Never try to pigeonhole Verlon Thompson as one of those cookie-cutter Nashville songwriters cranking out a steady diet of mindless bro-country fodder. He is cut from fabric of a different era.
As a matter of fact, he and good friend Guy Clark were featured participants at a songwriting clinic in Ohio a few years back and they collaborated to write “The Guitar,” a tune rich in imagery with stunning lyrical content that strikes the listener like a bolt of lightening. It is basically the polar opposite of today's mainstream popular country music, but a solid representation of the work he has been doing in Music City for more than three decades.
“Guy and I were teaching at the Southeast Ranch, which is kind of a songwriting camp for grown-ups. We wrote the song as a class project one day, then put it down and didn't think much about it,” Thompson said. “A year later, we pulled it out of the drawer, polished it up a little bit and realized we had something pretty special on our hands.”
A prolific flatpicker, Thompson is a master story teller with a magnetic narrative style that mesmerizes audiences with tunes like “Joe Walker's Mare,” “Indian Head Penny” and “The Guitar.”
Thompson will be in concert at 7 p.m. Friday at The Old Feed Store in Cobden. Tickets are $15. For more information, call 618-525-2531.
Thompson has somehow managed to fly under the radar of the constantly expanding Americana music scene for more than a quarter century.
The humble troubadour is a very successful songwriter. He earned a BMI Million Play Award for inking “The First Step” for Tracy Byrd. Suzy Bogguss took his “Cross My Broken Heart” into the Billboard Top 20. The McCarters went even higher, taking “Up And Gone” to No. 9.
Thompson was nominated for a Grammy Award for composing “Bad Angel,” a tune sung by Miranda Lambert, Dierks Bentley and Jamey Johnson. Mandolin guru Sam Bush recorded Thompson's “The Ballad of Stringbean and Estelle” and earned a Song of the Year nomination from the International Bluegrass Music Association. His songs have also been recorded by Alan Jackson, Kenny Rogers, Jimmy Buffet and The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band.
A native of Binger, Oklahoma, Thompson spent the early years of his musical career in Colorado after serving four years in the military. After four years of playing rock 'n' roll in the Rocky Mountains, he followed his heart to Nashville to fulfill his ambition of becoming a songwriter.
Thompson is the central character of a legendary Nashville tale.
He was working with three other songwriters from Oklahoma and basically just messing around in the studio. Just for fun, over the course of a couple of days, producer/songwriter Tim DuBois had the boys record some rough tracks. When they converged at the same location the following week to continue writing songs, DuBois had a major contract offer from RCA Records on the table for them to sign.
“We had been recording songs with a slick pop sound, which is not really the direction I wanted to take,” Thompson said. “Some of it was stubbornness on my part, because I like to do things a certain way and I know a band is a group endeavor, so I told them I needed to speak up before this thing ever gets off the ground. I backed out of the project.”
It was an amicable breakup. The songwriters replaced Thompson with Paducah's Larry Stewart, named the band Restless Heart, and had six consecutive No. 1 singles in the late 1990s.
Thompson went back to doing what he loved — the complex creative process of being a relevant contributor to the exclusive Nashville songwriting community.
“It's one big ball down here. The hard part is to get it moving. You write the songs, get in the studio and make a demo, then pitch them to various artists. Along the way, if you are good enough, your name gets passed around. They may like the way you write or pick guitar. Once that ball starts rolling, good things tend to happen,” Thompson said.
It was in the middle of a fruitful period that Clark became enamored with Thompson's work. They formed a musical bond that lasted 20 years, but when Clark decided to drastically cut down on touring three years ago, Thompson started flying solo.
“I just amped things up a little,” Thompson said.
Recordings like “Works,” “Amplified” and “Find Your Angel” are available for purchase at www.verlonthompson.com, and he will have merchandise for sale at his Old Feed Store performance on Friday.