazine calls the Grammy nominated songwriter and instrumentalist: "A perennial dark horse contender for the title of greatest living rock guitarist." But that accolade only scratches the surface in describing Thompson's singular virtuosity and stunning fluidity as a songwriter and guitarist.

Thompson's work has been recorded by a number of top artists. The short list includes: REM, Elvis Costello, Robert Plant, Bonnie Raitt, David Byrne, Los Lobos and Del McCoury. "In the guitar god firmament, Thompson easily takes a place beside Eric Clapton and Jimmy Page!" raves the UK's Daily Mirror. The UK's Spectator praises: “Thompson is at the top table of British musical heroes as a folk revolutionary; one of the world's greatest guitarists; a must see performer and one of the finest songwriters this country has ever produced." SPIN Magazine Blog says: "Boasting a guitar tone as recognizable as Dylan's voice, the legend now fuels his six string histrionics with a dying-light rage."

Thompson began his musical career as a founding member of the groundbreaking British band "Fairport Convention." He and Linda Thompson went on to form a decade long innovative folk rock duo until he forged on as a solo artist, garnering a legendary reputation for over 25 years. His body of work includes forty albums and numerous film soundtracks, including Werner Herzog's documentary film "Grizzly Man". He has earned many awards, including the industry's most coveted MOJO Les Paul Award, the Orville H. Gibson Award as Best Acoustic Guitarist and an Ivor Novello Award for his songwriting. His unparalleled music and distinctive wit continue to earn him new generations of fans.

Richard Thompson was kind enough to take time to answer not just two or three of my questions, but all nine, which follow in unabridged Q and A form. His humility, insight and wit are evident. Some of his answers had me laughing to the point of tears. If you miss this concert, you'll kick yourself. Tickets for the 7:00 p.m. performance range from $52.50 to $62.50 and are going fast. For tickets and details go to the MIM.org and be sure to check out richardthompson-music.com.

Here’s what Richard Thompson had to say:

Q. Have you ever visited the Musical Instrument Museum in Phoenix before? Does its reputation as an unusual and outstanding museum have anything to do with playing the venue?
A. This will be my first visit. It has a good reputation, and I’ll be intrigued to play there.

Q. Which instruments that you’ve used in your career might be good candidates for the MIM?
A. I have a few rock and roll era ‘antiques’ which may or may not qualify, like my 1959 Fender Stratocaster, which is currently on loan to the Grammy Museum…or perhaps my very lovely 1890 Dallas Mandocello.

Richard Thompson - Image by Dave TamarkinQ. Your passion for old and indigenous music and instruments is well known. When did that begin for you and who first exposed you to pre-20th century British and Celtic musical instruments?
A.I’ve always listened to the traditional music of the British Isles, and played some ethnic instruments. That was reinforced as a teenager, when I would hang out in folk clubs, listening to great fiddlers, pipers and singers.

Q. Any plans afoot to do another all-instrumental album like last year’s re-release of “Strict Tempo" or another "1000 Years of Popular Music” tour? The MIM seems like a terrific venue for that.
A. No plans for an instrumental record, but ‘1000 Years’ tours every few years, and I would love to bring it to MIM.

Q.Your writing has a rare balance of insight, depth and cultural and political consciousness. Your wry wit, especially in concert, is legendary. Were you like that as a kid?
A. I suppose I developed a stage persona over the years. I was just shy as a kid, and trying to be funny was my way of filling in the awkward pauses.

Q. Your son Teddy and daughter Kami seem to have inherited some of that. Have you ever toured with them?
A. They both definitely have the wit – I think it’s just being English that does that to you. We have all worked together from time to time. I am, needless to say, a very proud dad!

Q. I interviewed Mickey Hart who recently appeared at the MIM. You both seem to have a strong calling to save indigenous songs and musical traditions. Do you think preserving and sharing these things is important to world understanding and unity, and if so, why?
A.I think it makes zero difference to world unity. Understanding, maybe. The most important thing is that it gives people a sense of individuality, tradition and connection to the land and to the past, which seems increasingly important, as the world becomes a smaller and blander place.

Q. Are you familiar with 1950’s Phoenix Rockabilly history that includes Duane Eddy? On your original release of "1000 Years of Popular Music" you recorded Lee Hazlewood's 1956 song “The Fool.” It was recorded here by Sanford Clark and became Hazlewood's first big hit, giving birth to the Phoenix music scene.
A. Every time I come to Phoenix, people remind me of Sanford Clark’s origins, and I sometimes trot out ‘The Fool’ to prevent being lynched. I know Duane is from there too, but that’s all I know about Phoenix rockabilly.

Q. What current projects are you working on?
A.I just finished recording a new electric CD in Nashville with Buddy Miller. I recently premiered an orchestral song cycle called "Interviews With Ghosts".

Q. What do you like best about doing your "Frets and Refrains" guitar camp?
A. This is the first one, so I’ll let you know afterwards! I love the idea, the setting, and I’m very excited about the teachers. I think we are sold out.

Q. Is there any artist you haven’t yet worked with you’d like to work with?
A. Just dead people.