Born: Fayetteville, NC
Home: Berkeley Springs, WV
Billy, having grown up as an army brat, has lived all over the U.S including Fort Benning, GA, Lake Charles, LA, Albuquerque, NM, Yuma, AZ, San Deigo, CA and Virginia Beach, VA. He started playing music in his late teens and developed his early musical stylings through his San Diego based bands such as, Johnnie Cook, The Fingers and The Mighty Penguins.
The crafting of his blueswork was heavily influenced by his touring and time spent with Larry "Arkansas" Davis, who stated, "Bill, you writin' the blues of the future."
Vintage Blues magazine has said of Billy, "He sings with no boundaries and literally picks his ass off."
Major Influences: Eric Clapton, Jimi Hendrix, Jeff Beck, Professor Longhair, The Meters, Sonny Landreth, Lowell George, Duane Allman, Buddy Guy, Albert King, BB King, John Hiatt, Danny Gatton, Albert Lee... and many more
Has Performed Live With:
Little Milton, Albert King, Art Neville, Earl King, Larry "Arkansas" Davis, Elvin Bishop, Chuck Berry, Sir Harry Bowens,Billy Branch, Leslie Uggams, Marva Hicks, Ivan Neville, Mark Campbell, Daryl Johnson, Gary Puckett
Has Opened for:
B.B. King, Buddy Guy, Bobby "Blue" Bland, Boz Scaggs, The Neville Brothers, Dickey Betts, Joe Cocker, Sonny Landreth, Robert Cray, Taj Mahal, John Hammond Jr., Bobby Womack, Robben Ford, Junior Walker and the Allstars, Lee Roy Parnell, The Dirty Dozen Brass Band, Albert Lee, Joe Louis Walker, Cocoa Montoya, War, Jimmie Vaughan, Gallactic, Anson Funderburg, Debbie Davies, Kenny Neal, Robert Walter's 20th Congress, Lucky Peterson, Angela Strehli, Janiva Magness, Ronnie Baker Brooks and more.
2009-European tour as featured guitarist with Queen Esther Marrow and the Harlem Gospel Singers
2004 - Guitarist / Songwriter / Musical Supervisor for the Keith Glover play entitled "The Rose of Corazon."
2002 - Lead guitarist for Tony Award winning playwright Keith Glover's critically acclaimed "Bluesical", "Thunder Knocking On The Door" featuring original music by Keb Mo and Anderson Edwards.
2001 - Lead guitarist for the Broadway musical "It Ain't Nothin' But The Blues" directed by Randal Mylar (Love Janis). Musical direction: Dan Wheatman. Associate musical direction: Jim Ehinger. Written by: Dan Wheatman, "Mississippi" Charles Bevel, and Ron Taylor.
Eric Selby - Drums
Gene Monroe - Bass
Michael Leroy Peed - keyboards, West Coast keyboards
Dave Curtis - West Coast bass
James East - west coast Bass & Vocals
Coat of many Colors - The Mighty Penguins 1994
Tangerine Sky - Billy Thompson 1998
Area 51 - Billy Thompson 2005
Remixed and Remastered- Billy Thompson - 2009
A Better Man - Billy Thompson- Papa Lee Records 2011
The fifth CD "A Better Man" was produced by Grammy Award winning producer Tony Braunagel. Braunagel, currently drummer for The Robert Cray Band, enlisted a strong lineup of former bandmates and friends to play on the CD.
Braunagel, who played drums on the project, describes Billy as "a funky mofo with a soulful vocal style and songs that draw you in."
Musicians on the CD include some of the industry's most experienced, including members of Little Feat, Taj Mahal, Bonnie Raitt, Crosby, Stills & Nash, Joe Cocker, and the Phantom Blues Band. In addition to Thompson on guitar and vocals and Braunagel on drums, Johnny Lee Schell adds guitar and sings background vocals and is joined by bassists Hutch Hutchinson and Kenny Gradney, keyboard player Mike Finnigan, percussionist Lenny Castro and trumpeter Darrell Leonard and saxophonist Joe Sublett from the Texicali Horns.
The lineup is rounded out by San Diego standout Michael Leroy Peed on piano and clavinet and background vocalist Niki Morrissette.
"A Better Man" official release date 1/ 11/ 2011 is receiving airplay nationally and in Europe.
Featured Blues Review
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Blues Blast Magazine Issue 5-23 June 9, 2011 Featured Blues Review 3 of ... Blues Blast Magazine Issue 5-23 June 9, 2011
Featured Blues Review 3 of 8
Billy Thompson - A Better Man
Papa Lee Records
Pardon the cliché, but Billy Thompson is a force of nature. Funky gospel infused Memphis-style soul oozes from his very being. His husky soulful voice wrapped up in a blues-hipster delivery is hard to resist, especially when it’s propped up by a grooving band of A-list musicians such as Mike Finnigan, Kenny Gradney, Hutch Hutchinson, Johnny Lee Schell, Lenny Castro, The Texacali Horns and producer-drummer Tony Braunagel. The blues part of the equation is delivered by Billy’s slithering electric slide work, that at times is so locked in with his voice that it’s coming from one place. Finnigan’s organ provides a groove-filled cushion for Billy’s workouts to float atop. The percussion one-two punch of Braunagel and Castro beef-up the attack. The music possesses such freshness that it comes off as always being there. Nothing sounds forced. Billy’s slide moves the tunes along effortlessly.
I’m hard pressed to pick a favorite here, as brilliant touches abound at every turn. The lyrics in this batch of originals are of the reflective, positive and spiritual type. After a listen, you feel as if you’ve been to a funky-soul church. The revival feel of the opener “Are You Ready” is a gospel-drenched affair, which quickly displays the power of the snaky slide work. It sounds churchy, but it’s a profession of love to a woman. This song slips right into the cool-groove jazzy-boogie shuffle of “A Better Man” that benefits from Finnigan’s jazzy organ. Thompson also shows he is no slouch at playing regular guitar on this tune and others. A herky-jerky rhythm brew of slide and percussion make “Noreen” fit like a glove. “Just like a ballgame and a hotdog” is one of the many analogies used to describe the muse of “Met My Match”, which puts the punchy Texacali Horns to good use. The slide-master once again comes to the rescue as it skips along in the brisk “Downside Up”. The band is just as adept at a more relaxed pace, as witnessed on the R&B-gospel inflected love song “Born Again” and the soulful “Oneness”. A harsher tone is applied to his slide playing on the ominous “Bleed” which speaks to the world’s dire state. The haunting background vocal of Niki Morrissette completes the atmosphere. The device of playing what he sings is used here, owing a debt to the old school country-blues masters. “As If” has the feel of a cool day chillin’ in the park. “Up In The Morning” the only real blues song wraps things up with acoustic slide and harmonica propelling this easy country blues.
Music as uplifting, life reassuring and seamless as this is a gift that deserves to be enjoyed by the masses. It sounds as fresh at each additional listening as it does the first time around. Musical or lyrical gems continue to jump out at you. If this music experience doesn’t move your feet and soul, seek help NOW!
Reviewer Greg “Bluesdog” Szalony hails from the New Jersey Delta. He is the proprietor of Bluesdog’s Doghouse at http://bluesdog61.multiply.com.
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Blues Views: Billy Thompson's Remixed & Remastered By Shakin' Dave Hussong Enlarge image Arti...Blues Views: Billy Thompson's Remixed & Remastered
By Shakin' Dave Hussong
Artist: Billy Thompson
Release: Remixed & Remastered, Audio CD Papa Lee Records, 2010
This reviewer became a proponent of this left coast expatriate, now West Virginia resident Billy Thompson, late in life. I missed his 1991 "Coat of Many Colors" release, but since 1994 I have been shouting his praises. The fervor runs more along the lines of “say it loud, I'm blue and I'm proud!”
Thompson's releases represent one-stop contemporary blues shopping. With certainty, that's not to suggest this is artistically economic. Anything but. It represents a single indigo pitstop from a standpoint of all the blues influences that are implied from a disc of this emotional volume. Part of the magic, and it's not illusionary, stems from Thompson’s ability to transform the human experience into such wretching, but fluid, blues hues.
Likewise it is not a foreign feeling to find yourself listening to and identifying with a cut maintaining the spiritual depth of '"Do Right Boy.” In fact you don't have to limit the universality of this master of melisma to any one cut. For any matter it is this artist's self documented life experiences that create a major theme throughout his releases. A brilliant study of contrasts, of life's self employed system of denial and reward, darkness and light, tension and release, the dynamics are so dominant. The temptation is not to write about his level of instrumental expertise, but to throw time honored traditions to the wind and immerse yourself in his depth of expression.
None the less, Thompson's instrumental stewardship puts him in the company of Jimi Hendrix and the brilliant, incomparable and ethereal Sonny Landreth. Both artists are true to the universality that the essence of music imbues. In this writer’s opinion, both Thompson and Landreth share this sacred space, and deserve all true believers to sit up and listen to the tales these enlightened musicians want to share with us.
Check out Billy Thompson at www.billythompsonmusic.com
A Better Man: Billy Thompson's homecoming ... Ace San Diego blues-rock artist returns, armed with hot new CD, for Dec. 1 gig at Anthology
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By George Varga Wednesday, November 24, 2010 at noon There’s no way of knowing for sure if, sinc...By George Varga
Wednesday, November 24, 2010 at noon
There’s no way of knowing for sure if, since leaving his native San Diego in 2006, Billy Thompson has truly become “A Better Man” (to invoke the title of his upcoming fifth album).
But the expertly crafted 13-song collection, due out in January, suggests this blues-rocking guitar and vocal dynamo is an even better musician than before. For that reason alone, his Wednesday, Dec. 1, “pre-CD release” gig at downtown’s all-ages Anthology promises to be a memorable homecoming.
Thompson rose to prominence here in the late 1970s as the lead guitarist in The Fingers, the excellent New Wave rock band that caught the attention of former San Diegans Frank Zappa and Kim Fowley.
After a brief stint working with (of all people) Gary Puckett, Thompson formed The Mighty Penguins in 1987. (Future Eagles' touring member Al Garth, a veteran of Loggins&Messina, joined the band on sax in 1989.)
Specializing in vintage blues, soul and R&B, the Penguins also created a memorable body of original songs, the majority penned by Thompson. By 1991, he and his high-flying group had become the touring band for Southern blues great Larry “Arkansas” Davis. Their work with Davis led to shows backing Albert King and New Orleans music greats Art Neville and Earl King, while Thompson earned praise from such fleet-fingered guitar stars as Albert Lee and Steve Morse.
Since moving to Virginia four years ago, Thompson — once memorably described as looking “like a cross between Roy Clark and a fist” — has toured nationally in the blues musical “Thunder Knocking On the Door” and in Europe with Queen Esther Marrow & The Harlem Gospel Singers. Along the way, Thompson has become an even more accomplished singer, songwriter and guitarist, especially on slide, as “A Better Man” makes vividly clear.
Made last December in Los Angeles, the album was produced by veteran Bonnie Raitt/Robert Cray drummer Tony Braunagel, who plays on every song. It also features such luminaries as Little Feat bassist Kenny Gradney, ex-Crosby, Stills & Nash keyboardist Mike Finnigan and San Diego piano mainstay Mike Peed (who will be among Thompson’s band mates here Wednesday).
As an added bonus, the Anthology show is scheduled to include cameos by two ex-Penguins, Jeff Moore and Bob Campbell, and ex-Fingers’ mainstay Joey Harris. The gig of the week? Very likely.
Also of interest
New Billy Thompson CD full of great bluesy songs
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December 17, 2010 * John Douglas * Local Events Billy Thompson will celebrate his new...December 17, 2010
* John Douglas
* Local Events
Billy Thompson will celebrate his new album, A Better Man, with a CD release party at Earthdog Cafe in Berkeley Springs this Saturday night, December 18.
A Better Man is the fifth CD for Thompson, whose professional career stretches back more than 30 years in blues and rock. He has backed or opened for everyone from B. B. King and Albert King to Joe Cocker and the Neville Brothers.
Originally from San Diego, the singer-guitarist settled in Berkeley Springs a few years ago. Judging from the music on A Better Man, the move was a good one for him.
The opening rocker “Are You Ready?” sets the mood, showing off not only Thompson’s tasty guitar work, but the interplay of his soulful vocals with the guitar lines, as in the work of the classic bluesmen.
Unlike many of today’s blues bands, which recycle the old standards, all of Thompson’s 13 songs are originals. Some break the typical blues mold with their contemporary lyrics and more complex melodies.
A highpoint of the CD is “Born Again,” a lovely tune with lyrics by Kirsten Trump of Berkeley Springs, who also wrote the words for four other songs on the disc.
“Born Again,” with its fresh take on a love song and its warm use of voices, would make a perfect number for someone like Bonnie Raitt.
Another touching one is “Johnny Is a Cloud,” written in memory of an artist friend, whose work is included in the cover art.
Mixed in with such pieces are playful tunes like “Noreen,” with some clever guitar, strutters like “Met My Match” with the Texicali Horns, and “Up In The Morning” where Thompson blows some harmonica, too.
The CD was produced by Tony Braunagel, the drummer in the Robert Cray Band, and includes backup by a bunch of topnotch experienced musicians who have played with the likes of Little Feat, Taj Mahal, Crosby Stills & Nash, and many others.
“I’ve known Billy for 15 years or so and was always attracted to his songwriting,” Braunagel said. “I ran into him on the road and said, ‘Why don’t we make a record on you?’ I got my team in L.A. to show up and everybody brought talents to the recording sessions because they were so impressed by Billy. We had a ball.”
Those who hear the finished product will have a ball, too.
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Billy Thompson is not following anybody's footsteps on his excellent Tangerine Sky (Webster's Last...
Billy Thompson is not following anybody's footsteps on his excellent Tangerine Sky (Webster's Last Word Records). True, the Telecaster tang of the guitarwork is faintly reminiscent of Robert Cray, while the husky voice, slide guitar and funky eclecticism all recall Little Feat. But Thompson's 12 originals are truly original, with thoughtful contemporary lyrics and gripping, heartfelt vocals. The guitar playing is tasty but entirely in-bounds, so the polished work of Thompson's co-conspirators is never shoved aside. Thompson's head, heart and fingers all contribute to a remarkably strong, consistent and cooking contemporary blues release.
Album Reviews / Tangerine Sky
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***1/2 stars out of 4 Musical articulators like Billy Thompson are so rare that their talents des...***1/2 stars out of 4
Musical articulators like Billy Thompson are so rare that their talents deserve our full attention. This 12-song self-produced album is evidence of his deep understanding of R&B and it's power. Long known to San Diegan's as leader of the Mighty Penguins as an accompaniest to such blues and R&B stalwarts as, Little Milton, Art Neville, Larry"Arkansas"Davis and Earl King, Thompson is one of the most creative exponents of R&B today.
He explores contemporary themes against a backdrop of classic R&B. His music often seems to have been born in a sweaty recording studio in Memphis or a street-corner saloon in New Orleans, yet it resonates with an authenticity of today's world.
"Downsizing" chugs with all the fits and starts of a wrenching economy. It tells the story of our lives with tasteful guitar work by Thompson and Bob campbell's soothing saxophone. Other songs explore modern introspections of raising children and probing personal demons as a cause for broken relationships.
Although Thompson writes songs that deftly match his vocals, his guitar work is among the most discriminating in blues and R&B today. His solos are well-crafted and to the point, used with uncommon maturity and taste.
_ Michael Kinsman
Blues based, mostly original material. Rockin' and soulful, swampy and funky, with occasional vintage blues like Bobby Bland's Farther Up the Road, and "Rich Man's Woman" by Muddy Waters or New Orleans, second line standards like "Big Chief" and/or "Pocky Way," interspersed.
Art Neville of the Neville Brothers loves our quasi second line version of Van Morrison's "Into the Mystic" and John Hiatt's "The Crush" ...
We run the groove gamut, basically... keeping the music interesting for everyone!
There are no upcoming dates at this time.