Chipper Thompson’s family – Irish immigrants and their descendents – hail from the Appalachian foothills where Alabama, Georgia, and Tennessee come together, and Chipper grew up in the small north Alabama cotton-farming town of Athens. It is perhaps an unlikely home for such an eclectic singer-songwriter-musician, but in the spirit of great Southern folk music and rock-n-roll, it makes perfect sense.
Limestone County, Alabama is a microcosm of the Old South, with both cottonfields and Appalachian foothills. It’s a place awash in memories, both of the Civil War and the Civil Rights Movement, It’s a place steeped in history, presided over by elegant antebellum mansions and rustic cabins, yet only a few miles from Huntsville, Alabama – one of the highest of NASA’s high-tech enclaves. In this rich, diverse setting Chipper was well-grounded in the musical traditions of his Scots-Irish ancestors and the delta blues... the very foundations of rock-n-roll.
Chipper enjoyed music during his childhood, but was never inclined to play. He was a prototypical nerd who spent his time reading, drawing, and writing, which would lead to his study of journalism and creative writing in college, and his later interest in poster art. Chipper’s father, graphics artist Bob Thompson, was a talented steel guitarist and dulcimer player (whose mother, Chipper’s grandmother, played harmonica!) and when Chipper took up the electric bass in his college years (the nerd in him realized if he played an instrument, he might be able to get a girlfriend!) and often accompanied his dad in casual country-music gigs among friends. Believe it or not, Chipper literally learned much of his music on the front porch of a log cabin! Bob also loved the movie soundtracks of his day, and Lawrence Of Arabia and Doctor Zhivago often wafted through the house in the evenings, an influence Chipper cites as the beginnings of his interest in ethnic and world music, particularly music from the Middle-East.
Chipper’s years at the University of North Alabama (in Florence, the sister-city of Muscle Shoals, one of the great recording capitals of the south) saw him progress through a typical range of cultural exploration, exercising his interest in all sorts of music, from classical music, bluegrass, folk, and blues, to singer-songwriters, progressive rock, and even an (embarassingly tiny) smattering of jazz.
Chipper’s growing love of music superceded college and an ill-advised, very short stint in the U.S. Army, so Chipper moved in with his father and worked a variety of jobs while he honed his instrumental and songwriting chops. Chipper and his best buddy Mike Fowler formed a rock-n-roll band called by a variety of names including Legacy and The Voodoo Gypsies, but before they’d even played one gig they unexpectedly morphed into a folk band, including Bob on dulcimer! (They didn’t have a formal name, though... Bob just refused to be in any band called The Voodoo Gypsies!) They played at many folk gatherings, fiddle contests, and dulcimer festivals throughout the south, usually standing out as the youngest players on stage, and making a small reputation among the old-timers as “that bunch of hippies who are actually not bad!”
After spending several months in Europe (where he played night after night with traditional bands in pubs in the west of Ireland... they were very patient with him...) Chipper married and moved to the mountains of Northern New Mexico, where he honed his songwriting and performing skills at open mics and tiny gigs in the famous art colony of Taos. He played as often as possible, solo and with small groups, which led up to the April 1997 formation of his company, Banjosnake, and the release of his first CD, Strange Lullabies.
Chipper’s ongoing career has led him down many musical paths, including performing with and co-producing two CDs for the folk-rock band Burning Joan (named after one of Chipper’s songs, Burning Joan Again), pushing the envelope of the bouzouki’s frontiers with noted instrumentalist Roger Landes, ripping through old-time American and Scots-Irish ballads with Mason Brown, blasting out folk-goth-n-roll with the Taos rock band Bone Orchard, pounding Middle-Eastern hand drums with the band Radio Free Bassanda, and twanging his way through honky-tonk standards with the country-western group Kim And The Caballeros. As if his schedule wasn’t full enough, Chipper still concentrates on his songwriting, recording, and performing with his own eminently-flexible group, The Feast.
From backwoods Southern hollers and sun-baked cottonfields to mythic Southwestern and Middle-Eastern deserts – with a lot of American memories in between – this is the grade-A, farm-fresh, grain-fed, batter-dipped, deep-fried, golden-brown, Celto-country, Voodoo-vaudeville, folk-n-roll goodness of Chipper Thompson... Welcome to the show!