Best Bets: Hampton moves front and center at Smyrna Opera House

By Craig Horleman
Posted 11/12/21

Tom Hampton will step out from the shadows and into the spotlight tonight.

Mr. Hampton, along with Smyrna’s own Sol Knopf, Craig Bickhardt and Jesse Terry, will perform a night of songs and …

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Best Bets: Hampton moves front and center at Smyrna Opera House

Posted

Tom Hampton will step out from the shadows and into the spotlight tonight.

Mr. Hampton, along with Smyrna’s own Sol Knopf, Craig Bickhardt and Jesse Terry, will perform a night of songs and tell the stories behind them in another rendition of Mr. Knopf’s Songwriters and Storytellers series at the Smyrna Opera House.

Mr. Hampton is a multi-instrumentalist, sideman, session musician and singer/songwriter best known for backing up such artists as Hooters guitarist John Lilley, Dan May, J.D. Malone and the late Robert Hazard.

He has toured with The Marshall Tucker Band, and in April 2020, he joined the country-rock band Poco as guitarist and vocalist.

He started off his musical career as a drummer and then, bolstered by his love of musicians such as Dan Fogelberg, James Taylor and Jackson Browne, he picked up the guitar and started writing his own songs mainly because “it’s prohibitively difficult to write a song on the drums,” he said.

A Tennessee native, after his honorable discharge from the Navy in 1988, Mr. Hampton relocated to Philadelphia and began working as a musician, first joining bands and later as a solo acoustic act.

He played a mix of his own songs and covers in the 1990s around the Philadelphia area, releasing a critically acclaimed album called “Our Mutual Angels” in 1997.

After a period of time, however, he found himself more in demand as a sideman and for doing session work with other artists. He moved to Nashville in 2013.

“I’m what they call a utility guy in Nashville. I’m the guy that plays stuff that nobody else wants to carry,” he said this week.

The list of stringed instruments that Mr. Hampton has taught himself to play is astounding. It ranges from the pedal steel guitar, the Dobro, the banjo, the mandolin and the baritone guitar to the octave mandolin, the cittern, the bouzouki and the Coral electric sitar.

“I got to a point in my evolution, just in terms of songwriting, I was writing songs and making records, and I started getting calls for session work because I played so many of the instruments on my own records,” he said.

“At one point, that kind of became easier for me, and I feel like maybe — I don’t know if it’s easy to say — that I got lazy but I think a lot of it was just kind of disappointment in just the way that my stuff had been received. You have to have a certain personality style to be able to go out and pick up the phone and talk about yourself all day long and to convince club owners to book you because you know you’re so great, and they should have you in their performing-arts space.”

Growing up in rural west Tennessee, Mr. Hampton said he was exposed to a wide array of music, thanks to one radio station.

“I was lucky enough to grow up within the broadcast radius of a radio station in Jackson, Tennessee, which is about an hour outside of Memphis, that literally played everything. They would play Black Sabbath, and then, they would play James Taylor, and then, they would play Frank Marino and Mahogany Rush, and then, they would play a Genesis song from ‘The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway’ (album), and then, they would go from that to Pure Prairie League. They were just all over the map. Every now and again, you’d hear something that was terrible, but you knew that if you flipped back over in 15 minutes, that you’d hear something amazing,” he said.

Mr. Hampton said that, when he started playing drums as a teenager, he was attracted to the progressive rock, drum-driven groups such as Rush and Genesis.

“But as I kept listening to this other music, Poco and Pure Prairie League and Jackson Browne and James Taylor and the Eagles and Dan Fogelberg and all this stuff that had these harmonies in it — the harmony thing was really what I think roped me in, was hearing just the blend of voices,” he said.

Through it all, Poco was the band he kept going back to. A cover of the Poco song “Made of Stone” is on his 1997 album, which he gave to Poco band member Rusty Young after a concert — and then, everything came full circle.

“I had gone to see them play. I gave Rusty a copy of the record with the song on it, and Rusty and Paul (Cotton) and I became friends from that point. Rusty and Paul to me really were Poco. They were the two people that had been in the band the longest that had kind of forged their musical identity. They were the chief songwriters. And so we became friends from that point,” he said.

“And then, I would open shows, and every now and again, I would sit in on shows, and then in 2019, the guy that was playing with them at the time went out for hip-replacement surgery, and Jack (Sundrud) asked if I would be interested in coming out and subbing because they didn’t want to have to cancel the dates. And when the four of us did that run of shows that winter, it just felt like this is kind of the way this is supposed to be.

“And not quite a month after that last show, when everything started to kind of contract for COVID, Rusty called and offered me the gig full time and made me a member of the main band.”

This year, Poco has seen its share of tragedies, as both Mr. Young and Mr. Cotton passed away months apart from each other.

On Wednesday, Mr. Hampton said that he signed a contract with the surviving members of Poco to carry on their legacy. He also has a new album coming out soon, which he calls a love letter to Poco.

Coincidentally enough, one of the other musicians Mr. Hampton has played with is Mr. Knopf, on some of Mr. Knopf’s albums, most notably the 2016 record “Rehoboth Beach.”

Mr. Hampton said he admires Mr. Knopf for his dedication to his Delaware home. It’s sort of like another musician who came to mind.

“You can tell how well loved he is just by looking at his schedule on a given month. That’s pretty unbelievable. He really works his (butt) off, and you can tell that he has a genuine affection for the people that he works with and that he plays for. He knows and understands his audience, and also, the love that he has for where he lives is apparent in his work in a way, probably unparalleled by anybody other than (Bruce) Springsteen,” Mr. Hampton said.

“When you hear Springsteen’s music, you know exactly where he comes from, and that’s true of Sol, as well. Obviously, Sol doesn’t have the audience or the attention that Springsteen has gotten over the years, but Sol’s heritage is definitely evident in his work, and you can tell that there’s a love for where he comes from that not a lot of other people invest in, and it’s baked into his work.”

Tickets for tonight’s show can be purchased here, by calling 302-653-4236 or at the box office at 7 W. South St.

Knopf, Rezac join for show

Speaking of Mr. Knopf, it was announced this week that he will join another well-known local musician, Jim Rezac, for a singer/songwriter concert.

This one will be Dec. 19 at 3 p.m. at the The Ice House, 200 Southern Blvd., Wyoming.

Light munchies will be provided at this BYOB house-style concert. No tickets are required, but donations will be accepted.

Awards for ‘Muckey’

And speaking of Mr. Rezac, he and his fellow cast members and writers of the locally produced “Muckey Landing” podcast recently took home some awards for their work.

Nominated for three awards at the New Jersey Web Fest, “Muckey Landing,” a comedy podcast set in a fictional town in Delaware, took home two.

Mr. Rezac’s theme song won Best Song for a Fiction Podcast, and the podcast itself — written, directed and produced by Dover’s Chris Polo — won Best Comedy Podcast.

You can find “Muckey Landing” wherever podcasts are downloaded.

New venue for blues society

After a short hiatus, the Central Delaware Blues Society has found a new home at The Boulevard at 1036 Lafferty Lane in Dover.

Boulevard owner Charles Boyer will partner with the society for Thursday Night Blues Jams, which include a host band and an opportunity for players of all levels to join in for the night. Participants should bring their instrument and a microphone, if they sing.

Central Delaware Blues Society president Jim Martin has the first jam, hosted by Slim and The Perkolators, scheduled for Thursday. Doors open at 6 p.m., with music from 7-10. It picks up again Dec. 3, and planning for shows by national acts has begun, as well.

More information is available at centraldelawareblues.com and its Facebook page.

Now showing

New this weekend in theaters is the family film “Clifford the Big Red Dog.”