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Home Reviews Music Reviews Q&A: Songwriter Verlon Thompson ‘Works’

Q&A: Songwriter Verlon Thompson ‘Works’

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Nashville musician Verlon Thompson knows a thing or two about work. He grew up on a farm in Binger, Okla., located south and west from Oklahoma City. He’s spent over 30 years as a musician and songwriter. He’s toured the world with Texas songwriting legend Guy Clark. He’s produced several of Clark’s CDs.

He was getting ready for a show with Clark last week in Somerset, Ky., when he took a few minutes to answer some questions about the songs on his new CD, “Works.”

News-Telegram: Do you have a favorite song on the new CD?

Verlon Thompson: I don’t know that I can pull a favorite off of it. It would be like choosing a favorite child.

N-T: What about “Caddo County”? The song is about growing up on the farm in Binger.

VT: I have to say that one gets the most reaction and the most requests lately.  I think it paints a picture that really touches people.

N-T: The lyrics really do tell a story.

Well, the constant wind across sand
It can whittle down the toughest man
And the cold sneaks underneath the door
‘Til you don’t think you can take no more.

That summer sun gets hot as hell
And it dries up all your wishing wells
So you build your dream and wait around
For that next blue northern to tear it down.

You can’t change or Caddo County.
You can stay or you can go.
But you can’t change Caddo County.
You see, the same old wind will always blow.

My dad said, “Son, I’m going to tell you right now
Said you don’t have to follow that same old plough.
Said there’s a big ole’ world out ‘cross the county line
And you come home any time you change your mind.

You can’t change Caddo County.
You can stay, boy, or you can go.
But you can’t change Caddo County.
The same old wind will always blow.

The constant wind across the sand.
I deal with it the best I can.
What you can’t change you get used to
Til they throw that Caddo dirt on you.


VT: That’s exactly what my daddy said to me. I was just a kid standing out there in the field with him. We were raising a few peanuts at the time. My daddy would never leave that place, no matter how hard it got, but he said to me, “You don’t have to do this.”

That’s part of the support I had from my parents. They always encouraged me too do whatever I was passionate about.

The other night in Asheville, N.C., I just got all choked up in the middle of it. If I’m thinking about my folks, I just have to take a deep breath, swallow and push on through or it will just take me down.


N-T: On a lighter note, “Back Up and Turn Around” is a real rip-roarin’ gospel tune.

VT: Oh, yeah. That’s absolutely my ole’ Baptist church-going days showing up. I love that old gospel quartet singing. When I wrote that, I wanted to write a song that reflected that [gospel] feel without being a real, absolute religious song. You get the gospel feel, but it’s not preaching. I can sing that song in any kind of place and it’s OK. It doesn’t preach from any certain religion.

N-T: You put in great love songs written for both your in-laws and your wife, “Mike and Betty’s Daughter,” and “The Get To You Waltz.”

VT: When I do my shows, I start off doing “Mike and Betty’s Daughter.” I tell the story about how I wrote that for Demetria [Kalodimos, an Emmy-award winning television anchor at WSMV, an NBC affiliate in Nashville, and Thompson’s wife since 2008.]

I talk about how I played it for her and how she was moved by it. I then talk about how, a few days later, she said, “It occurs to me that the song is not about me. It’s about my mom and dad.”

She chased me ‘til I caught her.
And I’m lucky to be found.
You see, Mike and Betty’s daughter - she turned my life around.
. . .
When I shake her daddy’s hand, I can see her in his eyes   
He gave her that smooth and easy going.
Now, bless her darlin’ mother, that’s where the beauty lies
My life is better a better life just knowing
That Mike and Betty raised her with love and honesty
Well, it’s almost like they made her as a special gift for me.

So many people can’t stand their in-laws. I’m lucky to be in that family. They’re both gone now. I was glad they were both alive when I wrote that one.

N-T: The “Get To You Waltz” is one of the sweetest songs I’ve ever heard.

VT: Thanks. That’s what it is – a love song.

After “Mike and Betty’s Daughter,” I thought, “I’m stuck. I’ve got to write one for Demetria now.”

I played it for our wedding.

Well it was never a matter of learning the steps
Or the rhythm or knowing my right from my left
I just never could find the right partner, I guess.
I was doing the get to you waltz.
. . .
Now there’s nothing prettier and there’s nothing sweeter
Than two perfect partners moving as one.
It’s take me. It’s trust me and it’s follow the leader.
That’s the way it’s supposed to be done.

Yeah, but so many nights I just leaned on the wall.
I’d find a dark corner at the back of the hall.
I didn’t know at the time it was all
Part of doing that get to you waltz.
. . .
Then I remember seeing you in the crowd.
I remember when I took your hand.
Remember it was like we were dancing on clouds.
Remember we wore out the band.

Now, we’ll dance ‘til the soles of our shoes are thin.
There ain’t no sitting out, there ain’t no cutting in.
Now we’re together and I’ll never again be doing the get to you waltz.
That’s the end of the get to you waltz.

N-T: “El Toro” is a departure for you. Marty Robbins could have recorded this one.

VT: That’s the old reluctant bull story. I was over in Barcelona and came home with all that Spanish feel. I sat down with Shawn Camp and came up with that guitar lick, and once we started playing it, we couldn’t stop.

N-T: I never get tired of hearing “Joe Walker’s Mare.” You tear it up on the guitar.

VT: Guy asks me to play it every night. Sometimes, I wonder if people are tired of it, but then they start hollering for it.

N-T: The song elevates the special relationship we have with horses.

VT: You’d be amazed how many times horse people come up to me and say they really “get” that story. Especially the ladies. They get the loyalty part.

Joe Walker’s mare was a mighty good ride.
She was no bag of bones.
She was no hunk of hide.
He gave her to me on the day that he died.
Joe Walker’s mare was a mighty good ride.
. . .
So in the Arbuckle mountains
Somewhere running free
Is the son of that mare Joe Walker gave me
I turned him loose the day she died
Joe Walker’s mare was a mighty good ride.


N-T: The new CD includes a solo version of “The Guitar,” a song you co-wrote with Guy. You just tear up the guitar on that one and you make it look easy.

VT: Yeah. We came up with it at a songwriting workshop and then put it away. Someone asked Guy about it several years later. He found it and decided to put it on the CD, “Some Days The Song Writes You.”

N-T: Talk about the guitar solo in that song ... you play it with such passion ... does that part come as easily as it looks?

VT: Well I'm not sure how easy or difficult it looks but that's a wonderful question because that particular moment is pivotal in the song.

The person realizes his fingers are flying over the guitar neck ... never missing a lick ... and says, “It was like I always knew it but I don't know where I learned it ... so I just reared back and burned it.”

So with the instrumental I try to convey the idea of suddenly being able to play with wild abandon and yet never missing a lick. It’s every guitar picker's dream.

 

N-T: The photos on the CD are lovely. The one of you wrapped up in the crazy quilt is just stunning.

VT: Thanks. I used Juan Pont Lezica, a guy from Argentina, this time. I let him run with it because I tend to get my hands in the way. The wife of a friend of mine made that quilt. The day we took that picture, it must have been about zero degrees. It was freezing out there. The photographer was messing with his camera and I said, “Someone bring me a blanket.” They just threw that thing around me and the photographer snapped the shot.

 

N-T: You’re a big part of the Guy Clark tribute CD due out in November. There are 33 tracks cut by 33 artists, including Vince Gill, Rodney Crowell, Emmylou Harris, John Prine, Steve Earle, Justin Townes Earle, Kris Kristofferson, Robert Earl Keen, Jerry Jeff Walker, Willie Nelson and Lyle Lovett. What was it like working on that project?

VT: Aw, man. I can’t even begin to tell you. It was a monumental effort. There’s not a bad performance in the bunch. They had to turn people away. At some point you have to say, “Stop.”

***********************
Here’s hoping Verlon Thompson doesn’t stop writing and performing for many years to come. The world needs a steady diet of what Verlon Thompson brings to the table – honesty, loyalty and a country boy’s gift for musical storytelling.    
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For more information on Verlon Thompson and to order a copy of “Works,” log on to
www.verlonthompson.com
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Here's a video of Thompson playing "The Guitar" in a room in his house. The video was shot late one night after Thompson came home from a gig.
Click here for a video of Thompson doing a solo performance of "Caddo County."
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