Bobby Thompson/Revelator Hill. Have you checked them out? You should. And if you haven’t, you’ll have an opportunity to do just that at 9 p.m. on Friday as the band takes the Blue Side stage. We recently caught up with Thompson to talk about why he picked up the guitar in the first place, the band’s upcoming brand-spankin’-new album – which they plan to release at The Blue Side this weekend – and why “Layla” continues to be an anthem to this very day.
How did you get into music in the first place? At what point did you pick up the guitar and what drew you to the blues?
My parents encouraged me to take piano and viola lessons at a young age. That made a huge difference in my understanding of how music works, and what works harmonically and melodically. My uncle Walter pushed me in my teens to try the electric guitar. I remember when I was 14 or 15, he told me to solo, and I had no idea what to do, he just encouraged me to do that. I have to thank him for expanding my mind at that time. I worked. I’d say my interest in who was playing lead guitar on ‘While My Guitar Gently Weeps’ drew me to the blues. I think it was the sound of strings bending that grabbed me. I got every blues album on vinyl I could get my hands on. I think I practiced along with Freddie King albums for at least a year before I hit 20.
That in mind, how did this particular band come together? What led you to get this group of guys as a unit?
I’ve been in many bands over the years, mainly as a sideman, lead guitarist, and backing vocalist. Over the past few years, since 2015, I decided to really push myself up front, and I started to tour with The Bobby Thompson Project, and we decided to change the name to Revelator Hill, and here we are, with a new album, and tour dates this spring and summer. I’m surrounded by a great group of guys. Seth, Gary, Wes, and Jeff really hold up their end of things well, and there is not a weak link at all. It’s a well-oiled machine. The more we play, the more creative ideas flow through my imagination, as far as where we can go with this musically.
You have a new album out. Can you tell us a little about it. What was the recording process like, where did you do it, and how did it compare to other recording projects with which you’ve been involved in the past?
The new album was recorded mainly in four studios in the Washington D.C. area, with some additional overdubs done elsewhere. We tried to keep the core of the album live, by recording bass, drums, guitar and vocals live. We added some extra guitars, some keys, some harmony vocals, and that’s about it. Very live sounding. As a continue to make albums, I learn more about how to get to the song quicker, and not get distracted too much or hung up on gear and technology. I leave that to the engineer. As soon as I’m happy with my guitar tone, I’m ready to go. There’s a sense of urgency with this band. Since I’ve got so much music running around in my head, I need to get some of it out to make room for even bigger ideas. It’s really a pleasure to spend my life making music, and I’m truly thankful everyday to be able to do this.
What’s your perception of the D.C. blues scene currently?
I think the D.C. music scene is thriving, and the blues is part of that. We always play at least one hardcore blues song at our shows. We included a cover of “How Many More Years” by Howlin’ Wolf on our latest album, but we also like to stretch our blues beyond the standard structure of traditional blues, with a progressive, or modern slant. It’s good to be aware of the music that came before, but it’s also good to create new blues music for the present.
Who are some of your major influences and why?
I have a wide range of influences, from jazz to country to reggae and more, mainly because I’ve been interested in playing various styles over the years. John Coltrane, Willie Nelson, Bob Marley, Jimi Hendrix. These are names that will always come to mind as influences because of their effect on my musical education and upbringing. They not only influence how I approach my instrument, but also how I approach writing a song, a melody, a solo.
Can you give us names of some bands we need to check out that we maybe haven’t seen yet? Who are you listening to the most these days?
I’ve been playing some shows with Jonathan Sloane, as a special guest of Revelator Hill. He works with Cris Jacobs, Patty Reese, Yellow Dubmarine, and his own trio, which is great. He’s a fantastic performer, singer, guitarist and songwriter, and he’s worth checking out many times. We listen to an array of music while traveling on the road. Our favorites are outside the blues tradition – artists like Jason Isbell, Sturgill Simpson, Chris Stapleton and more. We have their albums on repeat, and we mix in bands like Traffic, The Beatles, and The Band for a dose of the classics, which are essential. I could go on, but the list would be endless.
In addition to what you have going on currently, what does 2017 look like?
We are traveling north in April, through New England and Canada for some album release dates. I’m excited about that. We’ve got a full calendar of regional shows after that. As far as studio work, and with the completion of the new record, “Atlantic Detour,” I’m preparing a compilation of music that I’ve recorded and released since 2007. Some of the songs were singles or part of EPs that are no longer easily available, so I want to put the best material together from all those, plus some alternate takes and outtakes, and have that ready by summer. We are also working on an acoustic-based album for this year, so we have plans. We’ll be touring all summer.
What are some of your favorite venues to play and why?
There are some great venues around the nation and North America, so it’s tricky to narrow them down. I’d have to say the 9:30 Club in D.C. is the best for the area. I also like The 8×10 in Baltimore, The National in Richmond and World Cafe Live in Philadelphia.
What do you think is the most perfect song ever written and why?
That’s another tough one. So many great songs. Recently, I was asked to be a part of a tribute to “Layla and other Assorted Love Songs.” There are some fantastic songs on that album, with “Layla” quite possibly being one of the best ever. I think any song that garners anthem status is worth paying attention to.
And, finally, what can we expect from your upcoming show at The Blue Side?
We love the Blue Side. Such great people and a nice room to perform in. We hope to see some familiar and new faces, and make people groove to the music.