Revelator Hill frontman Bobby Thompson has the kind of voice that only comes of long seasoning. His is an easy, lived-in baritone, possessed of ample finesse tempered with just the right measure of rasp, cured to mellow perfection by years of playing gigs in smoky bars. Thompson’s voice, and his latter-day success with Revelator Hill, is yet more evidence that if rock ‘n’ roll is a young man’s game, then authentic blues is best delivered by the… well, the not-quite-so-young.
A long-time Washington D.C. fixture as a guitar playing sideman, Thompson spent many years honing his guitar chops and cultivating the all-around skills he would eventually deploy in fronting his own band. Thompson played blues, rock and reggae with a variety of outfits in the region, including one project wherein he collaborated with former members of Bob Marley’s Wailers.
Come age 40, Thompson says he knew it was time to step out on his own, first as leader of The Bobby Thompson Project, then under the more blues-appropriate moniker of Revelator Hill. “This is the culmination of all the work I’ve done,” Thompson says of RH. “It took me a while, to get to the point where I felt like I had all the skills — singing, songwriting, band leading.
Thompson has been a sought-after guitar player since his 20s, possessed of a versatility that sees him at ease playing stinging blues licks or turbo-charged rock ‘n’ roll, at weaving sensitive acoustic lattice works or picking terse electric lines with impeccable an milk-fed tone from his trusty Gibson SG.
Thompson credits Eric Clapton and Jimi Hendrix along with blues’ “Three Kings” — B.B., Albert, and Freddy — as his six-string guiding lights, with some cross-pollinating influence from more recent blues rockers like ex-Black Crowes guitarist Marc Ford and Gov’t Mule frontman Warren Haynes.
His vocal influences include old-school warhorses the likes of Gregg Allman and Leon Russell, but also any number of singers whom he absorbed and studied throughout the D.C. area, during his years as a working musician. “Learning to sing the way I wanted took me a while,” he says. “Like most guitar players, I’ve always watched other players to steal their licks.
“But then there came a time when I watched guys to see how they sing, and absorb that part of what they do. I’ve never been good at directly emulating people, which has always been frustrating for me. So what I’ve had to do is take little pieces from everywhere, and try to put those different pieces together. Which I think is actually a better way to go. You make it your own that way.”
Touring now on the strength of his recent in-performance release “Live by the Creek,” Thompson says his solo career has begun to gather a head of steam. “I’m really happy with this band,” he says. “I really have a good group of guys now, guys who can really carry their own weight. On the live album, we were able to extend the songs a bit, carry them out in such a way that’s comparable to what a jam band would do.
“We’re writing songs now, but we really don’t have a firm idea of where that’s going to go. I’ve been listening to Chris Stapleton and Sturgill Simpson, and it’s starting to have an effect. We may dabble in a more folk and country sound. We’re not sure what direction it will take, but that stuff is definitely rubbing off.”
Revelator Hill will play Funny Ears Fringe Festival Friday, March 23 at 12:20 a.m. at Preservation Pub.