A Man in His Own Right
Billy, having grown up as an army brat, has lived all over the U.S including our Coronado, where he played in local bands. He started playing music in his late teens and developed his early musical stylings through his San Diego-based bands such as, Johnnie Cook, The Fingers (with Joey Harris), and The Mighty Penguins. The crafting of his blues work was heavily influenced by his touring and time spent with Larry “Arkansas” Davis, who stated, “Bill, you’re writin’ the blues of the future.” Vintage Blues magazine has said of Billy, “He sings with no boundaries and literally picks his a–s off.”
Billy’s major influences include the likes of Eric Clapton, Jimi Hendrix, Jeff Beck, Duane Allman, Buddy Guy, Albert King, BB King, and many more. He has performed live with: Little Milton, Albert King, Art Neville, Earl King, Larry “Arkansas” Davis, Elvin Bishop, Chuck Berry, Sir Harry Bowens, Billy Branch, Leslie Uggams, Ivan Neville, Daryl Johnson, and Gary Puckett. He has opened for: BB King, Buddy Guy, Bobby “Blue” Bland, Boz Skaggs, The Neville Brothers, Dickey Betts, Joe Cocker, Sonny Landreth, Robert Cray, Taj Mahal, John Hammond, Jr., Bobby Womack, Robben Ford, Junior Walker and the Allstars, Lee Roy Parnell, The Dirty Dozen Brass Band, Albert Lee, Joe Louis Walker, War, Jimmie Vaughan and Gallactic – Is that just to name a few?
Theater performances include: 2009-European tour as featured guitarist with Queen Esther Marrow and the Harlem Gospel Singers; 2004 – Guitarist / Songwriter / Musical Supervisor for the Keith Glover play entitled, “The Rose of Corazon”; 2002 – Lead guitarist for Tony Award winning playwright Keith Glover’s critically acclaimed, “Bluesical”; “Thunder Knocking On The Door” featuring original music by Keb Mo and Anderson Edwards; 2001 – Lead guitarist for the Broadway musical, “It Ain’t Nothin’ But The Blues” directed by Randal Mylar (Love Janis) and musical direction: Dan Wheatman. Discography — Original Albums: Coat of many Colors – The Mighty Penguins 1994; Tangerine Sky – Billy Thompson 1998; Area 51 – Billy Thompson 2005; Remixed and Remastered- Billy Thompson – 2009; & A Better Man – Billy Thompson- Papa Lee Records 2011.
The fifth CD “A Better Man” was produced by Grammy Award winning producer Tony Braunagel. Braunagel, currently drummer forThe Robert Cray Band, enlisted a strong lineup of former band mates and friends to play on the CD. Braunagel, who played drums on the project, describes Billy as “a funky mofo with a soulful vocal style and songs that draw you in.”
Musicians on the CD include some of the industry’s most experienced including members of Little Feat, Taj Mahal, Bonnie Raitt, Crosby, Stills & Nash, Joe Cocker, and the Phantom Blues Band. In addition to Thompson on guitar and vocals and Braunagel on drums, Johnny Lee Schell adds guitar and sings background vocals and is joined by bassists Hutch Hutchinson and Kenny Gradney, keyboard player Mike Finnigan, percussionist Lenny Castro, trumpeter Darrell Leonard, and saxophonist Joe Sublett from the Texicali Horns. The lineup is rounded out by San Diego standout Michael Leroy Peed on piano and clavinet as well as background vocalist Niki Morrissette.
Billy Thompson — A Better Man
“Pardon the cliché, but Billy Thompson is a force of nature. Funky gospel infused Memphis-style soul oozes from his very being. His husky soulful voice wrapped up in a blues-hipster delivery is hard to resist, especially when it’s propped up by a grooving band of A-list musicians such as Mike Finnigan, Kenny Gradney, Hutch Hutchinson, Johnny Lee Schell, Lenny Castro, The Texacali Horns and producer-drummer Tony Braunagel. The blues part of the equation is delivered by Billy’s slithering electric slide work, that at times is so locked in with his voice that it’s coming from one place. Finnigan’s organ provides a groove-filled cushion for Billy’s workouts to float atop. The percussion one-two punch of Braunagel and Castro beef-up the attack. The music possesses such freshness that it comes off as always being there. Nothing sounds forced. Billy’s slide moves the tunes along effortlessly.
I’m hard pressed to pick a favorite here, as brilliant touches abound at every turn. The lyrics in this batch of originals are of the reflective, positive and spiritual type. After a listen, you feel as if you’ve been to a funky-soul church. The revival feel of the opener “Are You Ready” is a gospel-drenched affair, which quickly displays the power of the snaky slide work. It sounds churchy, but it’s a profession of love to a woman. This song slips right into the cool-groove jazzy-boogie shuffle of “A Better Man” that benefits from Finnigan’s jazzy organ. Thompson also shows he is no slouch at playing regular guitar on this tune and others. A herky-jerky rhythm brew of slide and percussion make “Noreen” fit like a glove. “Just like a ballgame and a hotdog” is one of the many analogies used to describe the muse of “Met My Match”, which puts the punchy Texacali Horns to good use. The slide-master once again comes to the rescue as it skips along in the brisk “Downside Up”. The band is just as adept at a more relaxed pace, as witnessed on the R&B-gospel inflected love song “Born Again” and the soulful “Oneness”. A harsher tone is applied to his slide playing on the ominous “Bleed” which speaks to the world’s dire state. The haunting background vocal of Niki Morrissette completes the atmosphere. The device of playing what he sings is used here, owing a debt to the old school country-blues masters. “As If” has the feel of a cool day chillin’ in the park. “Up In The Morning” the only real blues song wraps things up with acoustic slide and harmonica propelling this easy country blues.
Music as uplifting, life reassuring and seamless as this is a gift that deserves to be enjoyed by the masses. It sounds as fresh at each additional listening as it does the first time around. Musical or lyrical gems continue to jump out at you. If this music experience doesn’t move your feet and soul, seek help NOW!” Reviewer Greg “Bluesdog” Szalony hails from the New Jersey Delta. He is the proprietor of Bluesdog’s Doghouse at http://bluesdog61.multiply.com.
“Billy Thompson’s music bristles with the infectious, syncopated sounds of New Orleans, the electricity of great rock ‘n’ roll, the punchy verve of Memphis soul and the heartfelt power of blues, funk and jazz.”
–George Varga, music critic San Diego Union-Tribune
Billy moved from the Wind ‘n’ Sea area of La Jolla to Berkeley Springs, West Virginia, 1.5 hours out of D.C., and says, “So, I’m in WV…haha…I never would’ve thought that I’d move here in a million years, but I’m quite happy, actually!”
“For someone so seemingly headed to hell in a hand cart, I was lucky enough to pull things together! Case in point…and I don’t know how I rated this gift, but my son, Michael, now 24, and a Washington and Lee University graduate, was President of La Jolla High School (2004) as well as President of all San Diego City Schools. www.wlu.edu/x27151.xml
In a large part, thanks to his mother, Rebecca, her family and a handful of other friends, I found many a positive influence, and though seemingly taking much of the credit for Michael’s success, such is not the case! I’m just saying, I am thankful for how things have turned out! I consider myself lucky to have played a part in making a positive contribution to this, ever changing, wild and crazy, world!
I was quite the opposite at his age, as many would remember! — deepest apologies to all I may have offended in my dysfunctional youth, sincerely! I was quite the opposite at his age, as many would remember! — deepest apologies to all I may have offended in my dysfunctional youth, sincerely!
Though, fairly recently divorced, the woman I’m with now is a college professor and co-wrote five of the songs on the new album, A Better Man.
Growth and change came knockin’ on my door, but once again! Life is good.
Best wishes to all.” –BT–
Billy will be back in San Diego performing at Humphrey’s BackStage on August 18, 2011 and very possibly opening for his friend Keb Mo at Humphrey’s Open Air Concerts on August 11. Do yourselves a favor and check our Coronado musician friend out. Guaranteed enjoyment!
Check out more of Billy Thompson on Facebook or at: http://www.reverbnation.com/billythompson