Some of Richard Thompson’s most memorable music has been created during periods of turbulence or change in his life, though a thread of irrepressable feeling and innate facility as a guitarist, singer and songwriter winds through his entire career.
The connection applies to the British musician’s most recent album, 2018’s “13 Rivers,” created in the wake of his divorce — after which Thompson relocated to the U.S.
Thompson wrote and recorded 13 songs for the album, which has been greeted with almost uniformly positive reviews.
“It was a difficult time for the family, and the music on ‘13 Rivers’ reflects some of that difficulty,” Thompson said, taking a call to his home in Southern California in September.
“The opening track — ‘The Storm Might Come’ — is the album in microcosm. I think it sums up the feel and the emotion of the record.”
Thompson brings his Richard Thompson Electric Trio to Honolulu on Friday for a one-nighter celebrating KTUH radio’s 50th anniversary at Hawaiian Brian’s.
The event is bringing radio station alumni together from throughout the years to celebrate KTUH’s longevity and influence on Honolulu music-lovers, with a series of events at Hawaiian Brian’s venue.
DJ Z-Trip, nationally known since 2001 and a major-label artist since 2005, plays the after-party, to which separate tickets are available. The DJ has worked with a long list of artists, live and in the studio. He is credited as a pioneer of mashup.
“I still really enjoy making traditional albums,” Thompson said. KTUH DJs can surely appreciate that, as vinyl albums continue to be played on air at the station, which has an extensive collection.
“Especially on vinyl, there’s lots of room for artwork, which I think is a nice complement to the music,” Thompson said. “I know it’s very convenient to download individual tracks and stick them on your iPlayer as kind of a soundtrack to your life, and I appreciate that as well, but I do like to make the statement of an album.”
BORN AND raised in London, Thompson grew up with music.
His father was an amateur musician who played guitar, listened to jazz and traditional Scottish music and liked the music of the French Gypsy guitarist Django Reinhardt.
Thompson absorbed it all, and embraced American rock ’n’ roll as well.
He formed his first band, Emil and the Detectives, when he was still in high school, and became one of the original members of the acclaimed British folk-rock group Fairport Convention shortly afterwards.
Thompson’s guitar-playing got the group its first record deal.
That was the beginning of a musical career that has continued for more than 50 years.
Thompson has worked as a solo artist, as a duo with his first wife, Linda Peters Thompson, in a group made up of other relatives, and in numerous collaborations on projects ranging from Renaissance-era melodies to avant garde experimentation.
Looking back over a body of work that goes back to his first album with Fairport Convention in 1968, Thompson says frankly, “Not every song is a classic.” Yet some are.
“If you’re not writing to a formula, if you’re trying to experiment sometimes, you’re going to fail sometimes, but if you stay true to yourself, you will come up with a few classics,” he said. “There’s a lot of songs that I still play going right back to 1968.
“There’s songs I like from my time with Fairport Convention, there’s songs I like from my time with Linda. I still play lots of those songs and I think the audience likes to hear them as well. And there’s songs I’ve recorded that I’ll never probably ever play live. It’s just never gonna happen.”
One of the perks of Thompson’s stature as a recording artist and songwriter is the opportunity to meet some of the guitarists who inspired him.
“Obviously I missed Django Reinhardt (who died in 1953), but I’ve met Les Paul, which was great. He was one of my father’s heroes, so I got a nice signed picture of myself with Les and gave it to my father. I’ve met Hank Marvin of the Shadows, he’s a very sweet guy, George Van Epps (who invented a seven-string guitar) and James Burton.”
“Eric Clapton I’ve met. You bump into people.”
Turn it around, and Thompson isn’t comfortable when people tell him that he’s an “inspiration,” let alone when music media mavens write him up as a “guitar god.”
HE’S BEEN hailed as “the finest rock songwriter after Dylan” and “the best electric guitarist since Hendrix” by the Los Angeles Times.
Rolling Stone has proclaimed him one of the top rock guitarists of all time.
Thompson politely accepts compliments from fans, and from other musicians, but he wonders what they’re seeing.
“I’m not very good with praise of any kind,” he said. “I try and deflect it.
“If you’re a working musician, you don’t have a lot of perspective on your own music. You’re in it, but you don’t have any distance on it.”
We had another question for him: On the 1996 album “You? Me? Us?” Thompson included a song titled, “Put It There, Pal” that neatly blends the hostility of Bob Dylan’s “Positively 4th Street” with the passive aggression of Carly Simon’s signature song, “You’re So Vain.”
Did the person Thompson wrote the song to ever realize that the song was about them?
“I don’t think they would ever know, because of the way they are,” Thompson said with a chuckle. “They would never be able to see themselves in that way.”
KTUH 50TH GOLDEN ANNIVERSARY
>> Where: Hawaiian Brians
>> When: 5:30 p.m. Friday reception; 8 p.m. concert; 11 p.m. afterparty
>> Cost: concert, $50; afterparty $25; VIP $90-$150, including reception
>> Info: brownpapertickets.com
>> Note: Richard Thompson plays at 8 p.m. After party with DJ Z-Trip at 11 p.m.