Someone dubbed “Crabmeat” has got to have a sense of humor. Jerry “Crabmeat” Thompson makes it part of his act, penning musical narratives such as “Poodles from Hell” and “One Ton Tomato.” The teacher and musician talked to us shortly before his gig at the Delmarva Folk Festival.
Q What do people call you?
A Crabmeat or Jerry. My wife never calls me Jerry, she calls me Crabmeat.
Q How long have you been playing music and what do you play?
A I always sang and whistled and made music, even when I was a little, little, little baby kid. When I got to college it was the big folk scare of the ’60s, and I got a guitar and started singing around the dormitory and everybody liked it and came and sang along. It was very easy in college to learn stuff from other people, we were always getting together and doing that.
Q Were you performing the same type of material you do now?
A When I was up in Oregon there were a lot of people moving to the country. Then there was this song “Take Me Home, Country Road,” and it really expressed what people where feeling. So when I got down to California, people were playing country music, like Merle Haggard, and then country rock.
My band was called Rock Macho and the Country Felons. Last time I went to Tahoe people were calling me Rock, it was a lot of fun. That was the whole showbiz atmosphere, it’s a lot different from here. If I stroll down the mall in Wilmington with a guitar, people run away. When I go to Nashville and get on the bus, the driver asks what kind of guitar you have.
There’s a resurgence of coffeehouses, and when I go out to the coffeehouses there are people my age and their kids. They hate some of the music their parents like, but how can you hate Grateful Dead and Bob Dylan? Everybody likes that stuff.
A lot of that music has regained popularity because it goes around in cycles and the good stuff comes back.
Q Your website has an explanation of how you got the nickname Crabmeat. Is it true?
A That one’s true — I dumped seafood on myself. There were a couple [explanations] I had. One was that my parents were Nazi sympathizers and I used to swim out to the U-boats with my crab suit on. That was a lot of fun.
Q You’ve said Crabmeat is a persona. Is Jerry as fun to be around as Crabmeat?
A I think so, I teach at the community college, and I crack my students up a lot.
When I was in Oregon teaching college I has a hippie I had a three-year contract and there was no way they were going to re-hire me, I took wine to class. This was in the ’70s. Anyway, it was very different time, it was a lot of fun. I’m continually distressed about how prudish people are.
You have to feel people out, that’s one of the fun things about performing for live people. You get an idea that they’re ready to get dirty or something.
Q You won an artist fellowship this year from the Delaware Division of the Arts. What has winning done for you? Is it a validation?
A I won in 2007 and one this year. My father was an executive and my cousin’s a CPA, my other cousin’s a brain surgeon, so I’m the black sheep of the family, but I’m an artist. So they [the division] gave me a little bit of money so I did some art projects I wouldn’t have done.
I got a high-def movie camera and put some videos of other people on YouTube. I dragged some people from place to place who should be playing, I got on the board of directors of the Delaware Friends of Folk, and tried to get people interested in joining. So I thought this is all validation and it led to other opportunities. I met a lot of painters, artists, and a lot of poets.
The poets I had been meeting anyway, but the painters I met through the fellowships. One woman’s going to paint me, but she said, “I really like to paint people in the nude,” so I have to ask my wife. She said, “As long as that’s all you do.” So we tossed it back and forth and she’s going to paint me as the discus thrower with a CD in my hand. I said if you want to do that, man, that is so neat.
Q What would your established fans be surprised to find out about you?
A I think maybe some of them don’t understand that I’m a teacher, that I have a serious side. I know people come up to me maybe when I’m off stage and they say, “You’re really quiet.” I’m a Gemini, I switch gears.