The Sunday Dozen: Richard Thompson

I was relatively late to Richard Thompson fandom. My old buddy Russ had been urging me to listen to him forever. Then, I spoke to a stranger at a 1988 Jethro Tull concert at the Audubon Zoo about RT. He convinced me to check out the Hand of Kindness album. I did and I was hooked. Thank you, random Tull fan.

I should have listened to Russ. He’s a sound man extraordinaire who hit the road with RT from 2008-2011. Oh well, what the hell.

I’ve met Richard several times. He’s a shy man with a wry wit. The first time was at Cropredy when we took his then wife Nancy Covey’s tour. The second was in my former place of business in the French Quarter. He came in and browsed and I didn’t over fan boy him, so we had a nice chat. No selfie. I didn’t want to scare him away. One reason he lingered was that I was playing his former band Fairport Convention.

I reckoned that a RT listicle was the perfect follow up to the Jethro Tull Dozen. There’s only one degree of separation between Richard and Tull thanks to Dave Pegg among others.

Richard Thompson is one of the greatest songwriters of the last half century. He’s also one of the best guitarists. Unlike many other guitar slingers, RT is equally adept on electric and acoustic guitar. The man is talent on legs.

I’ve been fortunate enough to see RT in concert many times. Dr. A prefers all-acoustic RT but I’m down with his mixed shows. He’s always good live and has some of the snappiest stage patter this side of Bruce Springsteen.

My most memorable RT show was in a theatre on an upper floor of the then Masonic Hall in Downtown New Orleans. We spotted former Gret Stet Governor Buddy Roemer in the balcony. I was tempted to say hello but was afraid he’d give me a rubber band to snap. That’s what he did to relieve stress. I am not making this up. Would I lie about a dead guy?

I have featured many Richard Thompson songs at First Draft as Odds & Sods theme songs and otherwise. Most memorably I used Civilisation from Sunnyvista as the backbone of a post. It’s RT’s parody of anti-immigration fanatics. My target was Trump henchman Stephen Miller.

RT has written well over over 100 great songs so winnowing down his vast catalog is a serious challenge. There are some great numbers from the Richard and Linda Thompson days that don’t make the cut because she sang lead. I do, however, include the irresistible You’re Going To Need Somebody. It’s one of the catchiest tunes RT ever wrote.

On to the list itself, I’ve omitted many of the chestnuts and concert war horses such as Tear-Stained Letter and 1952 Vincent Black Shadow. Great songs but I prefer to mine some lesser-known nuggets from RT’s back catalog.

As always, the songs are listed in chronological order and reflect my own personal taste. I’m no RT expert and I suspect my friends who are may chime in.

I don’t care if You’re Going To Need Somebody is an Allah song, it’s a fun concertina driven folk rocker. It’s the sort of song I’ll listen to several times in a row.

I used Shoot Out The Lights as the centerpiece of a chapter in my law school novel, Tongue In The Mail.  I posted it here at First Draft during the lockdown. Idle hands, devil’s workshop, eh wot.

Back Street Slide is about gossip most foul: “Slide over here, slide over there, spreading that scandal everywhere.”

The title track of my first Richard Thompson solo album, Hand Of Kindness.

When The Spell Is Broken is much better live so here’s a 1999 version.

I used Turning Of The Tide as the title of a recent post. It comes from my favorite RT solo album. I forget the title. Oh yeah, it’s Amnesia.

Waltzing’s For Dreamers is one of my favorite RT ballads. It chokes me up every damn time.

Keep Your Distance is another flat-out gorgeous song. I dig the folk art album cover as well.

Beeswing is one of RT’s finest story songs. I prefer it to the motorcycle song, which you’ll hear in bluegrass drag as lagniappe.

Put It There Pal is supposedly about the time Bob Dylan snubbed Richard Thompson at some festival. I don’t know if the story is true but it’s one of RT’s nastiest putdown songs. The man plays a mean guitar and has a mean streak. I also dig this Max Ernst-like album cover collage.

Cooksferry Queen starts off one of RT’s finest albums with a bang. I am not mowing that damn suburban lawn. Yard work makes me sneeze and suburbia makes me sneer.

Gethsemane is a dark and gloomy RT classic. It’s one of his best live guitar work out numbers. Hence the live version:

Richard Thompson has released in excess of 20 albums  as a solo artist and with his ex-wife. Let’s boil it down to a half-dozen. This time rated in order of preference. I’m sure many will disagree but it’s my list: neener, neener, neener.

  1. Shoot Out The Lights
  2. Amnesia
  3. Hand Of Kindness
  4. Mock Tudor
  5. Pour Down Like Silver
  6. I Want To See The Bright Lights Tonight

It’s lagniappe time. I start with a cheat: I Want To See The Bright Lights Tonight is one of my favorite Thompson tunes. It would have made the dozen if he’d sung lead on the studio original.

Next up, swell covers by Los Lobos, Del McCoury, and REM.

Last Sunday, the last word went to Ian Anderson and Dave Pegg. Peggy is back. This time with Richard Thompson.

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