t an age when most would be content to relax and reflect upon past achievements, 74-year-old Hank Thompson looks to expand upon his legacy. The title of his HighTone Records debut "Seven Decades" alludes to the longevity of Thompson's hall of fame career.
Thompson is pleased that HighTone let him do things his way.
"I want to be happy with the way it sounds. I'm not compromising doing this because someone says this is the way to do it in today's market. I said, 'No, I want to do this like I do things, the way I want it done.' That's the first time I'd really done that since I left Capitol. So, I'm very well pleased with what we did and the way we did it, the sound we got. Everybody had a good time doing it. I think it reflects in the music."
HighTone united Thompson with producer Lloyd Maines, who in recent years has established himself amongst the elite producers in alternative country. The band includes guitarist Thom Bresh, carrying on the tradition of his father Merle Travis, who played with Thompson. Also on hand are fiddlers George Uptmor and Billy McBay, pianist Mark Jordan, bassist Ronnie Ellis and drummer Gene Glover. The album also features some of the last work of steel guitarist Gary Hogue, who died shortly after the recording was completed.
Thompson kicks it off with the light-hearted "Sting In This Ole Bee," which takes a humorous look at the aging process. "A boy in Missouri sent me that song, that idea," says Thompson of co-writer Joe Nelson. "I liked the appeal of it because of my age and the fact that I'd had very good success with a song called 'The Older The Violin, The Sweeter The Music.' I rewrote the song and kind of adapted it to what my thoughts were on things, and it turned out to be a cute little ditty."
Another tune with an age related theme is "New Wine In Old Bottles." "That's a very unusual idea," says Thompson. "A lady named Ann Tygart, who's sent me several songs through the years, sent me that one a while back. I pretty much wrote the song, but I used her idea, and she had a pretty good melody line. I thought that fit along with 'Sting In This Ole Bee,' and a lot of people could listen and identify with that."
"Condo In Hondo" is the tale of what Thompson describes as an "old cowboy that's become disillusioned with riding the range" who decides to settle down. "That would be the reason he would get the condo. And being in that area, I wanted the Tejano music sound to it. When I was writing the song, I was down in Mexico. The condo that we had was right there on an area where a lot of mariachi bands would play in the evenings. So, I'd sit out there and hear that music so I kind of wrote it with that in mind."
"Lobo the Hobo" was originally going to be a song about Thompson's home town. "I always wanted to write a song about Waco, being from there. I never did get around to it and then, of course, that bad thing of the Branch Davidians came up, and Waco became kind of identified with that."
Thompson feared that a song with Waco in the title would bring that tragedy to mind, so he opted to mention Waco only within the song as a jumping off point for the title character."
"We needed just an old blues boogie song for this album so the musicians could have some fun picking courses on it," Thompson says of the arrangement to "Lobo." "Something that's easy and has a good beat to it. So, it flowed real well, and we had a lot of fun with it, and a lot of folks say it's their favorite song on there."
Thompson also does several cover tunes, including the Jimmie Rodgers classic "In The Jailhouse Now." "I remember singing that one when I was a little boy."
Cindy Walker's "Triflin' Gal," a hit for Al Dexter, also gets the Thompson treatment. "It was a number one country song. I used to sing it back then, during the
war, in '44 or '45."
Thompson slows it down for the jazzy ballad "Dinner For One, Please James." "I learned that off a Nat King Cole album. I heard it on the radio one morning when I was in a motel room. I said, 'Boy, that's a pretty song.' So I went down and bought the album."
Thompson goes way back with the song "Abdul Abulbul Amir." "That's an old traditional number. I remember hearing that when I was a kid, and it was a traditional number then. Obviously, it must go back a long way because they're talking in there about the Czar. So, this song had to be of a vintage of around the turn of the century."
Another clever tune is "The Night Miss Nancy Ann's Hotel For Single Girls Burned Down," a hit for Tex Williams in the early '70's. "People for some reason or another got me confused and thought it was my record. I don't know that Tex Williams and I sounded a lot alike, other than the fact that we both did the western swing music with a beat and maybe our voice enunciations were similar. But I used to have people come up and ask me "Do that Nancy Ann's Hotel.' So, I said, 'We're going to do 'Nancy Ann' on this thing, and that way, when somebody comes up and says 'Nancy Ann' I can say, 'Yes, I did record it.'"