Richard Thompson sat down with Grammy Foundation VP Scott Goldman to discuss songwriting, his fine new album, "Electric," and how he developed his guitar style in a Songwriter Session at the Austin Convention Center on Friday.
He played a few songs as well, offering "Cold Kisses" as an example of "an observational song"; "Good Things Happen to Bad People" as an example of a song that began with a riff; and "The Snow Goose" as an example of how finger-picked accompaniment should enhance a song and its mood. He played "1952 Vincent Black Lightning" to conclude for no reason other than it's a classic.
While Thompson is widely acknowledged as one of rock's greatest guitarists -- the runs he played during the hour-long session and referred to as "easy" had the audience nervously laughing and gasping -- he said guitar wizardry "bores me. To extend the narrative with a solo, being a good accompanist is important to me."
Other tidbits included:
Learning the guitar at age 11: "Everyone wanted to sound like the Shadows, an instrumental band that was the British equivalent of the Ventures. Hank Marvin was the first great Fender Stratocaster player and everyone wanted to sound like him."
Finding his sound: "When I was a kid, there were already too many guitarists in the world. I tried classical guitar, but two of my classmates were accomplished classical guitarists -- one was even on TV as the next classical great. So I gave that up. I'd go see Peter Green and Eric Clapton on the weekends and said I have to go in a different direction" than the blues.
That brings him to today: "I am trying to establish a style. This is contemporary British music, less about blues and more rock'n'roll."
Songwriting: "I am a semi-disciplined writer. You have to work at the craft. Or you can be too precious, someone who says 'I only write songs that show how sensitive I am.' You end up with mediocre crap."