Program Notes: Two Remembrances
Red Clay Ramblers Reunion for Tommy Thompson
June 14, 2003 - North Carolina Museum of Art
Two Remembrances

I met Tommy in 1975 as he plied his dual roles of Zerelda James and Cole Younger in Diamond Studs off Broadway in New York when I was brought in as a replacement and musical pal of authors Jim Wann and Bland Simpson.  Then followed 28 great years working, playing, traveling, singing, scheming, and hanging out with the coolest guy I’ve ever known.  From that first show together, we did Life on the Mississippi; A Lie of the Mind; The Last Song of John Proffit; Lone Star Love, or the Merry Wives of Windsor, Texas; Far North; Fool Moon; and Silent Tongue, as well as hundreds of Rambler gigs all over the place, radio shows, TV shows, records and sessions, escapades, and high times.  I think him now, as so many of us do, for showing us how to love life.  He thought we were all so funny, and what feels better than that?  What he left behind in the hearts of his friends and the people who heard him and saw him--that’s worth celebrating.

- - Jack Herrick

In the spring of ’71, I saw Tommy win the Old-Time Banjo Championship at Union Grove, North Carolina.  Before long I got to know him very well and worked with him in many ways for many years.  I thought he was a champion in everything he undertook.

Tommy loved performing, and he loved writing songs.  He was as witty as could be with American idiom, and as compassionate, too.  In his song “Twisted Laurel,” for instance, Tommy penned a real enduring folk hymn, a double helix of deep love for West Virginia, his native state, and of true grief for its sad history.  His own personal story of growing up there, well before he became a longtime Tar Heel, he frequently and affectionately recalled on the scores of drives we Ramblers shared with him up and down the turnpike through the high hills.  Tommy pointed out to us his grandparents’ place on the Kanawha River, and --always, as we crossed the river--he retold his story about being a boy in the crowd on the Chuck Yeager Bridge at Charleston the very day it was dedicated, when Captain Yeager, the great pilot himself, flew an airplane low to the water and right slam underneath the bridge!

Whenever we sailed across the span over the state’s greatest gorge, he would peer down a thousand feet, saying “There it is boys there’s the railroad, the New River Train!”  At moments like that, Tommy was as thrilled as if he’d owned all West Virginia, indeed all America, which in a way he did and, by virtue of the great, big-hearted music he gave us, always will.

- - Bland Simpson
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