|Bob Thompson Music|
When I think about my father's musical roots, I often think of the scene of in The Jerk, where Mavin Johnson (Steve Martin) hears "white music" on the radio - explicitly 4/4, cautious, and emotionally shallow - and declares he has found the "music of his people that makes (him) want to get up and be somebody!" The joke of is that it reverses the cliché of white people hearing music created by African Americans for the first time and having their minds blown. Some also discovered they were musicians. This cliché was real for Bob.
Despite the horrible stereotypes of the scene it does capture a certain experience. I suppose that feeling was particularly intense for rural people like my father in the 1930s and 1940s who had no exposure to these sounds through social connections or sheet music.
What I am envious of (in only one way) is the cultural isolation of a place like Auburn, California, where my father is from. The impact of hearing Duke Ellington for the first time was like hearing sounds that might as well have come from Mars. Like TV for videos, the Internet for universal access to everything musical, the radio was the way that new ideas crossed cultural chasms, and for Bob, replaced Auburn's nothing with something -- a window into sly humor, rebellion, intellectual complexity, and general abundance that was lacking for a poor child raised in the depression.
I also hear in my father's music in a songs like MMM,Nice! and Hey Playboy the sexuality in jazz and how liberating it felt to someone raised in a Puritanical world. Discovering Af-Am music is a cliche but it has happened again and again through each generation as it has led the way musically, culturally, and even politically.
By the 1990s, Bob knew that his solo records had become "Americana" (and I hope not "camp.)" RCA hired him in the late 1950s to make LPs that were a commercial answer to artists such as Ray Coniff who made records that inspired the Jerk's cultural awakening. As Bob said with great irony: "My direct competition was How Much is that Doggie in the Window!" What RCA asked for and what they got was something that was somewhere in-between and included covers of Duke Ellington, doubled percussion, be-bop licks, and at times balls-to-the walls energy.
Spenser Thompson shares anecdotes, music, and videos from Bob Thompson's music career plus thoughts on artists from Duke to Devo.