Cochran & Thompson: A Variety of Paths

by Ed Peaco

In an era when sophistication and/or newness are touchstones for some artists, the guitar duo of Michael Cochran and Donnie Thompson, aka D Clinton Cochran, cultivates simplicity, experience and craftsmanship.

The twosome works together in different ways. Michael plays acoustic and Donnie plays electric, both in many styles.

They’ll play on Wednesday, Oct. 2, in the early slot at Lindbergs and will continue to perform on every first Wednesday at the venerable tavern.

Each musician offers an array of music, including blues, R&B, old-timey songs, the rock ’n’ roll of Chuck Berry and his era, the rockabilly personified by Ronnie Self, and ballads of big and tall individuals.

In separate interviews, each musical partner had different but not conflicting views of the project.

Michael: “I’m having the most fun — fun is a tricky word. What Donnie and I are doing now is as satisfying as anything I’ve ever done.”

Donnie: “Two things make it special to me. Michael plays that Travis style, where he’s playing the bass notes with his thumb pick and then the chords or the melody with his other fingers. And I’m playing a cajón, which gives us a downbeat.”

Donnie also said this duo is the hardest gig he’s ever played — for one thing, the duo setting leaves the musicians exposed, and for another, they are taking on more complex material.

One of their popular numbers is “Nadine.” “I have this little rhythm thing that I do. I do it on two or three of our songs,” Donnie said, noting that Michael plays a great counter-rhythm to that. “I’ve noticed that when we get this certain rhythm going, we see people bobbing their heads and tapping their feet or getting up and dancing.”

Donnie contributes original instrumental pieces such as “Donnie’s Mood No. 1,” which Donnie labeled their “garage jazz” number. The mood is “mellow, late night, smokey bar, sipping a martini,” he said.

Michael elaborated: “Candles on the tables, slender women in black turtlenecks serving high-priced coffee.”

“We both have many years of playing behind us, and we’ve both followed a variety of paths to get here. There’s a lot of life experience embedded in our music,” Michael said.

In his years at University of Missouri, Michael learned from epic poet of the West, John Neihardt; and befriended fellow student Bob Dyer, who wrote The Ballad of Mike Fink, a song based on Neihardt’s writings. The tale treats river men and mountain men whose exploits give the uninitiated reader trouble understanding whether the characters are mythic, human or both.

Michael said he may recite/sing The Ballad of Mike Fink if the crowd is right.

Perhaps from the literature he absorbed at Mizzou, Michael wrote one of his signature pieces, which has a gentle tone that matches his demeanor: Mister Bullfrog.

Hello Mister Bullfrog, how are you today, sitting in the sun upon a bank of clay. If danger comes near you, just jump into your pond, then you can forget what is above and beyond. But I ain’t no bullfrog. I ain’t no old tomcat. I am a thinking animule, stubborn as a fact.

He’s likely to sing this song more frequently, and when you hear it, you’ll understand what an animule is.

D Clinton Cochran
6:30 p.m., Wednesday, Oct. 2