Saturday, October 20, 2007

Marjorie Thompson
on the same program with
Bonnie Lee Panda

— Fingerstyle guitar, country blues and originals —

MARJORIE THOMPSON arjorie Thompson is a singer-songwriter and fingerstyle guitarist from Providence, RI. She plays and sings in the time honored genres of the country blues, rags, and roots music, and will play originals reflective of this style but with contemporary twists. She tours the northeast and mid Atlantic, and has opened shows for Richie Havens, Hot Tuna, Richard Shindell, and Chris Smither, among others. She also teaches guitar at Jorma Kaukonen's Fur Peace Ranch, in Ohio.

arjorie has worked hard and excelled at three careers, any one of which would cause many to bow under the pressure. What she has in common with the fingerstyle guitarists and songwriters and singers of the blues, country blues, and folk traditions is that she has lived life fully and made pointed and poignant observations about it.

riginally from New York City, she took up the guitar in the mid-1960's. A desire to study piano was thwarted by the constraints of small apartment living in Brooklyn and Queens; the "consolation prize," at her mother's suggestion, was the $16 department store guitar she received at age 10. Taught by local teens who wore the cool hippie look and forayed into the jungle of Greenwich Village, she became a passionate and fairly adept young player, in the traditional styles of the Blues artists of the 20's and 30's as well as New York street singer Rev. Gary Davis and the rediscovered Mississippi John Hurt (icons of Piedmont-style picking, they were dramatic influences on popular artists emerging in the 1960's).

fter a year of determined and constant playing, she was rewarded with a Guild F-30, similar to John Hurt's, which she still owns. By age 12, Marjorie could pick a solid alternating thumb groove with a detailed melody line, no mean feat even for older, more experienced players. And she loved it. At the same time, she discovered a strong attraction for science, borne of a precollege program in 1969 that galvanized her passion for biology by the age of 15. Life's paths brought college and graduate school, and the pursuit of studies at Brown University during the 1970s. Each year she wished for additional achievement in her playing, but each year was largely devoted to studies, and to the demands of "real life." In 1974, Marjorie received a degree in Biochemistry, followed by a PhD in Biology in 1979. The biological knowledge was quickly put to practical use: the first of her seven children was born in 1980.

  pivotal event in the music world of 1970, and especially Marjorie's music world, was the release of Hot Tuna's first album. Hot Tuna was a spinoff of the popular psychedelic band Jefferson Airplane, bringing together its lead guitarist, Jorma Kaukonen, and bassist Jack Casady in an acoustic duo that drew its themes from the country blues that had shaped and propelled Marjorie's own playing. And while academia and, later, a new and growing family meant even less time with the guitar, the spark remained. Each New Year's, she would resolve to learn "Hesitation Blues" (a Rev. Gary Davis piece) the way Jorma played it so famously. Beginning in 1983 — and still going strong — she has been part of the biology faculty and deanery at Brown, doing what she also loves: teaching and advising students.

MARJORIE THOMPSON ... But then something special and important happened in 1999.

"That spring, I noticed an ad in Acoustic Guitar magazine," she remembers. "A photograph of Jorma Kaukonen himself! He had opened a guitar camp in rural southeastern Ohio. Did my eyes deceive? No, it was true." The Fur Peace Ranch Guitar Camp was offering weekend workshops with Jorma and other master musicians (including Jorma's Hot Tuna partner, Jack Casady).

"I was terrified, but wrote the deposit check immediately."

The first visit to the camp in August 1999 returned her musical pursuits to the fore. She rediscovered the passion and desire to play that she had experienced as a teenager. Something dormant had sprung back to life. She returned repeatedly to the camp in the ensuing year — she still holds the record for the most-frequent student — to study with Jorma, now her master teacher and good friend. "Hesitation Blues" was comfortable at last, but she still thought of herself as a guitar hobbyist.

Then things changed again:

Marjorie had played a lot of guitar over 35 years, but had never written a song. In the summer of 2001, she heard songs that were demanding to be written — the Rev. Gary Davis used to say that songs were "revealed" to him, and the muse now was so strong she understood what he had meant. Past and present influences met and a unique style, a metaphorical voice, emerged. By November of that year she had written 40 songs. There are over 100 now). Jorma's wife and manager and Marjorie's friend, Vanessa, pronounced the songs and Marjorie's performance of them good and urged her to seek an audience.

The diminutive Marjorie, with a full time academic job and a full house — to say nothing of stage fright — became her own booking agent and producer. A demo CD opened the door to a year's worth of bookings — 92 the first year out.

Since then, she has recorded four studio albums of her songs with a proper producer and engineer, and her career as a country blues artist has continued to grow, with neither end nor plateau in sight. She continues to play scores of concerts each year both in the U.S. and overseas.

More recently, she has served as Jorma Kaukonen's teaching assistant at Fur Peace Ranch. In 2007 she appeared in the Fur Peace Ranch course list as an instructor in her own workshop, "Songcrafting and Country Blues Essentials," which was quickly filled. Also in 2007 she recorded her fifth album, which like the previous four is filled with quirky, humorous and heartfelt original songs.

Recording and teaching would be enough to consume most people's time, but Marjorie maintains an active tour schedule, playing throughout the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states, as well as European tours and events and festivals around the United States.

arjorie brought her clear, expressive voice and solid guitar-playing to Long Island for what proved to be an uplifting, intimate and engaging evening. This was a great opportunity to experience the talents of this exciting folk performer at our Hard Luck Café.

Praises for her performances:

  • "Marjorie Thompson gives the singer-songwriter thing a kick of guitar proficiency, a grounding in traditional Tin Pan Alley pop and lyrics that are poetic yet universal enough, like good blues, to break out of the genre's stereotypical solipsism."
      Rick Massimo, Providence Journal Music Writer

  • "Marjorie's work is at the highest level of folk-acoustical literacy and addresses the durability of relationships by transporting the listener into a sweeping voyage whose melody and message resonate within a reverie of reflective introspection."
      Stan Jay, President, Mandolin Bros., NY

  • "It is her extraordinary fingerstyle acoustic picking and ingenious songwriting ability that make (her) entire CD a triumph."
      Michael Ventre,

  • "Your playing is stellar and your voice is bluesy, angelic and true all at the same time. Everyone who loves acoustic music should buy (her) CD."
      Bob McCarthy

  • "Everything, from the songwriting, performance, instrumentals, the whole thing from head to toe is really outstanding and a treat to listen to."
      Fran LaMalva

  • "Her writing and singing is wonderful as always ... her playing is endearing. This is a great addition to her body of work!""
      Jorma Kaukonen, Hot Tuna

Link to her site:       Listen to music clips:  

... or See/Purchase her biologically correct jewelry

and on the same program


— A Little Bit Country, A Little Bit Folk And Soul —

BONNIE LEE PANDA onnie Lee Panda has the voice of an angel heard through songs that soar with spirit. A Cheshire, CT native, Connecticut Magazine recognizes Bonnie Lee as one of the new generation of singer-songwriters in Connecticut with a "big voice and telegenic looks." Her music is a blend of country-folk with soul. In 2006, Bonnie Lee was named a finalist in the prestigious Plowshare's songwriting contest in Phoenixville, PA. In 2004, Bonnie Lee advanced into the regional finals in the Nashville Star Competition, after winning the local finals. She performed live and interviewed on Hartford's WWYZ Country 92.5 FM.

fter listening to her recordings, John Platt (WFUV 90.7 FM, New York City) said "Her voice is supple and expressive, one of the best instruments in the folk world." For the past few years, Bonnie Lee has been touring clubs and coffee shops throughout the Northeast, including featuring at The Sounding Board in Hartford, CT, The Postcrypt in NYC and hosting the reputable Vanilla Bean Cafe's open mic in Pomfret CT. Bonnie Lee also donates her time and talents for many benefits.

onnie Lee just released her second CD, "Live", which Mark Thayer from Signature Sounds Studio recorded at the Vanilla Bean Café in Pomfret, CT. After listening to her recording, John Platt (WFUV 90.7 FM, New York City) said "Her voice is supple and expressive, one of the best instruments in the folk world." For the past few years, Bonnie Lee has been touring clubs and coffee shops throughout the Northeast, including featuring at The Sounding Board in Hartford, CT, The Postcrypt in NYC and the Nameless Coffeehouse in Cambridge, MA. She also hosts the reputable Vanilla Bean's open mic on the first Friday of every month. She has opened for Tracy Grammer and Jim Henry.

onnie Lee has her donated her time and talents in performances at assisted living, hospice and nursing homes, shelters, benefits for recovery centers, for hunger and homelessness awareness, and other events for worthy causes. Bonnie Lee’s says about her passion for singing and her love of songs:

"I love to perform and share my music with others. From the time I was eight I knew my passion was singing. I would spend hours in my bedroom, singing along with the radio with a hairbrush as my microphone. I was shy at first, but my passion helped me overcome that. This is what I’m meant to do!"

BONNIE LEE PANDA onnie Lee graduated with honors from the University of Connecticut in 2001 with a BA in Psychology. While at UConn, she co-founded the Chordials, the first thriving a cappella group on campus. Also among her musical experiences are ten years of private classical vocal training, lead singer in a jazz band, rhythm guitarist and vocalist in a country band, and National Anthem performer (2004 & 2005 CT Special Olympics, New Britain Rock Cats baseball and UConn men's basketball games).

his was Bonnie's first visit to our Hard Luck Café stage, and we were very pleased to welcome her for this evening of exciting music with this outstanding singer-songwriter.

Praises for her performances:

  • "Her voice is supple and expressive, one of the best instruments in the folk world ..."
      John Platt — WFUV-FM

    Link to her site:           Listen to music clips:  

Our host tonight was Dave Waxman, and our open mike featured performances by:








  •   ... and SUSAN COHEN

  • If you weren't here tonight, you missed yet another of the very best programs of the year ...