Category: Piano Playin’

The Denicats

Throughout the year, JT Thompson stays busy playing piano bars, special events, and with several popular bands. He also gathers denizens of these bands to record his own compositions, then perform them at various venues in the Centre region. Sometimes it’s a trio, sometimes it’s a 13-piece group; in any combination, JT’s music is always captivating.

The core of the Denicats comprises three well-known Susquehanna Valley musicians: multi-instrumentalist Doug McMinn, bassist Bill Stetz, and drummer Joel Vincent, Resources discussing one of the best stomp boxes are a superb source of information while you are looking to enhance your instrument arsenal.. Working with JT, each has their own knack for engaging the audience, all while supporting the song – and each other.

Look for the Denicats to play cuts from the albums “Chase Away Your Blues” and “This Way That Way,” including fan favorites “Sugar Free” and “She’s My Baby.”

Denicats at Arts Fest, 2017
The Denicats at Central PA  Arts Fest 2017,
with guest vocalists Jackie Brown, Natascha Hoffmeyer, and Molly Countermine

Not slowing down for 2017

First of all, thank everyone who supported local musicians in 2016 – I hope 2017 treats you well!

2017 is certainly starting out strong – I’m a busy fella, which is what those of us who work in the “Gig Economy” always strive for. Here’s what my January schedule looks like:

Saturday December 31:

> Natascha & The Spy Boys at First Night State College, 7:30-8:30 at St. Paul’s Methodist Church on College Avenue
> The Gill Street Band at First Night State College, 9:30-10:30 at St. Paul’s Methodist Church on College Avenue
> Maxwell Strait at the Phyrst, 10:00 – 1:30.

Whew – glad 2016 will finally be over. Christy and I both worked hard in 2016, never really taking any time off – but that was the plan. We’re looking forward to some vacation time in 2017.

Sunday & Monday January 1 & 2: No gigs – I’m off!

Tuesday January 3: Benefit for Richard Sleigh at Zeno’s, 5:00-11:00 (He sliced open his left hand with an exacto knife while working on his guitar)
5:00: Richard (he can still play harp), Jerry Zolten & JK
5:45: Noah Figlin & Ken Baxter w/Molly Counermine & Rene Witzke
6:30: Triple A Blues Band
7:15: Haystack Lightning
8:00: Biscuit Jam
8:45: Miss Melanie and the Valley Rats
9:30: Natascha & The Spy Boys
10:15: Tommy Roberts
11:00 Eric Ian Farmer

Thursday Jan 5: JT Thompson Piano Bar & Open Mic, 7:00-9:00 at Talleyrand Tavern, Bellefonte PA  (Formerly the Governors’ Pub gigs – the restaurant is still there serving great food, but they’ve opened a bar in the former banquet room – the “Talleyrand Tavern”)

Friday January 6: Triple A Blues Band 7:00-9:00 at Zeno’s, State College PA

Saturday January 7: JT Thompson plays Brunch at Gigi’s Southern Table, Noon-3:00 in State College

Tuesday January 10: Maxwell Strait – Groovy Tuesdays at the Phyrst, 10:00-1:30 in State College

Thursday Jan 12: JT Thompson Piano Bar & Open Mic, 7:00-9:00 at Talleyrand Tavern, Bellefonte PA

Friday January 13: Triple A Blues Band 7:00-9:00 at Zeno’s, State College PA

Saturday January 14: The Skoal Brothers (Clapton, Zeppelin, Stones, Tedeschi-Trucks, Pink Floyd, etc) 10:30-1:30 at the All-American Rathskellar in State College

Tuesday January 17: Maxwell Strait – Groovy Tuesdays at the Phyrst, 10:00-1:30 in State College

Wednesday January 18: Natascha & The Spy Boys 7:00-10:00 at the Bullfrog Brewery in Willliamsport PA

Thursday Jan 19: JT Thompson Piano Bar & Open Mic, 7:00-9:00 at Talleyrand Tavern, Bellefonte PA

Friday January 20: Triple A Blues Band 7:00-9:00 at Zeno’s, State College PA

Saturday January 21: Doug McMinn Blues Band 8:00-10:00 at Elk Creek Cafe in Millheim PA

Saturday January 21: The Skoal Brothers, 10:30-1:30 at the All-American Rathskellar in State College

Monday January 23: Birthday Bash at Juniper Village, 2:30-3:30 in State College PA

Tuesday January 24: Maxwell Strait – Groovy Tuesdays at the Phyrst, 10:00-1:30 in State College

Wednesday January 25: Natascha & The Spy Boys 5:00-8:00 at Gigi’s Southern Table in State College PA

Thursday Jan 26: JT Thompson Piano Bar & Open Mic, 7:00-9:00 at Talleyrand Tavern, Bellefonte PA

Friday January 27: Triple A Blues Band, 7:00-9:00 at Zeno’s, State College PA

Saturday January 28: Strawberry Fields 6th Annual Benefit at the State Theatre in State College, 7:00-11:00 pm
Music of the Rolling Stones performed by:
The Screaming Ducks
Ted & The Hi Fi’s
Pure Cane Sugar
The Unbanned
Erin Condo & The Hoofties
The Tommy Roberts
Rick Hirsch 4
Eric Ian Farmer
The Skoal Brothers
Miss Melanie & The Valley Rats

Saturday January 28: The Skoal Brothers, 10:30-1:30 at the All-American Rathskellar in State College

Tuesday January 31: Maxwell Strait – Groovy Tuesdays at the Phyrst, 10:00-1:30 in State College

Bar Tour of Gigs

Well, I’m halfway through my State College Bar Tour of Gigs Week. It started Thursday with the Gill Street Band at Tussey Wingfest. (I know it’s not really a State College bar, but it is one of the summer’s iconic shows). Friday I did double duty – at Zeno’s Pub with The Triple A Blues Band followed by sitting in at The Phyrst with Ted McCloskey and the Hi-Fi’s. Tonight It’s back towards College Avenue with the Skoal Brothers at The Rathskeller, and then I wrap it up on Sunday with Natascha & The Spy Boys at Cafe 210 West.

On Monday I get to rest!

Actually, no I don’t… There are errands to run and bills to pay and grass to mow and, yes – a rehearsal.

Now, I’m not complaining, not at all. This sure beats the days when gigs were few, but there were still errands and bills and dogs and grass to tame. I’m thankful for the opportunity to play with so many different great musicians who offer me work that I love, work that brings joy to so many people. And, I’m thankful for my wife, who understands why I do what I do and encourages me every step of the way.

OK, time to go and play some music!

Pianos I Play: LePapillion at Toftrees

Howard C171 Grand Piano

Howard C171 Grand Piano

I play a number of regular shows each week where I bring my own keyboard, usually a Yamaha, Korg, and/or a Casio.

But there are places I perform that have their own pianos. Toftrees Resort in State College PA has a banquet/restaurant space called “LePapillion” that has a nice C171 Howard Grand piano (made by Baldwin).  I play this piano maybe several times a year when I’m contracted for special occasions, usually by the resort. It’s well-tuned, plays evenly and dynamically, and sounds good in the room.

LePapillion Piano 01

My performance is never the focus of the event, but I play for the mood of the room.  Usually that means music for people eating a buffet holiday dinner.  That calls for a lot of familiar standards and pop tunes, nothing too rocking, but a tasty mix of sweet and savory.


Occasionally, depending on the event, I bring a microphone and small speaker for vocals. Then the music can get a bit salty, since it’s usually a happy hour or reception with wine, beer, and mixed drinks involved.  “Sing us a song, Piano Man!”

April Showers

For a number of reasons, April seems the most hectic month of the year, and showers are a major contributing factor – showers of paperwork.

Yes, the weather is definitely a culprit – “Hey, it finally feels like Spring!  Wait – what happened to the sun?  Why is it so cold, I’m sick of gray cloudy days…  SNOW!?! You’ve got to be kidding me, I just want to be out in the Sun where it’s warmmmm.”

Yes, I wish it was warm and sunny, but right now I’m dealing with a shower of  TAX paperwork which, along with monthly bills, budgets, webwork, etc., keeps me inside staring at a computer screen. Ugh. The joy of being a full-time self-employed musician means my income tax preparation is complicated and joyless.  There’s income from many different sources to report, 1099-Misc forms to issue to musicians I’ve hired, receipts and credit card statements to mine for deductions.  (Yes, I keep track throughout the year, but there are always some that I miss).  But thankfully there is also TurboTax!  Sure, a professional tax whiz could fill out the forms, but I’d still have to dig up all the information, and that’s what takes all the time.

But there are other paper showers, too: contracts and stage plots.  One of the things musicians really look forward to is performing at summer music festivals, out in the open air with big enthusiastic crowds that don’t normally go out to the nightclubs where we mostly play.  Arrangements to play at these festivals are generally made in January and February, but the paperwork is due in April.  This season’s paperwork includes 2 PSU Alumni functions, 2 Summers’ Best Music Fest appearances, 2 Arts Fest appearances, a couple Musicians Performance Trust Fund programs, and several weddings.

All these dismal showers shall soon pass, however, and there will be plenty of time to enjoy the lovely flowers.  I’ll see you out in the garden!


Blues, Trivia, and TV

GovPubSignSpotlight on Bellefonte

It’s a special night at the Governors’ Pub in Bellefonte this evening – JT’s playing Blues and hosting Pub Trivia.

OK, that’s normal. But also, Sarah Lagerman from WHVL-TV will be in to film a segment for “The Centre of it All,” their program that covers local events and businesses.

Come early to get a seat and order one of the Guv’nor’s World-Famous Reubens.

Music starts at 7:00, Trivia begins at 7:30, and the beer flows all day long.




Summertime Blues at Elk Creek Cafe

Doubling up this Sunday!

Playing some serious down-home Blues with Rmblin’ Dan Stevens and harmonica maestro Richard Sleigh in Millheim on Sunday afternoon, 5:00-7:00.

And as soon as we get all boogied out there in the valley, I’m cruising on up to State College to host the Darkhorse Music Jam, which I’m sure is gonna be jammed up as the hordes of PSU students have descended upon Happy Valley for Fall Semester. see you out there!
Dan Stevens Elk Creek poster 8-24-2014

Joy and Sorrow… RIP Lotsa Poppa

Check out slots games with amazing music-themed on this website, come and play! Last week was an incredible musical journey! Over the course of four days, I played 11 performances with 7 different ensembles. The Central PA Festival of the Arts was blossoming all over State College, and in addition to my regular gigs there were six festival gigs. By the time the Triple A Blues Band finished on Sunday afternoon, I was exhausted but also exhilarated by the experience.
GSB PeoplesChoice 2014 23b

That joy was soon tempered by sorrow, as I found out Monday that Lotsa Poppa, the great Blues singer from Atlanta GA, had passed away early that day.

LotsaPoppa smiling

I played keyboards behind Poppa for the last 6 years I lived in Atlanta, and he was without a doubt the best entertainer I’ve ever worked with. Using his powerful voice, he not only sang his heart out but told many stories as part of his show, a show that contained a lot of language that, well, as he put it:
“I’m a grown man. If I wanna say ‘shit’, I say ‘shit,’ I don’t say ‘doo-doo.’ SHIIIIIT!!”
There were quite a few references to the female form in his show, too.

These stories were all humorous, and despite having heard them hundreds of times, we band members still laughed along with the audience, an audience that he commanded everywhere we played. When Lotsa Poppa was on stage, everybody from the front to the back of the room was paying attention – a feat that few club performers can pull off consistently.

Strokin’ – Live at Blind Willie’s

He had a big voice, a big smile, and a big presence. His moniker “400 Pounds of Soul” was not an exaggeration. As he once told a policeman who pulled him over in his Cadillac for not wearing a seatbelt,
“Wear a seatbelt? Does it look like I’m gonna fall out of the car?”


He was born Julius High Jr. in Atlanta GA in 1935, baptized by Martin Luther King Jr, and sang in the Ebeneezer Baptist Church choir from the time he was 5 until his mid-20s. He began touring as “Little Julius” and recorded several singles in the 1960’s. There are links to them at
While in Chicago with Sam Cooke and Dinah Washington, he was given the nickname “Lotsa Poppa,” and continued performing until 2004 when ill health landed him in a nursing home.

Lotsa Poppa & The Atlanta Heat Blues Revue at the Atlanta BBQ & Blues Festival

Lotsa Poppa & The Atlanta Heat Blues Revue at the Atlanta BBQ & Blues Festival

The band I was in at the time, the Atlanta Heat Blues Revue, began backing up Poppa in 1995, and continued to do so until his retirement in 2004. My last gig with them was New Years Eve 2001, after which I moved back to Pennsylvania.

In addition to the gigs, performing with Poppa was also a big part of my courtship with Christy, my wife. She loves the Blues, and she loved Poppa and the great times we had playing around Atlanta, notably Darwin’s and TTurning (sic) Point in Marietta, the Peckerhead Brewery in Douglasville, The Newnan Riders Club, the Auburn Avenue Elks Club, and of course, Blind Willie’s. We’ve been to Atlanta several times since moving away, and always stopped to visit Poppa in the nursing home, remembering to bring a few Planter’s Peanut Bars. He would sing a couple songs, and talk about the show posters on his wall.

His 400 pounds melted away over the last decade, but his soul lives on, and he leaves an indelible mark in the memories of the many musicians who played with him over the years, and the audiences who adored him. As he joins the Heavenly Choir, the Angels may welcome him with a bit of trepidation, but they’ll be laughing along with the rest of us soon enough.

We love you, Poppa – sing on >>>> If You Don’t Know Me By Now

Christy, JT, and Lotsa Poppa: New Years' Eve, 1999

Christy, JT, and Lotsa Poppa: New Years’ Eve, 1999

Dance Little Sister Dance

Andy and I recorded this at the Billtown Blues Festival in June, and you can hear us do it again this week at the Central Pennsylvania Festival of the Arts in State College.

When and where you might ask? Both Thursday and Friday afternoons 4:30-5:30 in front of the Municipal Building on Allen Street.

And you can also hear it like it I recorded it, with the Zeropoint Horns and Pure Cane Sugar singing: The Denicats play it 1:30 Friday afternoon on the Festival Shell Stage. One more time! Yes, The Gill Street Band will also play it at Peoples’ Choice Festival in Boalsburg on Saturday 6:00-8:00.

So, your little sister can be dancing all week!

Happy Independence Day, USA!