From the Patio, Live at Poor House Bistro, Vol 1
Little Village Foundation
From the Patio – Live at Poor House Bistro, Vol 1 dates to two sessions in the summer of 2014 at the famed venue in San Jose, CA where the recently passed Bay Area Blues legend Ron Thompson often gigged. As most familiar with the Little Village Foundation know, Kid Andersen is involved, playing guitar on two tracks, but more importantly, bringing these live recordings to issue through his production skills at his own Greaseland Studio. Little Village Foundation founder Jim Pugh plays organ on some tracks, principally the Lowell Fulson/Lloyd Glenn “Sinner’s Prayer” and Guitar Slim’s “Done Got Over It.” Bay Area harp legend Gary Smith shines on Little Walter’s “One More Chance With You” and Bay Area favorite Sid Morris plays piano on a few cuts.
Thompson is an incendiary guitarist, most notably on slide, (Thompson also played keyboards earlier in his career and is heard on harp on this set as well) but proves to be a soulful vocalist across this set of blues and R&B tunes. In fact, The latter example is the obscure deep soul ballad “That’s How I Feel,” recorded by the 60s supergroup The Soul Clan, and written by Don Covay and Bobby Womack. Thompson is perhaps best known for his work with John Lee Hooker, being the major catalyst for the blues icon’s reemergence in the mid -late 70s, before Thompson left Hooker in 1978 to start his own solo career. In fact, Thompson could match his resume with just about anyone prominent in blues. He has performed and recorded with this dizzying litany of luminaries such as Big Mama Thornton, Tina Turner, Bruce Willis, Luther Tucker, Jimmy McCracklin, Pee Wee Crayton, Carla Thomas, Booker T. Jones, Percy Mayfield, Etta James, B.B. King, and Jimmy Reed. Sadly, Thompson never achieved national recognition like these artists but was long a treasure in The Bay Area.
This effort follows the Little Village release, 2015’s Son of Boogie Woogie of which Pugh said this about Thompson, “Not only can he play the blues, he can sing it in a way that’s more convincing than practically anyone these days. He grew up in tough circumstances in East Oakland, and I don’t think you can find a better example of someone who’s that believable, that authentic. He’s the real deal.” Tony Mazzolini, famous blues DJ and founder/producer of the San Francisco Blues Festival said, “I’ve always felt that Ron is the most talented blues guitarist I’ve ever seen. He can do it all. He’s extraordinarily gifted.”
Especially in his latter years, Thompson battled health issues, eventually succumbing to diabetes complications at age 66 in February of this year. Nonetheless, during this period, he would always show up at Poor House Bistro on Wednesday nights, as he had done for 14 years. The crowd’s energy would ease his pain as he played long sets. Many musicians would also show up to play or watch in awe. At the end of the evening Thompson would pack his guitar, piano, mandolin and harmonicas and drive three hours to Fresno for his next gig. In the liners Poor House Bistro owner remarks – “This was his train and he was the conductor. When that train was rolling, it was like a lightning bolt had just hit him, his head moving back and forth, his body gyrating like the Devil had just met Jesus.” And, later, “Wednesdays have been declared Ron Thompson Day at Poor House Bistro. Only his music is allowed to be played on the jukebox.”
Rather ominously, the line that lingers from Willie Dixon’s opening “Meet Me In The Bottom” is a chorus of “I don’t want to die.” Surely, 66 years old is way too early but Thompson gave it all until he just couldn’t anymore. You hear his slide guitar to best effect here on Lightning Hopkins’ “Bring Me My Shotgun” and later when Kid Andersen joins in for the guitar workouts on “Doctor Brown” and Thompson’s closing “When You Walk That Walk.” It’s a mix of covers and originals with three from Thompson, and a bit curiously, no John Lee Hooker covers.
Keep in mind that this is only Volume 1 and there is at least another coming. And, given that this is 2014 it represents Thompson at the top of his game. So, enjoy and stay tuned for more.
- Jim Hynes