January 24, 2003: Musician Tommy Thompson Dies

Jan 24, 2018

After his wife’s death, Thompson, fiddler Bill Hicks, and mandolin player Jim Watson started the Red Clay Ramblers.
Credit e-WV / WV Humanities Council

Musician Tommy Thompson died on January 24, 2003, at age 65. Thompson was born in western Kanawha County in 1937 and lived there until he was about 11, when his family moved to Florida.

As a young adult, he got interested in jazz, blues, and eventually old-time music. He picked up the claw-hammer-style of banjo playing and, while attending the University of North Carolina, founded the Hollow Rock String Band, along with his wife, Bobbie, and fiddler and folklorist Alan Jabbour.

After his wife’s death, Thompson, fiddler Bill Hicks, and mandolin player Jim Watson started the Red Clay Ramblers. In 1973, the Ramblers were joined by pianist Mike Craver and became one of the most popular old-time acts in the nation.

In addition to writing original songs, the Red Clay Ramblers wrote a successful musical, Diamond Studs, loosely based on the life of Jesse James, and a one-act play, The Last Song of John Proffit, set in a West Virginia cabin. Thompson left the Ramblers in 1994 after being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. In 2011, Tommy Thompson was inducted into the West Virginia Music Hall of Fame.