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Bob Thompson ready for 20 more years of 'Joy'

Courtesy photo
"Joy to the World" veteran Catherine Russell returns to Bob Thompson's annual holiday show. "We just couldn't think of anyone we'd rather have back for this special show," Thompson says. "She's just the perfect person for what we're doing this year."

NOTE: The 2012 "Joy to the World" concert is sold out.

 CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Bob Thompson was at the cleaners a few weeks ago when a woman approached him. People seem to come up to the Charleston-based jazzman and "Mountain Stage" pianist frequently.

She asked Thompson whether he would be doing his annual "Joy to the World" show. He told her yes. The show returns for it's 20th year Thursday night at the Culture Center Theater.

The 70-year-old musician said he couldn't remember the woman's name, but he remembered what she told him. She said, "We plan our holiday around it. For my family, it starts the Christmas season."

It's a statement he's heard before, but Thompson doesn't get tired of it.

He said, "That's such a nice thing to hear. You know, after 20 years, you start having doubts, and 20 is such a nice, round number, a good number to go out on -- but it's things like that that give you a reason to keep going."

Last year, there was some doubt whether "Joy to the World" would continue past its 20th year. Thompson convinced his longtime producer, Linda McSparin, who'd recently retired from "Mountain Stage," to help him with the show one more time, but he openly mused about whether he wanted to go on or not.

Somewhere in the past year, he changed his mind.

"We'll keep doing it as long as people keep coming and keep enjoying it," he said.

That could be for a very long time. The show frequently sells out in advance, and this year is no exception.

Thompson and "Joy to the World" have had a good run so far. He said there are a lot of good memories.

The first show featured Thompson's trio, which included saxophonist Doug Payne and drummer Guy Remonko, with Bobby Boswell on bass. Remonko lives in Ohio these days, where he teaches music at Dennison University and still performs.

"Bobby was from Pittsburgh," Thompson said. "He played with Max Roach and a lot of people. He passed away a couple of years ago."

Payne, of course, is still with Thompson.

"He's the only person besides me who's been at every 'Joy to the World' show," Thompson said.

Thompson said they've tried to keep it interesting. Each year, he arranges new music, beginning around Thanksgiving. Each year, they bring in a different vocalist.

"During those first shows, we had Julie Adams on the show, Ethel Caffie-Austin and Jan Banks," Thompson said. "We showcased our local talent."

Eventually, as the show grew and became a larger radio presence, it added nationally known artists, including Susan Werner, Kendra and Fontella Bass, best known for the R&B classic "Rescue Me."

One of Thompson's favorite shows was with Toni Lynn Washington and the Appalachian Children's Chorus.

"I just loved the sound of her bluesy, soulful voice blending with the voices of the children's chorus. It was just a lot of fun."

Occasionally, Thompson invites back a particular vocalist. This year, Catherine Russell returns to the show.

"We just couldn't think of anyone we'd rather have back for this special show," he said. "She's just the perfect person for what we're doing this year."

Among the music selections this year, the band will perform a song or two made famous by pop singer Andy Williams. Williams is often referred to as "Mr. Christmas" because of his regular Christmas releases, holiday specials and the seasonal classic, "It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year."

"We lost Andy Williams this year," Thompson said. "I think probably the first Christmas special I ever watched was an Andy Williams Christmas special, so this will be our little tribute to him."

Thompson didn't say what the plans might be for next year's "Joy to the World," only that there would be plans.

Reach Bill Lynch at lynch@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5195.


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