Ron Thompson – The best blues guitarist you may never have heard

Ron Thompson was a fierce and exciting blues guitarist whose talents always seemed to extend beyond his fame.

But he had been around for years, honing his slide skills in West Coast clubs and shows, touring as John Lee Hooker’s guitarist, working with artists like Lowell Fulton, James Cotton, B.B. King, Elvin Bishop and Mick Fleetwood, and leading his band, the Resistors, through years of clubs and concerts and multiple album releases.

And in a fine tribute to Thompson, the San Jose Mercury News quotes San Francisco Blues Festival producer Tom Mazzolini as saying, “When I heard him play slide (guitar), I thought he was the reincarnation of Elmore James.”

All of this is written in the past tense, because, sadly, Thompson died in February at the age of 66.

Fortunately for us, including those who may not have had the chance to hear his music, he recorded a number of albums, including on the Takoma and Blind Pig labels. Since his death, another album has been released, featuring live performances at the Poor House Bistro in San Jose, where Thompson had been a Wednesday night feature for 14 years.

It is “From the Patio – Live at Poor House Bistro Vol. 1 (Vol 2 is promised early next year) on the Little Village Foundation label.

It is also, simply put, a fantastic album of powerfully raw music, sucked from the painful primordial soup of the blues just for your pleasure.

There are three Thompson originals on the live set, and a handful of covers from the minds of some blues greats. From the tough opening track of Willie Dixon’s “Meet Me in the Bottom,” Thompson’s guitar, harp and vocals fuel a set that’s down-home and gritty.

“Bring Me My Shotgun” turns the Lightnin’ Hopkins song into a steamy, slide-driven dirge. There’s the original “Marci Gras Boogie,” dredging up some NOLA mojo, a Gary Smith-harp-toned version of Little Walter’s “One More Chance With You,” and a mournful “Sinner’s Prayer” from Lowell Fulson and Lloyd Glenn.

Little Village label founder and keyboard man Jim Pugh takes soulful organ solos on “Sinner’s Prayer” and “Done Got Over It.”

Album producer, Greaseland studio honcho and Norwegian guitar wizard Christoffer “Kid” Andersen plays on the final cuts, “Doctor Brown” and When You Walk That Walk,”

There are other tracks, of course, all soaked in Thompson’s wickedly bent strings. And it would be a shame if I didn’t mention his vocals, which, sandpapered and seasoned with age, lend a world-weary touch of their own. Thompson, basically, just sounds like the blues. And that’s not easy.

Give this one a listen. If you’ve never heard Thompson’s string-slinging, you’re in for a blues treat. If you have, enjoy the ride again.

I couldn’t find a video of any of the album tracks, but this one should provide a fine sample of Thompson at work:

Track List

1 Meet Me in the Bottom (Live)
2 Bring Me My Shotgun (Live)
3 Mardis Gras Boogie (Live)
4 Tin Pan Alley (Live)
5 One More Chance with You (Live)
6 I Done Got Over (Live)
7 Sinner’s Prayer (Live)
8 The River Is Rising (Live)
9 That’s How I Feel (Live)
10 Doctor Brown (Live)
11 When You Walk That Walk (Live)

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