Ron Thompson – From the Patio: Live at Poor House Bistro Vol. 1
Little Village Foundation LVF 1036
11 songs – 45 minutes
When San Francisco Bay area guitarist Ron Thompson succumbed to complications of diabetes earlier this year, the entire blues world lost one of its most enduring, diverse and understated instrumentalists. That loss becomes clear to the outside world with this stellar disc. Captured in San Jose in 2014, it captures him at his passionate, intense and soulful best.
A native of Oakland, Thompson picked up the guitar at age 11, turning to slide shortly thereafter. He started making a name for himself in his teens, backing vocalist/guitarist Little Joe Blue, an often overlooked talent whose guitar and vocal skills were so reminiscent of B.B. King that his work is often mistaken for the blues giant.
Thompson subsequently moved on to the John Lee Hooker band in 1975, traveling the world with him and rising to national prominence, a gig that lasted for three years. He subsequently went on his own, founding the blues-rock trio, The Resisters, in 1980 and landing a contract with Takoma Records, making his debut as a front man with Treat Her Like Gold in 1983.
Despite his success as a bandleader, however, Ron never shied away from working behind others. Before he issued his next album, Resister Twister, in 1987, he’d already been a featured performer behind Etta James, Big Mama Thornton and Lowell Fulson.
He released five more CDs in his lifetime, most recently Resonator on the 32-20 imprint in 2007, but his work in the studio graces a who’s who of talent, including Jimmy McCracklin, Mark Hummel, Ray Wylie Hubbard, Percy Mayfield, Harmonica Slim, Homesick James Williamson and Kenny “Blues Boss” Wayne, among others.
A more-than-capable vocalist, Thompson delivers all of the material here despite always preferring to let his guitar do the talking – occasionally in concert with harmonica. And this set finds him at the top of his game in his comfort zone at the Poor House, the venerable Bay area bistro where he was in year eight of a 14-year residency that ended with his death.
He’s backed by Little Village Foundation founder Jim Pugh and Sid Morris on keyboards with Dave Chavez and Gary Rosen on bass and Scotty Griffin on drums. Kid Andersen, who produced, sits in on second guitar for two cuts, and West Coast harmonica ace Gary Smith on one other.
The Willie Dixon standard, “Meet Me in the Bottom,” opens the 11-tune set with Ron doubling on guitar and accompanying himself on harp, too. The tune lopes from the jump and is built atop Thompson’s strong chords on the bottom before yielding to an unhurried, slide-driven take on Lightnin’ Hopkins’ “Bring Me My Shotgun.” The funky original, “Mardis Gras Boogie,” sings praise of the Big Easy in a percussive, stop-time arrangement with superb, attention-grabbing mid-tune six-string solo.
The action mellows instantaneously for a slow-and-steady version of R&B giant Bob Geddins’ familiar “Tin Pan Alley” before Thompson takes listeners to Chicago with a cover of Little Walter’s “One More Chance with You,” aided by Smith in his only appearance. Always known for his versatility, Guitar Slim’s “I Done Got Over It” comes across with a Gulf Coast feel amplified by Pugh’s runs on organ and a killer guitar solo, which seamlessly dovetails with Fulson and Lloyd Glenn’s standard, “Sinner’s Prayer.”
Penned by Juke Boy Bonner and Eddie Shuler, “The River Is Rising,” a medium-paced shuffle, sings about a broken heart before yielding to a tasty remake of the Bobby Womack/Don Robey penned “That’s How I Feel.” The six-string pyrotechnics heat up as Andersen joins the action for J.T. Brown’s “Doctor Brown” and the Thompson original, “When You Walk That Walk,” to close.
If you’re unfamiliar with Ron Thompson’s guitar work, this one’s going to be a real eye-opener. He left some mighty big shoes to fill. Pick this one up and you’ll definitely be looking for more.