Bellefonte pianist, singer and songwriter John "JT" Thompson has gotten around a little bit during his musical life. Where he's gone and what he's picked up along the way are all mixed into his new album "This Way That Way," released July 15 with a celebratory performance at the Central Pennsylvania Festival of the Arts in State College.
"We kind of get pulled this way and get pulled that way, a lot of different directions in our daily life," Thompson said. "In the end, you get the way you're supposed to be with the people you're supposed to be with."
Some of the songs on the 12-track album have been part of Thompson's repertoire for some time, and there's some tunes pulled straight from his experience.
" 'Hear Miss Ruthie Sing' is dedicated to a singer named Ruthie Foster, from Texas, and I was always impressed with her voice and her style," Thompson said. "I used the same instrumentation that she has when her band plays out, and even did a little spoon playing; her drummer always does a spoon solo. Bill Wilgus [a State College guitarist who appears on "This Way That Way"] dared me to write 'Cab Ride Boogie' after my wife had to pick me up from a gig."
Recording on "This Way That Way" began last August at Frigo Recording, Boalsburg, and at "Phydeau's Place," the basement studio JT named after his dog "Phydeau," his more dignified take on the classic cartoon pooch moniker "Fido."
"We used a lot of different people that play with us," Thompson said. "It was kind of an appreciation, to get people involved in the project, and I knew they could get the sound I was looking for, too."
Bassist Rene Witzke and drummer Jack Wilkinson play on several songs; both played with State College favorites "Queen Bee and the Blue Hornet Band" for years and also gig with Thompson in "Maxwell Strait," which plays every Thursday night at The Phryst.
Rick Hirsch of the Zeropoint Horns collaborated with Thompson on the horn arrangements and Lewisburg's Bill Stetz and Steve Mitchell (a regular at the Bullfrog Brewery's Sunday jazz brunch) laid down rhythm on several songs. The Pure Cane Sugar Band, Natascha Hoffmeyer and Jerry Walker all contributed vocal stylings, and local guitarists Andy Tolins and Ted McCloskey appear, as well as bassist Pete Jogo and the New York-based Dave Fields.
Thompson, who represented the Billtown Blues Association at 2011's International Blues Competition, described his style as a sort of "swingy-blues." Years spent playing in Louisiana, Atlanta and up and down the East Coast before moving back to his hometown of Bellefonte in 2002 have given him the tools to play all sorts of good stuff in all types of situations.
"There's this whole culture of piano-based music that comes out of New Orleans - think Dr. John, Al Toussaint, Professor Longhair, James Booker, James Cleary is one of the newer guys - it's not just blues or just jazz. Like the Neville Brothers - they'll do greasy, down-home funk kind of stuff, then doing "Tell It Like It Is," just a gorgeous ballad. In Louisiana, I played a lot of hardcore country, too, like George Jones and Hank Williams Sr. and I learned a lot of Lynyrd Skynyrd tunes."
As a working musician, Thompson adjusts his set list to the situation.
"When I do festivals and things like that, I'm doing all the original music with a few blues and boogie and swing standards thrown in," he said. "At private parties, I do more popular music; standards are the songs that a lot of people seem to end up covering - I do everything from 'It Had To Be You' to 'Hey, Soul Sister,' and people respond to the old stuff and the new stuff."
Besides gigging with Maxwell Strait and the Triple A Blues Band, Thompson plays on Wednesday evenings at Isabella Restaurant in Selinsgrove and Thursdays at The Governor's Pub, Bellefonte. Other upcoming shows include a show Aug. 5 from 2 to 5 p.m. at the Seven Mountain Winery, Spring Mills, and Aug. 19 with Dan Stevens at the Elk Creek Cafe, Milheim.
For more information and to listen to samples of Thompson's work, visit jtblues.com.