Mayo Thompson

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Mayo Thompson
Mayo Thompson live with The Red Krayola (Münster, 05/05/05)
Mayo Thompson live with The Red Krayola (Münster, 05/05/05)
Background information
Birth nameMayo Joseph Thompson, Jr. by Father Mayo Joseph Thompson and Mother Hazel Margaret Muhl[1]
Born (1944-02-26) February 26, 1944 (age 79)
Houston, Texas, US
  • Musician
  • visual artist
  • record producer
  • Vocals
  • guitar
Years active1966–present
LabelsInternational Artists, Celluloid Records, Leiterwagen Records, Radar Records, Sordide Sentimental, Texas Revolution, Rough Trade Records, Drag City

Mayo Thompson (born February 26, 1944) is an American musician and visual artist best known as the leader of the experimental rock band Red Krayola.


His formal education includes Garden of Arts Kindergarten until Holy Rosary Elementary School through fifth grade, then Moye Military School until high school at Cascia Hall College Preparatory School, from which he received a diploma in 1962. He went on to study at St. Thomas University, trying variously, off and on, in some cases simultaneously, pre-Law, Creative Writing, English and American Literature, Philosophy, and Art History, before dropping out and starting The Red Crayola with Frederick Barthelme in 1966.[2]

In college, Thompson began to find an affinity for jazz.[3]In a Red Krayola documentary about their Japanese tour, he states he was more interested in creating new material than interpreting old material.[4]


In 1955, Mayo Thompson started taking piano lessons at the age of 11.

In 1958, Mayo Thompson started a short-lived band with a friend he met in boarding school. [5]


On November 15, 1964, Thompson performed a cover of Baby, Please Don't Go at the University of St. Thomas (Texas). [6]

In 1966, amid the burgeoning Houston psychedelic scene, Thompson formed the band the Red Crayola with fellow art students Frederick Barthelme (brother of novelist Donald Barthelme) and Steve Cunningham, they gathered a travelling entourage of hangers-on who improvised with them on stage and in the studio, they were known as the Familiar Ugly. Their intended second album, Coconut Hotel was rejected by their record company for being too abstract and experimental.

In March 1968, he started working with local musician Johndavid Bartlett at a studio called Gold Star, the same place where She's About a Mover was recorded. Bartlett had joined in on rehearsals during the Red Crayola's early days and would sometimes get the opportunity to play his own original songs. Because of this, Thompson took an affinity for his songwriting and got him signed to International Artists records. He started producing the album which contained instrumental cameos from Johnny Winter, Jimmy Reed and Stacy Sutherland of the 13th Floor Elevators. The album was to be called "Mother's Milk"; however, by the time it was supposed to be released, the label folded and the tapes were lost.[7]


In the early 1970s, he lived in New York City, where he worked as a studio assistant for Robert Rauschenberg.[8]

In 1970, Thompson released his only solo album to date, titled Corky's Debt To His Father, on the Texas Revolution label. The album consists instead of ten lyrically dense but warm-hearted pop songs, in various styles – Dylan-inspired blues-rock, Tex-Mex pop-rock with psychedelic touches, and early country rock not dissimilar to the contemporary work of Gram Parsons and the Flying Burrito Brothers. Thompson was backed by studio musicians on the album and none of his usual Krayola cohorts appear. It was recorded in Houston. It was re-released by the Glass label in 1985 and Drag City in 2008.

After becoming disillusioned with the American art scene, he moved to London having joined the conceptual art group Art & Language,[9] with whom he went on to write six albums under the Red Crayola/Krayola name: Corrected Slogans (1976), Kangaroo? (1981), Black Snakes (1983), Sighs Trapped by Liars (2007), Five American Portraits (2010). The sixth album, Baby and Child Care, was recorded shortly after Black Snakes in 1984 with most of the same personnel, but not released until 2016.

While in London, he became involved with Geoff Travis's distribution business at Rough Trade Records. When the label decided to begin releasing records in 1978, Thompson was asked to assist in producing them because Travis did not feel that he had enough experience in the studio. Thompson is credited as producer on early records by The Fall, Stiff Little Fingers, The Raincoats, Cabaret Voltaire, Kleenex and many other seminal groups.

All members of Pere Ubu, aside from drummer Scott Krauss, contributed to the Soldier Talk album. Working at Rough Trade led Thompson to form a new Red Crayola with members of the bands he was working with. The resulting line-up (1979–1983) included a number of important post-punk musicians: Gina Birch of The Raincoats, Lora Logic of X-Ray Spex and Essential Logic, Epic Soundtracks of Swell Maps, and Allen Ravenstine of Pere Ubu. The band continued its association with Art & Language, who often contributed lyrics to songs such as "A Portrait of V.I. Lenin in the Style of Jackson Pollock" which references their well-known painting. The song "Born in Flames" was written for the soundtrack of Lizzie Borden's 1983 radical feminist film of the same name.


In the early 1980s, he was a member of Pere Ubu, performing on their albums The Art of Walking and Song of the Bailing Man. He also appears on seven of thirteen tracks on the Pere Ubu live album, One Man Drives While the Other Man Screams, and plays accordion on the David Thomas and the Pedestrians album The Sound of the Sand. In 1980 he co-produced Grotesque (After The Gramme) by The Fall. In 1982 he started to compose the musical score of Victorine, the opera written by Art & Language for the Documenta 7. In 1983 he recorded a series of monologues and vocal tracks for a collaborative effort with German musicians Dieter Moebius and Conny Plank. The recordings were shelved for 15 years but were finally released as Ludwig's Law in 1998. While living in Germany in 1987, he began collaborating with the German painter Albert Oehlen,[10] first on a soundtrack for the film The Last of England by Derek Jarman. The two would later reform the Red Crayola again with an entirely new line-up. Additionally, through working for Rough Trade Records,Thompson persuaded Jarman to work on a promotional video for The Smiths, Jarman went on to direct the music video for The Queen Is Dead, Thompson was credited as an associate producer.[11][12]

In the '80s, Thompson would continue to produce records for indie, post-punk and alternative bands. He produced the 1986 self-titled debut by the Shop Assistants for the Blue Guitar label. Thompson was also, alongside Geoff Travis, director of the label. He also produced another debut album, Brave Words by The Chills in 1987, as well as Poem of the River by Felt, and finally Primal Scream's debut album, Sonic Flower Groove.


In the early 1990s, Thompson met the avant-garde guitarist David Grubbs who offered him a chance to release new music with Red Crayola on Drag City in Chicago. Thompson accepted and the Red Crayola roster ballooned again, this time encompassing many of the important post-rock musicians of the time, including members of Gastr del Sol and Tortoise.[9] The group has continued in a more or less similar configuration since 1994.

In 1994, he accepted a teaching position at the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena.[10] In 2008 the association ended.

Since 2009 he has lived with his wife and their dog in California. In 2020, he performed the entirety of Corky's Debt to His Father at the Hammer Museum.[13]

Pitchfork attributes Mayo Thompson as "the primary oracle for a generation of art punks, industrial savants, and new-wave scientists",[14] with the 1967 record The Parable of Arable Land being called a "precursor to industrial rock" by AllMusic's Ritchie Unterberger,[15] and their 1968 follow-up God Bless the Red Krayola and All Who Sail With It being dubbed "bootleg Einstürzende Neubauten at its grimiest atonality" by music critic Alex Lindhardt.[16]