Traveling Troubadour Verlon Thompson At SxSE Aug. 8
“In the end, it’s about what you feel more than what you hear.”
As we talk, writer-picker-singer Verlon Thompson is at home just west of Nashville, Tenn. and I’m parked in my car outside a waterfront joint on the Intracoastal in Little River, S. C. where two of my favorite blues guitarists are tearing it up inside. Only the chance to speak with a songwriter of this quality can pull me away.
The Oklahoma-born musician is bringing his intimate one-man show to Myrtle Beach for a much awaited South By Southeast performance at the city’s landmark Train Depot.
“I’m looking forward to the SxSE show,” Thompson says in his gently twangy, disarming voice. Laughing, he continues, “This is my first time with these folks, and I think it’ll be what they call a ‘cultivated crowd.’”
This is in response to our discussion of “listening rooms,” where the music is front and center while booze and a pub atmosphere play a distant secondary role.
“I have played Myrtle Beach … Surfside really … once before,” he tells me,” It was a house concert. I love the idea that a group of people get together and pool their resources for a private event.
“In fact, my latest CD, Live At the Iveys , was recorded during a house concert in Fort Mill, S.C. It was in this big old home and I was performing without a sound system. At the last minute, Randy Ivey ran out and bought a laptop and mic and recorded it. He gave me a copy and about a year later I popped it into the player and it just made me smile. You can hear the crowd breathing, sighing, laughing. With this CD, you hear exactly what the people there heard.”
Thompson is the quintessential troubadour, although he’s known as much for his association with country legend Guy Clark as for his own stellar songwriting talents.
“I’ve been playing with Guy Clark since 1988 or ‘89. I worked with him on his Old Friends album (1993/Sugar Hill Records), and when we were finished he said,
“Now you need to come out on the road and recreate it with me. So I did. And now I pretty much do every date with him.”
Thompson has been with Guy Clark on every recording since Old Friends. He’s also racked up producer credits on Cold Dog Soup (1992/Sugar Hill Records), The Dark (2002/Sugar Hill Records), Workbench Songs (2006/Dualtone Music Group) and the upcoming Some Days the Song Writes You (Sept. 22, 2009/Dualtone Music Group).
In addition to Live At the Iveys, Thompson has also cut a few albums on his own label, VNS Music – Out At the Barn and Everywhere … Yet; and Verlon Thompson (1990/Capitol). His compositions have been recorded by Jimmy Buffett, Alan Jackson, Sam Bush, Trisha Yearwood, Anne Murray, the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band and the list goes on.
In fact, when we spoke, the main subject was songwriting. “There are many ways to write a song,” he tells me. “There are many formulas. But it seems like I get the best result when I relax and say what I truly feel, whether it’s a commentary on something or a story … not that I don’t resort to clever wordplay, but I hope not at the expense of the story.
“Sometimes a lick will inspire a word. then that word will inspire a thought … I’ll have a piece of a song that I don’t think is any good and six months later I’ll have the perfect resolution Sometimes you have to wait to be open to it.
“I teach occasionally at songwriting workshop and my advice is ‘Try to reach out; forget the formulas.’
“If you’re writing, here’s what you need to do:
1. Your song needs to bring a lump to the throat;
2. Your song needs to bring a smile to a face (that can’t be stopped);
3. You need to be tapping your foot and just can’t stop.”
Verlon Thompson isn’t a household name. He’s not played on Top 40 radio stations. But he’s building a massive street team of music lovers. This sampling from his website should give you an idea:
Verlon Thompson is best known as Guy Clark’s second guitarist, but he’s cut three albums on his own VNS Records. Out At the Barn is Thompson’s latest celebration of simple, down home music recorded, as the title suggests, at this refurbished barn in the countryside near Nashville … If you dig Thompson’s work with Clark, this disc should grace your collection as well.
– Thirsty Ear, a NonTuxedo Music and Culture Joint
It’s high time everyone heard more of that humble troubadour Verlon Thompson. He is a fantastic guitar picker and songwriter whose only career shortcoming is that he performs in Guy Clark’s enormous shadow.
– Lonely Goat Magazine
This little album [Everywhere ... Yet], only 37 minutes long, is an example of real home-made music. All instruments and vocals by Verlon Thompson. I can hear bass, mandolin, and guitars. It’s marvelous in it’s simplicity. Recorded “out at the barn” in a studio he built for his last album, the sound is as cozy as an Indian blanket in front of a log fire….It’s almost as if Thompson was singing for you in your living room. And he is one fine guitar player!
– David Kidney, “Green Man Review” greenmanreview.com
Verlon Thompson’s musical career spans two decades of many facets of the industry as a songwriter, solo artist, sideman and collaborator (many of these roles with country hero Guy Clark). His latest solo project is a chronicle of his vast career, pooling his experiences and paying tribute to influences.
Calling this a solo album is an understatement. Thompson played every instrument, sang every harmony and recorded the album “out at the barn” in the studio that he built. All this creates the organic, engaging and tangible character of the album.
Verlon Thompson comes to the Myrtle Beach Train Depot at 851 Broadway on August 8. Opener George Marshall takes the stage at 7 p.m. and Thompson goes on at eight o’clock. For tickets, call jeff Roberts at Sounds Better Records (
Here’s some things to remember. South By Southeast is a nonprofit group dedicated to preserving, protection and promotion of the independent music we love that so often is overlooked or ignored by mainstream radio and retailers. The group also awards scholarships and donates instruments to local youths and schools. These are the good guys, folks.
For an incredible $25 a year, you can support their noble efforts and – while you’re at it – gain admittance to most of their shows at the special member’s price ($20).
Your ticket, by the way, includes not just the music, but a range of free pot luck dinners, free brews, wine, soft drinks and bottled water. And since sponsors always get listed at the bottom of press releases (and then deleted from the news stories), here are the music lovers who support SxSE: Pepsi, New South Brewery, Sea Note Recording, Sounds Better Records, Star Music, Ready Rock Recording, the Anderson Property Group and QROCK Radio. I hope you’ll support them in return.
To order tickets for any event, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information about memberships or tickets for any SxSE event,log visit the website or contact Jeff Roberts at 843-497-3643 or Seth Funderburk at 843-455-6499or send an email.
© 2009. Dariel Bendin. All rights reserved.