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Update on Tommy Thompson books and other projects

Posted by Brooklynbanjoboy on Saturday, January 19, 2019

Still waiting for the proofs from the publisher so I can work up an appendix for the book on Tommy Thompson.  I do that work by hand, the old fashioned way - a job not for the faint of heart . . .  


David Brooks, who co-created the banjo tab book with me, is working out the MP3 angle and prepping the thing for release as an eBook on the website - we're timing things so the McFarland book and the tab book come out about the same time - probably in the Spring this year. 


An article I wrote on the Tommy Thompson book and the co-authored book about Tommy's banjo playing (and accompanying tabs) will appear in Banjo Newsletter in February.  David Brooks did the tabs for that article - I'm lucky to have his help on such things.  Plus, he's a discerning editor.  


And my piece on Tommy's missing Martin guitar should appear in Number 43 of Fretboard Journal any day now.  


I have some other Tommy-focused things cooking.


I've proposed an article on Tommy's lyric writing work to a journal.


That paper is about some of the rough work that never quite evolved into performable tunes, such as one of the last songs Tommy wrote - something called “The Walls of Time” - and other lyrics that survived in personal files or - as Mike Craver speculated - might have been consigned to the vaults of some of the recording labels that put out the music of the Red Clay Ramblers.  There are several examples of lyrics penned by Tommy Thompson that never saw the light of day.  Some were finished to the point of existing in a carefully handwritten version, and preserved in family files, such as “Call Me An Educated Man.”  A copy of "The Walls of Time" was in the personal papers of Tommy’s daughter, Jessica.  Several iterations of that song, in draft form, exist in one of Tommy’s notebooks in his collected papers in the University of North Carolina’s Wilson Library.  The finished yet undated lyric, in his daughter’s files, was never pushed forward as a tune for the Red Clay Rambler, either as part of their concert repertoire or as a recording project. 


Many of the lyric fragments as well as the songs that appear to be coherent, finished but unpublished projects, are undated, and are also not anchored to any larger project on which Tommy may have been working when he launched upon these lyric writing efforts.  The tunes, and the fragments, cannot be linked to larger, ongoing writing projects – such as “The Last Song of John Proffit.”  It is not clear that Tommy responded to requests for assistance with lyrics and songs and other writing projects from musician friends outside of his core of musical colleagues and collaborators.  That is, it is possible that he might have sought to lend a hand to projects that were on the periphery of his work with the Red Clay Ramblers, and outside of the theatrical projects in which he engaged either on a solo basis or as part of a larger ensemble, but there is no documentation of such actions.  At the same time, there is no real way to associate his lyric fragments with projects that might have included such tunes or variants in their scores. 


And I've proposed a paper comparing Tommy and Dwight's choice of banjos during their musical careers for possible publication in another journal. 


In his book, Building New Banjos For An Old Time World (2017), Richard Jones-Bamman elucidates the relationship between old time banjo players and their banjos, a relationship that involves the emergence of old time music as a “recognizable and reproducible style” and the development of a population of contemporary banjo makers who produced new old time banjos that were built to found that sound.  Two old time revival musicians musicians, Dwight Diller and Tommy Thompson, bear different relationships to their banjos, and perhaps also very different relationships to old time music.  The character of those relationships shaped the unique proximity of these two musicians to the tool of their trade.  This paper uses the links that Jones-Bamma describes between old time music and old time banjos, old time banjo makers, and old time banjo playing to sort out how Diller and Thompson fit into this tangle of variables, and how they shaped their own and unique links to old time music, and their individual relationships to “ideal types” of old time banjos, preferred banjo builders, and old time banjo playing styles.  


I'm pretty sure that the books - the McFarland publication and the tab book (by David Brooks and myself) - along with the several articles about things that didn't quite fit in either of the books will together represent the sum total of what I could figure out to write about this inventive, creative man. 


Listening to his music, playing the recordings of the Ramblers, has prompted me to get a friend to build an even shorter scale banjo that might be easier for me to wield these days, after all that fuss with the left arm's rotator cuff.


So for me, several things including Tommy Thompson have sort of driven me back to banjo playing.  That's a good end to this work, as far as I'm concerned. 


Thanks for checking in.  I'll post book related updates until the projects are released this spring.


Take care, play hard,



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