Between his considerable skill and the “unbroken line [of a fiddling tradition] going back to Africa” that he represents, Joe Thompson is one of North Carolina’s most important musicians. On Family Tradition, Thompson made one of his strongest ever cases for a legacy that is being revived by his family, folklorists and ethnomusicologists, and contemporary artists like the Carolina Chocolate Drops.
Joe Thompson was an African-American fiddle player born in 1912 near Mebane, on the Orange-Alamance County line. His family farmed tobacco, corn, cotton, and wheat. Thompson grew up in a family steeped in the musical history of the Piedmont for whom instruments like the banjo and fiddle and storytelling vocals were a means of providing and enjoying fellowship, dancing, and commentary on rural life. His father John Arch played the fiddle, and Thompson, his brother Nate, and cousin Odell all absorbed a wide variety of hillbilly and blues tunes early in life.
His amalgamation of style—ranging from Scottish Hornpipes and reels to early Piedmont blues and ragtime—are a fine example of central North Carolina’s diverse and coexistent musical traditions.
Family Tradition was produced by musician and researcher Bob Carlin, with the exception of “Ain’t Gonna Rain No More,” “Cindy Gal,” and Black Eyed Daisy” which were produced by musician and folklorist Wayne Martin. Carlin also provided guitar on some tracks, and joins a strong cast of supporting musicians including Scott Ainslie on slide guitar, Pam Davis on bass, Clyde Davis on guitar, and Nate and Odell Thompson who both provided banjo and vocal accompaniment.