Virtuoso musician — an accurate description of Chipper Thompson by any standard — is far too narrow a term to encompass the prismatic brilliance of this writer, composer, string picker, artist and scholar. Even the document he prosaically calls his “all-purpose biography” is steeped in poetry from the opening line: “In late-summer dawns, mist rises from red-dirt cotton fields and river bottoms around Limestone County, Alabama, like the revenants of Civil War veterans lost in a fog ... “
Thompson has been selected as artist-in-residence at the Taos Inn (125 Paseo del Pueblo Norte) and will perform at the inn’s Adobe Bar tonight and every Thursday in March from 6:30-9:30 p.m.
“I chose Chipper because of his wonderful talent, versatility of instrumentation and his warm local draw,” said Greer Pair, the Taos Inn’s entertainment director. “His show will be high energy, with a bluesy country vibe that is the perfect representation of the Taos music scene.”
Thompson was already a popular frequent performer at the Adobe Bar before the selection. “I love playing there, love playing for people – and the food’s good,” he said.
After 2 1/2 decades making music professionally in Taos, he has an informed, positive perspective on our evolving local music landscape. “I think it’s remarkably brilliant, given how small and isolated this town is.”
When Thompson left his native Alabama in a rented van, his original intent was to set up house in the slightly less “small and isolated” town of Boulder, Colorado. “We got there and immediately hated it. We had one day’s rental left on the van, so we thought, ‘Where could we move to in one day’s drive?’ It was a fluke. Twenty-five years later, I’m still glad to be here.”
Taoseños have enjoyed his performances and recordings over the years with the folk-rock band Burning Joan, named after one Thompson’s songs, “Burning Joan Again”; his bouzouki collaborations with Roger Landes; old-time American and Scots-Irish ballads with Mason Brown; country classics with Kim and the Caballeros; moody “folk-goth-and-roll” with Bone Orchard; and his own flexible ensemble, The Feast.
In addition to the Thursday evening shows, this month will also see him at the Abode Bar in two other configurations. He’ll play with Bone Orchard Saturday, March 11, and with Kate Mann and Mark Dudrow Saturday, March 25.
Thompson’s visual artistry has produced more than 200 exquisite hand-drawn posters for his performances. A collection of his fine artwork — intricate mixed-media pieces that look as if they might be roadmaps to a dimension more interesting and intelligent than the one we normally see — is on view at the Gerald Peters Gallery in Santa Fe.
In 2015, he published his first novel, “The Substance of Things Hoped For.” A new work of science fiction is near completion. While readying the novel for release, he is also working on a number of comic book projects. “I hope there’ll be many more,” Thompson said. “The first novel is Southern Gothic, which is certainly part of who I am, but I always thought of myself primarily as a science fiction writer. The next one will show that.”
Thompson studies history in depth, participates in historical re-enactments of eras and events in America’s past and makes connections between these past events and our current and future state of the union. He said, “People’s historical perspective needs to be longer in order to understand where we are — it needs to not only go back deeper into the past, but farther into the future. We need a longer attention span going into the future.”
His sources of inspiration are as manifold as his interests. “The most common, regular and strong inspiration is nature. Rare that I take a walk in the woods without some kind of idea popping up. Social issues with our country are often something I write about, more often in prose than song. There’s a semi-unifying thread of ‘Southern-ness’ in what I do, but not as overwhelmingly obvious as most people think.”
The same variety informs his intake of music and other arts. “I’m very inspired by traditional musicians, whether from a blatantly ‘commercial’ point of view or the true ‘outsider’ folk artists. Appalachian music, Anglo-Celtic, African, Middle Eastern, Indian … all of it really rocks my world. That said, right now I’m very into ‘noise’ and ‘ambient’ music. ... The same seeming dichotomies endure through reading and visual art. I’m as into Shakespeare and Melville as I am ‘Captain America’ comics and Stephen King. I’m as into representative painters – like my late wife, Lanford Monroe, John Singer Sargent and the Wyeths – as I am into lowrider art, tattoos and comics.”
For the Thursday series, Adobe Bar patrons will hear Thompson sing original compositions and traditional favorites, accompanying himself primarily on guitar and bouzouki. His mandolin, bass and other instruments may also make an appearance, along with surprise guests.
When asked whether audiences might be treated to some of his spoken-word eloquence as well as music, he responded, “I may tell some tales. It’ll be a surprise one way or the other. I’m reasonably good at reading the room. If people just want to enjoy the songs, that’s fine with me. If they’re in the mood to ask me to talk, who knows what kind of stories might come out?”
For more information, visit Thompson’s website at folk-n-roll.com.