Under The Radar Music: Richard Thompson

You may not be familiar with Richard Thompson, but he is legendary among fellow musicians and songwriters. He began his career in the late 1960s in the English folk group Fairport Convention, and struck out for a solo career in 1972. Since then, he has released 22 studio albums of his own, and until 1982’s landmark “Shoot Out The Lights”, with his then-wife, Linda.

Richard has been a musical hero of mine for a long time. As a guitarist, he belongs in the pantheon of greats. His eclectic style borrows from British folk, rock, country, rockabilly and jazz, but doesn’t sound like anyone other than Richard Thompson. Check out his jaw-dropping guitar solo toward the end of the epic “If Love Whispers Your Name” from 2010’s “Dream Attic” album:

Not only is Thompson one of the greatest guitarists you’ve never heard of, but his songwriting is in a class by itself. John Mellencamp once said “Richard Thompson could say more in one line than I could in a whole song.” His classic “1952 Vincent Black Lightning”:

He’s not above doing the occasional cover though, and in 2003 released an album of nothing but covers called “1000 years of popular music”. And he wasn’t kidding. There were really songs on this album dating back to medieval times, as well as jazz and R&B standards from the 1940s and 50s, and this little number:

Speaking of covers, I’ll leave you with a video shot by my wife in Iowa City. It has long been on my to-do list to see Richard Thompson in concert, and I was finally lucky enough to be in the front row at this one.

That was a night I’ll always fondly remember, and probably the best concert I’ve had the pleasure of attending.

Finally, it took some effort to whittle it down to my top 5, but I think my personal favorite albums of RT’s are “Mock Tudor”, “The Old Kit Bag”, “You, Me, Us?”, “Mirror Blue” and “Dream Attic”. These are some great entry-points into the music of Richard Thompson, but all of them are well-worth owning.

See ya later with another “Under The Radar” artist. Cheers! – Bobbo 🙂

  • Doc2222

    He should’ve been a super star. Hell, he IS a super star! No one can touch him…..

  • Frank Eventi

    Nice introduction to RT, but please son’t refer to Fairport Convention as a folk group. They have always been an electric band, starting in 1967/68 (with 17 year old lead guitar prodigy RT) doing folk rock covers of Dylan, Mitchell, Emmit Rhodes etc before redefining Brutish roots music electrically in pretty much the same way The Band and The Byrds ‘reinvented’ Americana roots music. Anyone discovering RT’s music for the first time will not be sorry to have a listen to the Fairport classics from 1968-70 “What We Did On Our Holidays”, “Unhalfbricking”, “Liege and Lief” and “Full House.”

    • Bobbo

      You are correct… I should have referred to Fairport as a “folk-rock” group. I have most of those Fairport albums myself. (The first one’s probably my personal favorite.)

  • 1mtoldman

    iowa city eh? aka “land of large heads”. seen r.t. there 3 times i think, always like him best just solo acoustic. i feel the electric combo or group tends to drown out/overshadow his amazing guitar work.

    technically, i have no idea how he does what he does, he plays like three lines at the same time, using thumb for bass, finger picking and rotating back and forth between multi note patterns within chords structures.

    like i said i dont know how he does what he does, how he produces so much sound by himself.

    but i think more people are aware of thompson than you think. anyway. thats all i got, oh i dont really like his solo records or his song writing or his singing that much.

    but as a sometimes attempted guitarist i think most guitarists should just give up if youve seen what thompson can do. (thats what i did).


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