The Storytellers of Country Music. A conversation with Verlon Thompson.

 He’s a singer, a songwriter, a poet, a great guitar player and sometime actor, who by the way does a killer Johnny Cash impersonation. Meanwhile, with songs that had been covered by numerous artists, including Jimmy Buffett, Alan Jackson, Anne Murray, The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Kenny Rogers, Randy Travis, Del McCoury, Sam Bush, Trisha Yearwood among many more. Verlon Thompson’s work is hardly unnoticeable whether it was in songwriting or guitar playing.

 

With Essay deadlines and final exams vastly approaching, it’s fair to say, everyone is in PANIC!

But fear no more people of the world as “All Music Matters” has a quite special episode for you this month!

For the third episode of the spring season, we are proud to present this month’s guest. He’s a singer, a songwriter, a poet, a great guitar player and sometime actor, who by the way does a killer Johnny Cash impersonation! and his name is Verlon Thompson.

With songs covered by numerous of artists including, Jimmy Buffett, Alan Jackson, Anne Murray, The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Kenny Rogers, Randy Travis, Del McCoury, Sam Bush, Trisha Yearwood among many more.  Verlon Thompson’s work is hardly unnoticeable, whether it was his songwriting or guitar playing.

The Oklahoma native was so gracious in finding time to sit down and talk about Country music and his recent involvement with Americana, working with Guy Clark which was nothing but “no more than few months on the road.” But instead, it went on to be one of Thompson best yet cherished memories.
Growing up in the flat plains of Oklahoma where they feed you grits and biscuits cabbage and beans. The state is known for its rich history. Oklahoma held one of the largest Native American populations back in 1842, in fact, the state was even called “Indian territory” until 1889 where it got renamed to what we know call Oklahoma. Large lands crossing the state where cattle’s are raised, apple trees are planted and unsettling weather conditions, the state is unique by its own set of style.

 

page-photo-439709

Another thing Oklahoma is famous for is its rich musical background. Such musicians who graced this world of ours by their Okie talent were the likes of, Folk legend Woody Guthrie, the late great rocker Leon Russell and finally the storytellers, whose tales can take a listener to a world of the storytellers themselves, by sharing their troubles, doubts, and childhood with the audience.

And that’s exactly what Verlon Thompson is, he is a storyteller.

Growing up,  Thompson was surrounded by music. “Mums family always played music, they had a family band with guitar’s and Mandolins and banjos” explaining when asked to introduce himself “They’d sit around in a circle and play music, and I’ll sit there and Listen and that’s how I learnt.” as to when he first picked up the six string instrument, the response was,  “As soon as I was big enough to hold one in my lap, I started playing”. Later leading the discussion on aspiration in playing, “Well in the early day’s I’d watch my uncle, he was the best guitarist that I knew, but he still had a very simple style.” Later revealing “One of the biggest influences that came up on me was when “The Glen Campbell Show” came on TV, and I watched Glen Campbell guitar style, and I just thought it was so unique.! He played a very unique style.” he recalled whilst reminiscing the way Campbell played “With partly with a pick. A plectrum you know, and then partly with his fingers. So I grabbed on to that style.”

And at the age of 6,  young Verlon played his very first live gig at a county fair in Binger, Oklahoma with his family. Earning himself $60 for the performance.!

Exposed to the likes of Merle Haggard and Hank Williams at a young age, the songwriter instantly fell in love with words and soon after started writing songs. Which later led him down to Music Capital City, Nashville.

In 1981, Thompson was encouraged by a friend to move to Nashville as opportunities in making a decent living out of music were highly common.

Upon arrival, the songwriter ended up at Loretta Lynn’s “Coal Miner Daughter” publishing house and was soon after hired as a staff writer for the country singer. Unfortunately, things weren’t necessarily happening the way the young musician had envisioned in the first place.

with Lynn not covering any of Thompson’s songs. The musician saw no interest in staying any longer at Coal Mine office, due to the fact nothing in terms of his career as a singer/songwriter as he had anticipated was strictly happening. Thompson, left soon after talking in the interview “I later found out I was only a tax expansion to Loretta, she didn’t do or cover any of my songs” However every cloud has a silver lining, Lynn approached the musician and said, “Now, darling, you should hang around with guys like Holyfield and Harlan.” Lynn knowing Thompson’s credibility in writing she suggested the young musician to hang around with these two writers as the song goes “They go to lunch, they smoke cigars and they drink a glass of Brandy. She said, they write big hits and leave good tips and spend their evenings with their family” Reflecting upon Lynn’s approach, Thompson wrote the song “This Show We Call The Business” there you’d follow Thompson into a trail of his first venture down to Nashville without knowing what to expect from the music capital, stumbling upon Lynn’s publishing house, suggested to hang with such people that were Holyfield and Harlan and later working with CBS where he first met Guy Clark.

Now, Holyfield and Harlan who were mentioned above are two great Nashville based songwriters. Wayland Holyfield, who wrote “You’re my best friend” most notably associated with Don Williams whose cover made it to number 1 on the Billboard country chart in 1975 (Not to be confused with Queen track released in 1975, they are completely separate and very different.) Also one of my personal favorites “Rednecks, White socks and Blue Ribbon Beer” he had co-written with another Nashville-based songwriting veteran Bob McDill.

As for Howard who sadly is no longer with us today, was arguably the most distinct yet talented songwriters to have ever lived.  Howard, who practically wrote every Country hit that there is, from “I fall to pieces” by Patsy Cline, Buck Owens “Key in the mailbox” and Waylon Jennings “She Called me Baby”.  So if you ever come across in hearing a country song, which I think you should!  it most certainly can be a Harlan Howard song.

But soon after, Guy Clark, a tall mighty Texan troubadour entered Thompson’s life and showed him “how it’s done” by giving advice and admiration towards the songwriter work. By, 1988 Thompson took part in producing and playing on Clarks “Old Friends” record.  From then after, the 2 went on to tour the world, record albums and write together, until Clark’s death in 2016.

2800986

Moreover,  his narrative and tales consist of everything, from laughter, disappointment, and heartache. The storyteller captivates the listener and draws them into his own world, where it leads the listener wanting to know more about the story he passionately narrates. Whether it was  “ This Show We call the Business”, “Darwettia’s Mandolin”, “Everywhere, Yet!” or even “Tootsie Roll” a simple yet rather funny exchange of conversation between two Lovers.

 

Though the perfect example to lead such claim is “Find Your Angel” a collaborative album between, Thompson himself and two of his long-time friends, Sue Cunningham an award-winning fiddler and her husband Frank Serio. Released in 2014, the story follows a journey about a young woman named Lorena during the Civil War in the US 1800.

The elusive story triggers emotions as you follow the narrative with Thompson mesmerizing lead and hunting guitar parts and Sue Cunningham illuminating fiddle playing whilst singing backup, the combination of both musicians is something I’m pretty sure even heaven above finds it difficult to explain. The Project took up to two years in preparation and soon after was taken on the road. Unfortunately, few months in touring, Sue sadly passed away from cancer.

Thompson, however, kept on experimenting with the album by performing few songs when playing live. It took him a while to adjust according to the musician as he spoke briefly about the experience on this month’s episode.

In this month Podcast, you’ll hear the musician talking about his childhood and influences, coming across “The Glen Campbell Show”, Country and Americana music association, moving to Nashville and the struggles, meeting Guy Clark and finally writing and recording.

In the meantime, to gain an idea of  Thompson’s work, the link below show’s a recent performance of the storyteller at The Suwannee festival in Florida. Here he’s seen with our last month guest Jim Lauderdale!

Watch Thompson play a song dedicated to his mother called Darwettia’s Mandolin whilst giving a very important historical fact!

I can grantee, you won’t be bored!.

Verlon Thompson: Darwettia’s Mandolin (2017 03 25 Suwannee)

 

Thank you, Mr. Thompson!

Happy listening everyone!

 

If you’re interested in Verlon’s work, then do please visit his website: https://www.verlonthompson.com

or Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/Verlon-Thompson-116153698406895/

https://www.mixcloud.com/AllMusicMatters/the-storytellers-of-country-music-a-conversation-with-verlon-thompson/