Review: Sweet Dreams Do Come True
How do you go from a small-town Oklahoma farm boy to becoming one of the most respected and prolific songwriters in Nashville? You start off with a dream. The biographical film Sweet Dreams Do Come True – Verlon Thompson, A Musical Memoir shares the journey of Verlon Thompson from his family farm on the prairie lands of Oklahoma to the famed Music Row in Nashville. The film was produced by Brent Simonds and released in 2018 to wide acclaim and features a cast of fellow musicians and songwriters including Guy Clark, Sam Bush, Shawn Camp, Suzy Boggus, and Billy Dean.
You can’t tell the story of Verlon Thompson without including his family. Growing up on a farm, there is always the implication that being a farmer is in your future, but Verlon’s family knew from early on that he was destined for a different life. His mother, Darwettia Thompson, shares stories of teaching her young son how to play chords on his guitar while she played the mandolin and fashioning a harmonica holder out of a wire coat hanger. Scenes from the family farm in Oklahoma feature the late Don Thompson as he talks about raising his sons and the hard-scrabble life living off of the land. You can see and hear a father’s pride when he talks of a thirteen-year-old Verlon declaring that he was bound for a life of music. With the sage advice of “You can always come home,” he gave his son the freedom to follow the passion that he so clearly had to pursue.
The film highlights the many paths on Thompson’s journey that led to Nashville success, from the early days with his first band The Little Okies opening for Mel Tillis to a jaunt in the U.S. Marines. Along that journey, he forged lifelong friendships that encouraged his musical career and gained exposure to music from different cultures, which helped guide the path to Music Row.
During his overseas deployments, Verlon carried his guitar to Spain and Greece, where the mutual language of music opened new horizons. One of his first big hits came as a fluke with a song written while stationed in south Florida. A local motorcycle police officer had a reputation for being a stickler for the speed limit. Thompson penned a song about the famed officer titled Ticket Taylor, which the local radio station soon had in heavy rotation. From there, the national news picked up the story, which ended up as a news lead by Dan Rather on the CBS News.
With his career as a Marine ending, friends he had made while stationed in Florida talked him into moving to Colorado. After playing every gig he could get around the Denver area, he was encouraged to cut his first album. In 1977 he spent two days in the studio recording his songs. With no budget to pay for session musicians, Verlon ended up playing all of the instruments for each track, which is no small feat.
The film highlights the power of the friendships that encouraged Verlon to take the leap of faith and head to Nashville. In 1981, with a few dollars in his pocket and everything he owned stuffed into a U-haul, he made the trek to Nashville. Playing two or three different gigs a day and just trying to make ends meet, he stumbled on a landscaping crew unloading a truck and asked if they needed help. In the blazing heat of summer, he grabbed his gloves and went right to work. That hard work was nothing new for a farm boy from Oklahoma, but it helped pay the bills while he continued to beat the streets of Music Row in search of work as a songwriter. One phone call changed all that when the famed Loretta Lynn offered him a full-time job as a staff songwriter.
From his first shows as a youngster, to touring with fellow troubadour Guy Clark for 20 years, Verlon never took it for granted. His songs tell the stories of life, love and living. As he says, “When I play those songs, it is like going home.” His songs have found their way into many musical genres and have been recorded by a multitude of musicians. The film features interviews with Guy Clark, Sam Bush, Shawn Camp, Suzy Bogguss, Billy Dean and more. All share stories of admiration and respect for Verlon and his music.
Along life’s journey, sometimes you find a dream that you didn’t know you had. Verlon found that when he met Nashville news anchor Demetria Kalodimos. It took a few years of courting, but the couple finally tied the knot and have found a happiness that they didn’t know they were missing. This love inspired many songs including “Get to You Waltz” and “She Chased Me Till I Caught Her.”
The memoir is a tribute to the musical journey of Verlon Thompson, and it also tells the story of how following your dreams isn’t always easy, but with hard work and the support of those that love you, sweet dreams can come true. In the words of his father, Don Thompson, you have done it right if you “get through life and say of all the struggles, it was worth it.”
The video Sweet Dreams Do Come True: Verlon Thompson-A Musical Memoir is available online for rental or purchase.