Tear-Stained Letter

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"Tear-Stained Letter"
Single by Richard Thompson
from the album Hand of Kindness
B-side"Where the Wind Don't Whine"
ReleasedMay 1984
Format7" single
GenreFolk rock, zydeco
LabelHannibal Records
Songwriter(s)Richard Thompson
Producer(s)Joe Boyd
Richard Thompson singles chronology
"The Wrong Heartbeat"
"Tear-Stained Letter"
"When the Spell is Broken"

"Tear-Stained Letter" is the opening track from Richard Thompson's 1983 album Hand of Kindness. The song has been recorded by others, notably a hit version by Jo-El Sonnier in 1988.


With a strong zydeco feel, the song's length is 4 minutes and 44 seconds; the main riff is performed on saxophones by Pete Thomas and Pete Zorn, who also performs the background vocals, and on accordion by John Kirkpatrick. The coda features a duet between a sax solo, accordion solo, and guitar solo by Richard Thompson.

The song is in the key of G major, with a fast tempo in 4/4 time, it uses a chord pattern of E7-A-E7-A-D-G on the verses, and B7-C-D-G twice on the chorus.[1]

The lyrics feature a narrator who breaks up with a tumultuous romantic partner: "Just when I thought that things would get better / Right through the door come a tear-stained letter"

Jo-El Sonnier version[edit]

"Tear-Stained Letter"
Single by Jo-El Sonnier
from the album Come On Joe
B-side"Say You Love Me"[2]
ReleasedJuly 1988
Format7" single
LabelRCA Nashville
Songwriter(s)Richard Thompson
Producer(s)Richard Bennett, Bill Halverson[3]
Jo-El Sonnier singles chronology
"No More One More Time"
"Tear-Stained Letter"
"Rainin' in My Heart"

Country music singer Jo-El Sonnier covered the song on his 1988 album Come On Joe, his version was released as a single in 1988, reaching number nine on the Hot Country Songs charts.[2] Kenny Greenberg plays lead guitar on Sonnier's version.[3] Actor Judge Reinhold appears in the music video for the song.

In 1990, Thompson and Sonier performed the song side-by-side on the television program Night Music, they took turns on lead vocals, with host David Sanborn playing the signature sax riff.[4]

Chart performance[edit]

Chart (1988) Peak
U.S. Billboard Hot Country Singles & Tracks 9[2]
Canadian RPM Country Tracks[5] 5

Other versions[edit]

Patty Loveless covered the song on her 1996 album The Trouble with the Truth.

Southside Johnny and The Asbury Jukes covered the song on their 2005 album 'Into the Harbour'


  1. ^ "'Tear Stained Letter' sheet music". MusicNotes.com. Retrieved 24 September 2013.
  2. ^ a b c Whitburn, Joel (2008). Hot Country Songs 1944 to 2008. Record Research, Inc. p. 393. ISBN 0-89820-177-2.
  3. ^ a b Come On Joe (Cassette insert). Jo-El Sonnier. RCA Records. 1988. 6374-4-R.CS1 maint: others (link)
  4. ^ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-wKZu8o0s9g
  5. ^ "RPM 100 Country Singles" (PDF). RPM. October 22, 1988.