Andy Thompson: Revisiting Country's Other Golden Age

Article excerpt

Boston's eclectic music

scene has spawned

all manner of

impactive guitarists,

from lightning-fingered improv

meisters to hard-spanking anti-heroes.

But a dedicated Beatle-maniac

who makes country

records and lists Willie Nelson as

a primary influence? Andy

Thompson of the Thompson

Brothers Band may be the first.

Blame It on the Dog (RCA), a

follow-up to the band's six-song EP,

Cows on Main Street, features

Thompson's twangy, song-oriented

rhythm/lead style--the

backbone of a sound that recalls

the ruckus created by Steve Earle,

Foster & Lloyd, and others in the

early '80s.

"When we were coming up,"

recalls the 26-year-old Thompson,

"those guys were making all

these waves in country music.

Kevin Welch was happening, and

Rodney Crowell was making

these great records. People who

were in Nashville back then see

it as a little window where all this

hip stuff snuck through the security checkpoint.

But we didn't know it was all that different. We

lived in a South Boston suburb called Norwell,

which was pretty isolated. The only country we

could get on the radio was this real funky station

where they'd say `Comin' up, Dwight Yoakam,'

and then there'd be 15 seconds of dead air.

They'd play Ronnie Milsap and Sylvia, but then

you'd hear a Red Sovine song, and then

something from Steve Earle. We had no idea

what was on the charts or what `current' country

was about."

Having worn out his dad's Willie Nelson

8-tracks and his own Fab Four records Thompson

delved far enough into pop and rock to play

cover tunes with his brother Matt (on drums) and

pal Mike Whitty on bass. One by one, they

headed for Nashville after finishing high school,

taking music business courses at Belmont College

by day and gigging at night.

"We got this gig near Music Row, but when

winter came, they closed the deck where we

played. So we each took a demo tape--one guy

heads down Route 41, one guy goes out Route

31, and you see what you can stir up. The only

person who called us back was from this little

dive called Johnny's Place, and we started playing

there. It was right by the railroad tracks, and

trains were always going by and drowning us

out. At first, we tried to make everything sound

tight--we played real carefully and all. But they

didn't care. There'd be, like, four people in the

place, and they weren't listening. So we just

started cutting up, acting crazy, and winging

things. All of a sudden, people started showing

up. It taught us that being a human jukebox gets

you nowhere."

The Thompsons focused more on their own

songs, mixing "money" dates at casinos and

parties with more creative freebies. They also

satiated a hunger for vintage instruments. Thompson's

first find was a 1960 natural-finish Gibson

Hummingbird. Today, his mouth-watering

collection numbers more than 20 and includes a

Gretsch Country Gentleman, a Gretsch Corvette,

and an Epiphone Riviera 12-string (all '67s), a

'51 Gibson LG-1, a '65 Danelectro Baritone, a

'58 Supro Airline, and a sunburst '63 Strat.

Scrounging in pawnshops and out-of-the-way

music stores has also yielded some nifty amps:

a '30s Oahu, a '40s Vega A-49, three '64 Silvertones,

and several Fenders, including a '68 Super

and a '64 blackface Deluxe.

Even with all that artillery, Thompson relies

on two self-built mongrels for most of his live

playing. …