Eric and Suzy Thompson Clinic

Friday / April 8, 2011 / 1:00 p.m.
Oliver Colvin Recital Hall
1140 Boylston Street
United States

Eric and Suzy Thompson are virtuoso performers of American roots music: old-time Appalachian ballads and breakdowns, classic blues and jug band songs, bluegrass hot licks, and Louisiana Cajun dance music. Eric's flatpicking on guitar and mandolin is exceptional for its purity of tone, speed, and soulfulness; Suzy is a powerful blues singer, an award-winning fiddler, and a Cajun accordion player who apprenticed with older Louisiana Cajun musicians under an NEA Fellowship. Eric and Suzy were founding members of many influential roots music groups, including the Black Mountain Boys, Any Old Time, and the California Cajun Orchestra, and have worked with Jerry Garcia, Maria Muldaur, David Grisman, Jim Kweskin and Geoff Muldaur, Darol Anger, Laurie Lewis, Tom Rozum, the Savoy Doucet Cajun Trio, and many other fine roots musicians.

Eric Thompson has been considered a pioneer in the bluegrass guitar world since his teenage years in Palo Alto, California in the early 1960s, at a time when very few folk guitarists were playing more than basic rhythm guitar. Among his earliest bands were the Black Mountain Boys (with Jerry Garcia and David Nelson) and Mother McCree's Uptown Jug Champions. He quickly became nationally known as an exceptional lead flatpicker, winning the World Championship Cup at Union Grove, North Carolina with the New York Ramblers (which also included David Grisman and Winnie Winston) and flying to Nashville, Tennessee to record Beatle Country with the Charles River Valley Boys.

During the later 1960s and 1970s, Eric continued to play old-time music, recording with Mike Seeger, Jody Stecher, Dr. Humbead's New Tranquility String Band, and the Spare Change Boys. He took up the tenor banjo, organized the Graineog Celidh Band around two master musicians from County Clare (Joe Cooley and Kevin Keegan) and spent six months in the west of Ireland, visiting and learning from older traditional musicians there.

In 1977, Eric recorded his first solo LP, Bluegrass Guitar, featuring an all-star band including David Grisman and Tony Rice; it has been reissued (with additional duet tracks with David Grisman) as Thompson's Real. A duet album with guitarist Alan Senauke, Two Guitars, featured a more
eclectic mix, ranging from American bluegrass to Irish reels to Greek rembetika, prefiguring today's world music genre.

In the 1980s Eric toured extensively nationwide and abroad with the Blue Flame Stringband (with Kate Brislin, Alan Senauke, and Suzy Thompson) and the Backwoods Band, recording with both bands. Between tours, he traveled to southwest Louisiana, pursuing his newest musical interest, Cajun music. In 1983 he formed the California Cajun Orchestra and appears on their two award-winning Arhoolie CDs. More recently he has recorded with the Todalo Shaker and the Bluegrass Intentions. Eric appears as a sideman on recordings by Mike Seeger, Alice Gerrard, the Savoy-Doucet Cajun Band, Mac Benford, Jody Stecher, and Frankie Armstrong, among others. His most recent CD is Kleptograss with Jody Stecher, Scott Nygaard, Paul Shelasky, and Paul Knight, which was released in December 2010 and is receiving national airplay.

A knowledgeable and patient teacher, Eric has been a staff member at Kamp Kaufman, Puget Sound Guitar Workshop, Bluff Country Gathering, Augusta Heritage Old-Time and Cajun-Creole Weeks, Port Townsend Festival of American Fiddle Tunes, Ashokan Fiddle and Dance Camp, and Lark in the Morning. His instructional videos are distributed by Stefan Grossman's Guitar Workshop. Eric is featured in the Mel Bay book Flatpicking 2000 and is the coauthor of Bluegrass Guitar (Backbeat Publications.)

Suzy Thompson was dubbed "a torchbearer for traditional music in the Bay Area" by SingOut! Magazine. A founder and/or member of many of the Bay Area's most influential roots music groups, including Any Old Time String Band, the Klezmorim, and the California Cajun Orchestra, Suzy studied classical violin as a child and taught herself to play the guitar at age 12. At age 18, she became interested in traditional American fiddle music and began making a specialty of older blues- and ragtime-influenced fiddle styles of players such as Arthur Smith, Doc Roberts, and the East Texas Serenaders, learning tunes from old 78s and from field recordings.

In 1976, Suzy formed the all-woman Any Old Time String Band, touring throughout California and recording for Arhoolie. She was also briefly a member of the Klezmorim, and appears on their second album, Streets of Gold. Other recording credits include work with Geoff Muldaur and the Texas Sheiks (with Jim Kweskin), Dave Alvin, Maria Muldaur, Laurie Lewis, Alice Gerrard, Darol Anger, Jody Stecher and Kate Brislin, and the Savoy-Doucet Cajun Band, among others. Suzy has released two solo cds: Stop and Listen (Arhoolie) and No Mockingbird (Native and Fine). Her most recent recording is Hen Party, a duet album with Del Rey, released in fall 2010.

In 1976, Suzy's interest in Cajun music was sparked by seeing the Balfa Brothers perform. She travelled to southwest Louisiana, receiving an NEA Fellowship in 1980 to apprentice with Master Cajun musician Dewey Balfa; she also studied with Cajun fiddle legends Dennis McGee, Cheese Read, and Wade Fruge. The 1980s saw Suzy touring and recording with the Blue Flame Stringband and the Backwoods Band, including several appearances on the Prairie Home Companion radio show.

In 1983, Suzy formed the California Cajun Orchestra, featuring Louisiana-born accordionist Danny Poullard; both of the CCO's CDs won national awards, including an NAIRD Indie for Best Cajun- Zydeco Album. Suzy has performed with many of Louisiana's finest Cajun musicians, including D.L. Menard, Michael Doucet and Beausoleil, Dewey Balfa, and Marc and Ann Savoy. She appears in Les Blank's film on Cajun and Zydeco music, J'ai Été au Bal.

Suzy coproduced and served as musical consultant for Yasha Aginsky's documentary film about the New Lost City Ramblers, Always Been a Rambler (2009). She represented the U.S. on a Masters of the Folk Violin Tour in Scotland and England and has been an instructor at many festivals and music camps, including Augusta Heritage Cajun-Creole and Old Time Weeks, Centrum Blues Week, Puget Sound Guitar Workshop, Ashokan Fiddle and Dance Camp, Port Townsend Festival of American Fiddle Tunes, and Lark in the Morning. From time to time she writes for Strings Magazine on traditional American fiddle styles and is a regular reviewer for the Old-Time Herald.

In 2010, Suzy was appointed artistic director of the Festival of American Fiddle Tunes, a week-long workshop and festival in Port Townsend Washington, now in its 34th year. In 2003, she founded the Berkeley Old-Time Music Convention, a five-day festival that brings together old-time musicians from far and wide to play, sing, listen, learn, teach, dance, and celebrate the rich heritage of America's traditional music. She continues to serve as director of the BOTMC, now in its ninth year.