Named by Rolling Stone Magazine as one of the Top 20 Guitarists of All-Time, Richard Thompson has defined the British folk rock genre with his brilliant songwriting and guitar work. He’ll be performing live at Westhampton Beach Performing Arts Center on June 3. Here he talks about his art and his inspiration.
Many of your songs are essentially telling a story. What inspires you?
I like storytelling songs because I grew up listening to Scottish ballads, so I’m very much in that tradition. Inspiration comes from anywhere—the dramas of my own life and the lives of friends and family, the news, politics and social injustice—and a lot of songs start out as fiction, just inventing stories that come out of the ether. You realize later that they might be about you.
One can hear the passion in your songs. Is there any advice you would give to aspiring songwriters?
My songs tend to have the emotion built in, so if someone like Aretha sang them, they would sound too intense. There are all kinds of songwriters, and all kinds of singers, and it’s a matter of finding the balance that appears to reflect reality. If I have any advice, it would be to dig deeper—don’t be satisfied with the superficial. This advice, of course, will guarantee you a life of obscurity and poverty.
It must have been incredible to tour with Bob Dylan, Wilco and My Morning Jacket. What have been some of your favorite moments on tour?
That was a wild tour. Sitting in with Wilco on several occasions were real highlights. They would invite me up to play on songs I’d last performed in about 1967! Performing live is as good as it gets, and I suppose it’s the feeling of communicating that I love the most about it.
What was it like to have Bob Dylan perform your song “1952 Vincent Black Lightning” on the Americanarama Tour?
I’m still pinching myself—Bob Dylan sang MY song? I’ve sung a hundred of his—that seems about the right ratio.
How have you evolved as an artist?
Hopefully it’s evolution—sometimes it feels like going backwards. I try to put one foot in front of the other. In terms of style, I haven’t changed my basic musical philosophy. I still sit somewhere between traditional British music and rock.
You will be at the Westhampton Beach Performing Arts Center on June 3. Are there places you like to visit while on Long Island?
I like the extreme eastern end of the island. It’s beautifully desolate, lots of sea and sky, and good wildlife.
Richard Thompson performs at WHBPAC on Saturday, June 3 at 8 p.m. For tickets ($35 – $55) and more information, visit whbpac.org or call the box office at 631-288-1500.