The confluence of Simon and Garfunkel galavanting anew throughout the land and the SACD release of classic Dylan albums led me to think about one of the most unusual and amazing figures in recent recording history.
Do you know this man? He was president of the Young Republican Club and graduated cum laude from Harvard in 1954. He founded the jazz label Transition the following year, and began producing jazz radio programs in 1958. He was jazz A&R director for Savoy Records and executive assistant to the director of the New York State Commission for Human Rights at the same time. He became a producer for Columbia and then MGM in the '60s where he worked with Bob Dylan, Simon and Garfunkel, and the Animals. He discovered, signed and produced the Mothers of Invention, Blues Project, Hugh Masekela, and the Velvet Underground. He was an African American.
Thomas Blanchard Wilson, Jr., Tom Wilson, is one of the forgotten greats of the music business. Wilson was born March 25, 1931, and grew up in Waco, Texas where he attended Moore High School. Wilson was invited to Harvard where he became involved with the Harvard New Jazz Society and radio station WHRB: the latter to which he later credited all of his success in the music business.
Following his work with Savoy and brief stints with United Artists and Audio Fidelity, Wilson was hired as staff producer at Columbia in '63. Wilson's most significant contributions to Columbia were his three-and-one-half albums with Bob Dylan. Wilson replaced the credited producer, John Hammond, for the final Freewheelin' session in April, 1963, in response to Albert Grossman's (Dylan's new manager) attempt to get Dylan out of his Columbia contract on a technicality.
The young protest singer could hardly reject the young black man brought in to produce him. Four songs on the album, "Girl From the North Country" (one of Dylan's best love songs), "Masters of War" (an unsparing antiwar song), "Talkin' World War lll Blues" and "Bob Dylan's Dream" were recorded by Wilson and the solo Dylan.
Dylan's next album was The Times They Are a-Changin', another classic recorded solo. Wilson's main input was to roll the tape and nod sagely, but the proof is in the pudding - Wilson pointed Dylan in the direction he needed to be pointed in and got out of the way.