As a child, Jeff Thompson stood next to his mother in church and imitated her singing voice. That, he figures, was his first lesson. The dozens of times he saw Meters bassist George Porter play while growing up in New Orleans gave him a different perspective, as did his guitar studies there with the renowned John Rankin. Extended stays in India, New York City, and Boulder, Colorado, also entered in.
“Mostly it affected my worldview, which then affects my playing,” says the 42-year-old, who’s also an actor, a live-Facebook show host (“Worldwide Living Room”), and is about to start a Kickstarter campaign for his next CD. Jeff Thompson’s Giving Trio features local stalwarts Aaron Price on keyboards and James Kylen on drums.
When did you start writing songs?
Probably around the 4th grade. My first songs were sort of like Weird Al, parodies where I would just take a popular song and change all the lyrics to something silly.
What makes a good song?
I think it’s that marriage of eloquence and heart-felt-ness, where something is interesting on a verbal level and well-crafted, but is expressing something that elicits deep feeling from people. I like when people are vulnerable and honest.
How did you find your voice?
Imitating people has been helpful — imitating The Beatles, and Michael Jackson, and Robert Plant, and then Joni Mitchell, and then Ian Gillan from Deep Purple. Gosh, so many: Kurt Elling, the jazz singer. Martin Sexton. Jeff Buckley. I’ve ripped off a lot from [Buckley]. The more that you imitate other people and then let it go, paradoxically the more you find your own voice.
Tell me something about your keyboardist, Aaron Price, that we don’t know.
A lot of people don’t know that Aaron is actually a fantastic cook. He’s a very creative, health-conscious chef, and he’s very generous with his creations.
And how about something about you?
I guess a lot of people don’t know that I am passionate about Tai Chi and Qi Gong, and that it helps with my guitar playing and singing, and with my sanity in general.
I think of you as something of a musical vagabond.
I have been a bit of a vagabond, and I like that. I’ve spent time in different towns, and Asheville is my favorite by far. I grew up in New Orleans, and so the hedonistic party vibe is something that I need, but I don’t like too much of it. I lived in Boulder for a few years, which is the other end of the spectrum in some ways, where everything closes early and everyone eats all organic. Asheville would be like if Boulder and New Orleans had a child, because it’s got progressive politics and environmental concern and health consciousness, but it’s also got some dirt under its fingernails.
The Jeff Thompson Giving Trio performs at The Purple Onion (16 Main Street, Saluda) on Saturday, December 10, at 7:30pm. For more information, call 828-749-1179 or visit purpleonionsaluda.com.