Tommy Thompson ...
passed away on January 24, 2003, after suffering from an Alzheimer's-like illness for several years.  He last performed with the Red Clay Ramblers at the Carrboro ArtsCenter in September 1994, and his last public performance was with fellow founders of the Red Clay Ramblers Mike Craver and Bill Hicks at Carrboro's Fete de la Musique in 1998..   In addition to his legacy in RCR and Hollow Rock String Band music, Tommy’s credits include many theater productions. He created and performed the one-act play The Last Song of John Proffit.  With Bland Simpson, he wrote the musical Life on the Mississippi, based on Mark Twain’s novel.  With Jack Herrick and Don Baker, he co-authored Ear Rings, a musical adaptation of Lee Smith’s Oral History.  Tommy, Jack, and John Haber created the Merry Wives of Windsor, Texas.  Tommy and RCR provided the music for Sam Shepard’s play Lie of the Mind and his film Far North and performed in a second Shepard film, Silent Tongue.
July 22, 1937 - January 24, 2003
Tommy Thompson Tribute Site
Jesse writes of her journey with her dad and his Alzheimer's-like illness in Jesse's Letters.  These letters grew into parts of the play A Tune for Tommy, written, by Jesse, Jeff Storer, and Ed Hunt.
In October, 2010, Tommy Thompson was elected to the West Virginia Music Hall of Fame.  The induction ceremony takes place in October, 2011.  His nomination said: "Tommy Thompson of St. Albans. Born and raised in St. Albans, Thompson first heard many of the old jazz players and was introduced to Cajun music during a stint as a Coast Guard officer in New Orleans. He entered the graduate program in philosophy at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 1963 where he divided his time between the five-string banjo and academia. In 1971, he took first place at the prestigious World Champion Old Time Banjo contest in Union Grove, NC. That same year, he co-founded the original Red Clay Ramblers, which he anchored for 22 years. Thompson died in 2003."
Orange Co (NC) Resolution Honoring Tommy/Red Clay Ramblers: "Celebrate the outstanding creative, cultural, and intellectual contributions of Tommy Thompson's life and his deeply rooted commitment to civil rights and progressive achievements during his life, and mourn the loss of this great cultural resource, who came to represent the music of the Tar Heel State to a worldwide audience."
Full Text
Hollow Rock String Band - an early band for Tommy and Bobbie and part of the roots of the Red Clay Ramblers.  New for 2004 - a new CD reissue of the second Hollow Rock String Band LP as part of the double CD Hollow Rock Legacy.  Hollow Rock fiddler Alan Jabbour writes "there is no better collection anywhere of the oldtime banjo playing of Tommy Thompson, who passed away in 2003."
Although Tommy left the Red Clay Ramblers in 1994, he still sang with his daughter Jesse at Carrboro Day, 1998 as well as with Mike and Bill at Carrboro, N.C.'s first Fete de la Musique.

Mike Craver wrote "Visiting Tommy"

Tributes Tommy has received from his friends and fans.  We thank folks who have taken the time to send along their special memories

In the early 90's, Tommy wrote his memories of the Hollow Rock years
The Last Song of John Proffit, Tommy's one-act, one-actor play about Dan Emmit, the birth of American music, and life in pre-Civil War North Carolina.  And we just added Tommy's poem "Banjo."
Articles and Interviews
1998 interviews with Tommy and Jesse about their Carrboro performances from The Chapel Hill Herald and The Chapel Hill News
"‘New-timey music’ a Rambler calls it" - 1984 Richmond (Va) Times Dispatch interview with Tommy Thompson
"Peggin On in 1970: Interview with Banjo Player Tommy Thompson" from the NC Anvil
"Going Through Stages: The Many Careers of the Red Clay Ramblers" 1988 Interview with  Tommy Thompson in Option Music Alternatives.  Tommy discusses the band's relationship to old-time, Sam Shepard, Eugene Chadbourne, and Roger Miller.
Tar Heel of the Week - Raleigh News & Observer profiles Tommy
Tommy Thompson - High-energy Clawhammer Banjo - Frets Magazine, November 1980 - lots of info about Tommy's banjos and playing style
Folk Life Interview with Tommy Thompson, April, 1978 - and we now have part 2!
"See our "Souvenirs" page for many other articles about Tommy's last years in the band.  We add new ones all the time.
Alzheimer's Resources with Tommy Thompson Sections
Between Two Worlds: Special Moments of Alzheimer’s and Dementia by Ellen P. Young has a chapter in it about Tommy Thompson.  The hardcover book, released  in May, 1999, is available through  It’s not a reference, but rather a quiet boost toward the brighter side of a difficult time. All royalties go to Alzheimer's research for a cure.
     The book is reviewed by the Editor of Geriatric Psychiatry News, Sandra Swantek, M.D., who also is a long time Red Clay Rambler fan.  You used to be able to read her comments online about both the book and the music.  Try Google.
From Here to Hope, a video about how families cope with Alzheimer’s and dementia, devotes a large section to Tommy and Jesse under the topic Mid-Stage Alzheimer’s.  Lisa Gwyther and Claiborne Clark of Duke made the video.  The cost for VHS format is $25 plus $5 shipping and handling.  Call 919-684-3748 to order.
Musicians History
July 4, 2010