Richard Thompson, on the road with Bob Dylan
BY DAVE HOEKSTRA | Staff reporter | Dhoekstra@suntimes.com July 10, 2013 9:23PM
AMERICANARAMA FESTIVAL OF MUSIC
With Bob Dylan, Wilco, My Morning Jacket and Richard Thompson
When: 5:30 p.m. Friday
Where: Toyota Park, 71st and Harlem, Bridgeview
Info: (800) 745-3000; www.ticketmaster.com
Updated: July 10, 2013 9:24PM
Richard Thompson grew up in the North London suburb Muswell Hill, playing Bob Dylan songs with gypsy-jazz flairs on his guitar.
But the acclaimed singer-songwriter has met Dylan only once. It is a shadow of a festival memory from Spain in the 1980s.
Thompson, 64, is an opening act on the “Americanarama” gypsy-country festival of music with My Morning Jacket, Wilco and Dylan, which rolls into Toyota Park on Friday. He’s the only English “Americanarama” act playing at a venue named for a Japanese automobile company.
The Richard Thompson Electric Trio (guitar, bass and drums) joined the tour July 2 in Memphis, Tenn.
He has yet to see Dylan.
“We finish at 6 p.m.,” Thompson chuckled earlier this week from a tour stop in Duluth, Minn. “Obviously most [ticket holders] are still getting off work. Bob plays at 10, 10:30 something like that. Sometimes our bus has to roll before he hits the stage. The guys I know are Wilco because we’ve done shows together. I’ve been sitting in with Wilco here and there.”
Thompson is touring in support of his Buddy Miller-produced “Electric” (New West), his most gutbucket-driven record in years. Midwest fans are lucky. Thompson will be on the tour only through July 15, when he is replaced by Ryan Bingham.
“The show order is logical in terms of fan base,” Thompson said. “I’m happy to be on the bill. I’ve done short tours where I open for a band acoustically, and that is easier in terms of logistics. When you have four bands on tour there’s never enough stage. Everyone is stacked deep. As each band finishes the gear gets hauled off and then you make space for the next band. It’s a big logistical exercise.”
Thompson said the gypsy caravan consists of 11 tour buses and “God knows how many trucks hauling this stuff around. And this is still small-time in rock ’n’ roll terms.
“I have to go back to the 1960s to remember doing multiple band shows like this. But never a tour. They were always one-offs where you would be playing all-nighters. You’d do one set at 10 p.m. and another set at 6 in the morning. You’d be on with the Move [pre-Electric Light Orchestra], the Moody Blues, the Crazy World of Arthur Brown and Pink Floyd. It was great fun in those days.
“But then everybody got rich and famous.”
Thompson is playing in Bridgeview the same night British rocker Robert Plant headlines Taste of Chicago. Both have dipped into Nashville’s emerging Americana (not Americanarama) scene for new creative flourishes. Plant collaborator Allison Krauss offers guest harmonies on “Electric.”
Thompson first came to Nashville in 1982 after the final Richard and Linda Thompson collaboration “Shoot out the Lights” before their divorce. He played a solo show at the Bluebird Cafe.
“It’s become a more interesting town,” he reflected. “More musicians have moved to Nashville, so it must be a nice place (laughs). Buddy Miller [with whom he shares a manager] seemed to be an interesting choice as a producer. All the things I thought he would bring to the project, he did. I thought he would be very musical, very sympathetic and have good ears. And all that came to pass.”
“Electric” is full of accessible tunes like the pure pop of “When Good Things Happen to Bad People” and the sweet Scottish country song “Saving the Good Stuff for You.”
Thompson elaborated, “You’d have to be over 31 years old to have written [‘Saving the Good Stuff’]. There is that period in life where you know earlier relationships were experiments almost and you weren’t quite ready. You weren’t the finished product. Then you meet someone later in life and you’ve both had time to work out some kinks in your personality, and you have a much more fulfilled relationship.”
It is difficult for Thompson to write on the road.
“I write better at home when I can devote my whole mind to writing,” he said. “Rather than on the road I’m kind of regurgitating songs all the time. On the road I take notes but I don’t get stuff finished. When I get home I can take those ideas and develop them.”
“Electric” was recorded in Miller’s house outside of Nashville. Miller uses the ground floor as the recording studio. He lives upstairs. Thompson played guitar, accordion, keyboards, mandolin and hurdy-gurdy. Dwight Yoakam-Lucinda Williams bassist Taras Prodaniuk provided the bottom, and Miller contributed rhythm guitar parts.
“Most of the recording is in what would have been the living room — if it hadn’t been destroyed,” Thompson said. “It’s old-fashioned recording. There’s no control room or particularly sophisticated soundproofing. The mixing board and tape machine are in the room with you. The drums are in the corner. Guitar and bass amps in another room.”
Just as Daniel Lanois used an old mansion as Kingsway recording studio in New Orleans (where Dylan’s 1989 “Oh Mercy” was made), home recording create a defined warmth tothe process “We recorded real quickly so something was working,” Thompson explained. “It’s nice to have windows with daylight. We had to stop by 7 at night because of the neighbors, which was nice. There’s no red light. You’re more relaxed in that environment.”
You are home, where the road always ends.