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Spotlight Central

An Interview with Richard Thompson, Appearing at Ocean City Music Pier on June 25 with Joan Osborne

By Spotlight Central. Photo by Tom Bejgrowicz

Richard Thompson — one of the world’s most critically acclaimed songwriters, and one of the greatest guitarists of all time — will deliver a rare and intimate solo acoustic musical performance on Tuesday, June 25, 2019 at the Ocean City Music Pier in Ocean City, NJ.

Opening for Thompson will be singer Joan Osborne, who will perform her unique interpretations of the songs of Bob Dylan.

Thompson, a Grammy Award-nominee, holds a coveted spot on Rolling Stone’s list of the “100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time” and counts a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Americana Music Association in Nashville, in addition to a Lifetime Achievement Award from the BBC Awards among his many accolades.

As a songwriter, his compositions have been covered by artists as diverse as The Blind Boys of Alabama, David Byrne, Alison Krauss and Union Station, Don Henley, Robert Plant, The Neville Brothers, and REM.

Time magazine included Thompson’s anthem, “1952 Vincent Black Lightning,” on its list of the “100 Greatest Songs Since 1923,” and Glide magazine said about his guitar skills, ”Like Hendrix, he’s his own genre, one of the major virtuosos of our time.”

Thompson started his career in the 1960s with the British rock band Fairport Convention and continued into the ’70s with the Richard and Linda Thompson duo, before embarking on a solo career in the 1980s.

In 2010, Thompson’s album, Dream Attic, was nominated for a Grammy for Best Contemporary Folk Album, and in 2011, he was appointed Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE), an honor personally bestowed upon him by Queen Elizabeth II in a ceremony at Buckingham Palace.

Spotlight Central recently caught up with Thompson and talked with him about his early musical influences, his work as a songwriter, and his upcoming NJ appearance at the Ocean City Music Pier.

Spotlight Central: You were born in England, where we understand your father was a Scotland Yard detective who played the guitar, and that several of your family members were professional musicians. How did your family influence you as a future musician?

Richard Thompson: Well, I think it’s a myth to say my family members were professional musicians. My grandparents had a dance band, but they were strictly amateurs, so it kind of skipped a generation. My father was, well, a kind of bad guitarist [laughs] — he was more of a policeman than a guitar player — but he had some great records. He had Django Reinhardt records and he had Les Paul records, so I grew up hearing those guitar players and hearing rock ’n roll players from my sister’s record collection, as well.

Spotlight Central: And in addition to Django Reinhardt and his jazz style, you also listened to traditional Scottish music?

Richard Thompson: Yes, that was in the house as well, so it was a kind of a distinct mix of music that I heard when I was growing up. Scottish traditional music, jazz, and rock ‘n roll were all kind of mixed together in my head, and that was probably the start of the music I play these days.

Spotlight Central: As a teen, you developed into an outstanding guitarist and joined Fairport Convention which, at the time, was essentially a cover band. What kinds of songs and artists were you covering?

Richard Thompson: Well, you know, we really loved lyrics. After Bob Dylan went electric in around ’65, he kind of made the case for intelligent lyrics in popular music. And we were big fans of The Byrds, Phil Ochs, Joni Mitchell, and Leonard Cohen, too, so we would cover songs by really good singer/songwriters.

Spotlight Central: And while you were in Fairport Convention, you started writing your own material. What were some of your first inspirations for writing?

Richard Thompson: I suppose in the beginning, you just try to write something that’s going to be original, and something that your bandmates will like — which is very important. But after a couple of years of writing, I really wanted to write songs in more of a British style of music, so I went back to my roots — you know, to my Scottish music — to inspire me in that direction.

Spotlight Central: As a songwriter, your compositions have been covered by a who’s who of artists like Elvis Costello and Emmylou Harris — so many people! Are there any cover versions of songs you’ve written which you especially enjoy hearing?

Richard Thompson: Well, I’m honored that anyone would want to cover any of my songs; as a songwriter, I’m very happy about that. There’s a great version of “Dimming of the Day” by Bonnie Raitt — that’s a really excellent cover. And there’s a Tom Jones cover of that song, too — which is kind of interesting. Patty Loveless has done a couple of my songs and turned them into country songs, but I’m just really happy if someone picks up with a song and likes it enough to do it.

Spotlight Central: Over the course of your career, you’ve worked within a rock band format with Fairport Convention, a duo format with the Richard and Linda Thompson duo, and even in a big band format with The Richard Thompson Big Band, in addition to working as a solo artist. Is there any particular musical configuration you especially favor?

Richard Thompson: You know, I really like to change things around because it keeps me on my toes. I love to play solo — I think that’s a very rewarding thing to do. Also, I love to play with my band, because that’s a whole different thing: I get to play more solos, and I get to play electric guitar. If I only had to do one thing, I think I would find that constricting, so it’s nice to have the variation.

Spotlight Central: We were particularly interested to learn that you’ve even worked in a trio format with a show called 1000 Years of Popular Music, where you started with medieval music and worked your way up through the music of Brittany Spears. How did that come about?

Richard Thompson: Well, I was approached in 1999 by Playboy magazine, and they said, “Could you send us a list of your top ten songs of the millennium?” — because they were coming out with their millennium issue. So I said, “OK, I know you don’t mean ‘millennium’ — I know you mean the last fifty years, but I’m going to take you literally” [laughs]. So I started in 1000 AD and worked my way through the centuries. And that kind of gave me the idea for that show as something that might be entertaining.

It was a lot of fun to do — we did it as a trio — and the research was fascinating. It was a very interesting look at that particular period of music. In doing it, you realize that, actually, there’s always love songs, there’s always political songs, a lot of songs have three chords, and a lot of songs just have a melody. So things don’t change that much in a thousand years!

Spotlight Central: And now you’re going to be appearing on Tuesday, June 25 at the Ocean City Music Pier in Ocean City, NJ, with Joan Osborne. What can audience members expect to see and hear at this show?

Richard Thompson: I’ll be playing acoustic guitar. I’ll be playing some new songs and some songs that go right back to the ’60s — not to mention everything in between!

Richard Thompson will appear with Joan Osborne at the Ocean City Music Pier, located at 825 Boardwalk in Ocean City, NJ, on June 25, 2019 at 7pm. For tickets and/or information please click on ticketmaster.com.

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