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The Amazing Tom Wilson

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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.

The results include the title track (one of Dylan’s most beloved, enduring songs), the relentless murder/suicide tale “The Ballad of Hollis Brown,” and another exquisite downer, “The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll.” The album cemented Dylan’s position as the most important young American recording artist and made him a star.

Another Side of Bob Dylan, with Dylan solo still, includes more classics: “It Ain’t Me Babe,” “Mr. Tambourine Man,” “All I Really Want to Do” and “My Back Pages.”

Wilson consciously entered into the folk-rock arena when he dubbed a band backing onto an old recording of Dylan doing “House of the Rising Sun.” The result was not released, but the seed was planted and Dylan’s next album, Bringing It All Back Home was half-acoustic, half-electric. The folk spell was broken. Wilson helped ease the nervous Dylan’s transition into an ensemble player, according to Clinton Heylin in Bob Dylan: The Recording Sessions.

Dylan’s next, Highway 61 Revisited, was his first all-electric album, and the first song recorded was one of his greatest, “Like a Rolling Stone.” Wilson brought his friend Al Kooper to watch a Bob Dylan session and play a little guitar alongside Mike Bloomfield. Kooper ended up inventing the hypnotic organ sound that dominates the song in a happy accident that both Dylan and Wilson allowed to occur.

The Kooper/Bloomfield meeting led to the Super Sessions album and a band called the Blues Project, which Wilson produced after his move to MGM. Apparently, Dylan and Wilson had an undocumented falling out of some kind, for “Rolling Stone” was their final song together and Bob Johnston took over for the rest of Highway.

Wilson also recorded Simon and Garfunkel’s first album, Wednesday Morning 3 A.M. The acoustic album wasn’t selling until a Boston DJ started playing “The Sounds of Silence.” Paul Simon was in Europe and Art Garfunkel had gone back to school when Wilson added a rhythm section behind the track and released it as a single. Intrusive maybe, but Wilson’s ears were dead on as the single shot to No. 1 and kick started the career of the most important duo of the ’60s. Then Wilson left for MGM/Verve.

David Anderle was a young talent scout for MGM/Verve in Los Angeles in 1965. Frank Zappa and the Mothers performed a heady mixture of psychedelic blues rock, twisted doo wop, art noise, social commentary, and potty humor in a zone where irony twisted back on itself in an endless loop of inscrutable intentions.

Anderle saw the Mothers at the Red Velvet club and was smitten. He was having a hard time getting anyone at the label to take Zappa seriously when Wilson was hired as head of East Coast A&R. Anderle coaxed Wilson out from New York to see the band, and to Anderle’s amazement, Wilson “got them” right away and the band was signed, launching the careers of both Zappa and Anderle.

Zappa has declared his allegiance to Wilson. “Tom Wilson was a great guy. He had vision, you know? And he really stood by us … I remember the first thing that we recorded was ‘Any Way the Wind Blows,’ and that was okay. Then we did ‘Who Are the Brain Police?’ and I saw him through the glass and he was on the phone immediately to New York going, ‘I don’t know!’ Trying to break it to ‘em easy, I guess.”

“I don’t know” or not, Wilson allowed the Mothers’ project to grow from a single into an album, and then from an album into an extravaganza that cost $21,000 at a time when the average rock album ran $5,000. Wilson funded a 22-piece orchestra. The editing was nightmarish. According to Zappa, “Wilson was sticking his neck out. He laid his job on the line by producing the album.”

After Freak Out sold surprisingly well, Wilson went even farther into the unknown with Zappa on Absolutely Free, which dispensed with token pop songs entirely in favor of jazzy meanderings, pseudo-operatic singing and exposition upon Zappa’s recurrent themes of cheese, shoes, the government and his abstemious attitude toward mind altering substances.

While working on Free, Wilson was simultaneously supervising the Velvet Underground’s first album, an album that reveled in the sensory-based hedonism that the puritanical Zappa railed against. Both “art” bands – the garish Mothers and the somber Velvets – shared a surface freakiness that masked the underlying gulf between them. The fact that both bands performed in Andy Warhol’s Exploding Plastic Inevitable at the Trip in Los Angeles is one of Warhol’s greatest ironies. It is not known how Wilson felt about this juxtaposition, but it is clear that his mind was large enough to encompass both points of view; perhaps the bands were even the personifications of his own internal contradictions.

The Velvet Underground (name borrowed from an S&M novel) was formed in 1964 when singer/guitarist/songwriter Lou Reed and Welsh multi-instrumentalist John Cale met and decided to form a rock band (eventually with Sterling Morrison on bass and Maureen Tucker on percussion) drawing on their interest in R&B, the free-form jazz of Albert Ayler and Ornette Coleman, and the classical avant-garde of John Cage and La Monte Young. They sought not just to entertain, but to challenge: to prove that rock ‘n’ roll could be dangerous again.

The Velvets came under the wing of Andy Warhol (who brought in Austrian actress/model/chanteuse Nico) and became fixtures on the Village bohemian art scene.

Tom Wilson had seen the Velvets in the Village in 1965 and wanted to work with them. He told them of his impending move to MGM/Verve and suggested they wait because according to bassist Sterling Morrison in Heylin’s From the Velvets to the Voidoids, Wilson swore “that at Verve we could do anything we wanted. And he was right.”

The Velvet Underground and Nico was produced with money from a shoe salesman by the band under the vague supervision of Andy Warhol. When MGM signed the Velvets, they were given ten hours at an L.A. studio to rerecord four songs with Wilson – not coincidentally, the four most important songs on one of the most important rock albums ever recorded.

“Waiting For the Man,” with a breezy rock groove, follows a Reed character into the black section of town where he deferentially explains to one and all that he isn’t there for the women, but for his “man,” his drug dealer. Reed is almost giddy with self-contempt as his need for drugs drags his social status below that of ghetto dwellers. That defiant self-contempt defines the Velvet’s status as the first post-modern band and the progenitor of the entire punk/new wave movement.

“Heroin” takes the external adventure of obtaining drugs into the internal realm and captures the seduction of addiction with a power, beauty and grace that makes it all the more frightening. “Venus In Furs” captures both the power of the drone (that was so essential to the Velvet’s live sound) and harnesses its ability to convey an ennui of almost black hole density. “All Tomorrow’s Parties” is Nico’s finest moment (Wilson also produced her beguiling first solo album). Wilson and the band construct a towering aural monument to ephemeral glamour with the pulse of dread, Cale’s supportive rolling piano, and Reed’s destabilizing frantic guitar.

As with Zappa’s second, Wilson followed the Velvets faithfully into the void for their follow-up, White Light/White Heat, a cacophonous, relentless assault on the ears and good taste. If Wilson had ever been beholden to the hit-making machinery at Columbia, between Zappa and the Velvets, surely, he was its slave no more as he unleashed idiosyncratic assaults upon middle-American values from both coasts.

According to all sources, Wilson was tall (about 6’4″), thin, handsome, intelligent, witty and charismatic. He was also intensely driven into a bewildering array of endeavors including production, music publishing, management, wine, women and song. He was one of the founding owners, with Chris Stone and Gary Kellgren (Wilson’s Engineer), of the legendary Record Plant recording studio in New York.

It would appear that Wilson has not been embraced by the black community as a pioneer. Despite his position on the New York Civil Rights Commission, “he lived his life unapologetically as a human being, not as a black man,” according to his friend Wally “Famous” Amos, the cookie magnate and former William Morris agent.

A girl friend from Wilson’s time in London in the early-’70s, Coral Browning, agrees. “Tom felt let down by blacks. He felt that after the civil rights successes of the ’50s and ’60s, blacks should stop complaining and get on with it. He felt they caused many of their own problems by carrying such large chips on their shoulders.” Perhaps it was the Young Republican in him.

Wilson was forceful, independent, and “took shit from no one,” according to Amos, who relates a story of waiting with Wilson for a cab in New York in the late-’60s. The cabby slowed down, then saw the black men waiting and took off. Wilson shouted after the man in his Texas drawl, “I’m smarter than you, better looking than you, and I can buy and sell you. So get the hell out of here.”

After an amazing, but brief 47 years, Tom Wilson died of a heart attack at his Los Angeles home in 1978.

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About Eric Olsen

  • http://www.rodneywelch.blogspot.com/ Rodney Welch

    Eric — What a fantastic story! Best thing I’ve read all day. I’ve always seen Wilson’s name on all those records you mentioned, but this is the first time I’ve ever learned anything about him. This is definitely a story you should develop at length and sell. Is that Wilson giggling wildly at the beginning of “Bob Dylan’s 115th Dream,” after they blow the first take? I bet it is. I always loved that moment on the record — so perfectly spontaneous.

  • Eric Olsen

    Thanks Rodney, I really appreciate it, especially coming from you. I have always thought the Wilson story would make a great book, or at least a long article – it touches on so many important themes, players, and music. I’m very pleased to hear you say that too.

  • Marty Thau

    Fine story Eric. I knew him and he was eveything you said he was — particularly charismatic and brilliant. You definitely should do a Wilson book.

  • Eric Olsen

    thanks Marty, that’s very encouraging. I’ll have to talk to you about him!

  • http://www,mobiusstreet.blogspot.com Hazy Dave

    Thanks for the article, man. Great to finally know something about the guy behind the name on the back of all those great albums.

  • http://www.aspma.com/ Phil Milstein

    Great piece on Wilson, a figure I’ve long felt to have been severely overlooked and underestimated by the lords of Rock History. I agree that the article should be expanded, although would caution Eric to check some of his music history facts before he does (e.g., Louis Firbank; contemporaneity of VU’s recordings vis-a-vis Mothers’).

  • Eric Olsen

    Thanks Phil, every source I have seen says Lou Reed was born Louis Firbank so I;m pretty sure about that, and the Velvets recorded from ’66-’70 and the Mothers released their first in ’66 and recorded steadily from there, so they were definitely contemporaneous.

  • http://www.rockinboston.com Joe Harvard

    Very cool article, Eric. One or two things: in my recent [and first] book, “The Velvet Underground and Nico” [Continuum, 2004], I found and interviewed Norman Dolph, who co-produced [with Warhol] the V.U.’s New York sessions for that LP– they finished it, but were unable to sell it via Dolph’s Columbia connections. Then they went with Tom Wilson, having been impressed earlier by his offer of true creative freedom once he made his move to MGM/Verve, and re-did the four songs you mention in LA.

    One thing to recall is that they also did a 5th number with Wilson, back in NY, when he decided they needed a single: “Sunday Morning”, which was supposed to be sung by Nico [by Wilson’s request – he felt her voice was more saleable], but which Reed sings on the record, as he insisted on doing it himself once they got into the studio to do it.

    Second, the “shoe salesman” was none other than Norman Dolph, who was at that time a Columbia Sales exec, the other hands-on producer beside Wilson, and a very cool guy who has gotten short shrift over the years. Dolph was brought in by Warhol and it was Norman who set up the sessions at Scepter Studios and found John Licata, the engineer in NY. He was never, ever a shoe salesman. But he was the cat who put up half the money to do the NY stuff, Warhol and mgr. Paul Morrissey put up the rest – around $700. It seems that Cale was either being purposefully sardonic in his description of Dolph, or perhaps it was just a product of the hard drinking he used to do, and may have done at the time of that statement [and doesn’t do any more]. All this and more [plus some old, contradictory issues] is cleared up in my book, on Continuum Publishing’s 33-1/3 Series, available at amazon.com, borders, fine music and book stores, thru me [if you want it signed] or thru the publisher.

    One last thing: during my phone interview, Dolph — obviously a very together individual — was self-effacing and objective. Having been even less appreciated and less remembered than Tom Wilson for his role in this seminal LP [to my knowledge mine is the first lengthy interview with Dolph to ever result in a significant portion reaching the printed page], Norman joked at one point :” By the way, Joe, if you run into Cale, tell him to give you his foot size, and I’ll send him a fucking pair of shoes”. There’s a sport for you!

  • Rick

    Eric, great article. I worked for Tom’s recording studio in 1975. He was a beautiful man with great vision. Yes, that is him laughing at the beginning of Bob Dylan’s 115th Dream. He told me Bob liked recording with Tom because he would come in run the songs down on acoustic guitar and leave. Tom would overdub the band later. At a Christmas party at his home we talked about music and he asked me if I was into jazz. I said no (it would be years before I discovered Coltrane), and he reluctantly changed the subject. Now I wish I had found it earlier. His insights into the music I now love would have been invaluable. My clearest memory of Tom is leaping down the stairs of the studio from his office to the front door to check out a fine chick he spied walking down the street. He is missed often.

  • Eric Olsen

    thanks so much Rick, great to hear from you, it is hard to find people who actually knew Tom these days

  • B

    Has anyone tried to interview Wilson’s family?

  • Tamara

    Wilson also produced Harumi, Ill Wind,
    The Last Ritual and Fraternity Of Man.
    Why isn’t he in the Rock n’ Roll H.O.F.?

  • Eric Olsen

    I completely agree with you Tamara – perhaps his early death has made him out of sight out of mind. He was involved with a great deal of jazz as well, a fascinating figure.

  • http://www.rockinboston.com Joe Harvard

    Whoa… dropped back by and suddenly there’s all sorts of action here … excuse my earlier verbosity! Looks like there’s a movement afoot for you to do a Wilson book … I was astonished the more i learned about the man, and I truly envy those who knew him. Yeah, why ISN’T he in the R&R Hall of Fame? I add my vote to Marty Thau’s: time is ripe for a full-on Wilson bio … you should go for it! [then again, why isn’t there a marty thau bio? Red Star records changed my world!]

  • Nathan Stanton

    Great article, I just want to say that this article should really be a springboard for a book. Tom Wilson’s achievements are truly massive, and with the exception of a NY times article in the early 70’s and various small paragraphs in books (33 and a 1/3 being one of them) Wilson is absent from publication, and really rock history. I recently wrote a paper about Wilson for a course on the history of producers, but the amount of research and digging that had to be done to even come up with a small portion of useable information was way beyond what i had imagined looking at the albums he had produced. If i have one critique of the article is the lack of sonic critique, he was a masterful pioneer of stereo techniques like on white light/white heat the song Lady Godiva, John cale sings most of the song before Reed bumbles in a non tonal vocal and the bounce back and forth to my knowledge nothing like this had been tried before. For someone who has recieved huge praise in the early career of Jon Landau (when writing for the now defunct music magazine crawdaddy), i was suprised no more was written about Wilson.

  • http://www.soundofthecity.com Charlie Gillett

    I’m planning a series of 10 30-minute radio programmes about record producers for BBC Radio 2 called Invisible Visionaries. One of them will celebrate Tom Wilson. Like the rest of you here, I’ve always felt him to be a great but overlooked figure, and did my best to honour him in my book, The Sound of the City (Da Capo, 1995). But I didn’t know very much about him.

    I found this site in the course of searching for more information and insights, and send a thousand thanks to Eric for the original piece and everyone else for filling in some of the blanks.

    Two questions, though – Eric makes a reference at the beginning of his piece to Tom’s work at the start of his career with Savoy Records, and towards the end of it with another Eric, the former former Animal from Newcastle. Can anyone add more, such as which artists did Tom work with at Savoy, and is there anything to say about his work with Eric Burdon?

  • Doug Rathbun

    Good article.

    My father and Tom were in the same class at Harvard B school.

    Tom and Beverly were my “foster parents” when they, well, Beverly, were living on Mt. Pleasant Street in Cambridge in the mid-sixties.

    It’s a real long story, but it started when Beverly came down to Christiansted, St. Croix. Beverly dragged me to the local music store, grabbed a copy of the 45 ‘Judy in Disguise’, the LP’s ‘Animalism’ & ‘Satanic Majesty’s Request’, and said “You’re coming with me.”

    I was twelve.

    Hey T! Hey Darien! Where are you?

  • Paul Payson

    I liked the article! I knew Beverly in Cambridge in the late 60s and would love to know where T and Darien are.

  • Eric Olsen

    sorry I am so late to respond! Charlie, an honor to hear from you – loved The Sound of the City!

    For his stint with Savoy I have Bill Barron, Booker Ervin, Barbara Long, Perry Robinson, Johnny Rae, Sun Ra.

    He did many of the Animals absolute classics: The Animalization , Winds of Change, Eric Is Here, and The Twain Shall Meet albums.

    Thanks for checking in Doug and Paul, please let me know if you find anyone or anymore info!

  • Jim Bourget

    Hey Eric,

    Can’t believe it’s taken me all this time to do a search for Tom….His son is my best friend, has been since 1970.

    I knew Tom very well…one of the most amazing and dynamic people I’ve ever met.

    If you’d like to get in touch with me so you can reach his son (also dynamic and interesting) send me an e mail and I’ll tell you how to reach him. Especially if you want to do a book or more history on him.

    Take Care,

    Jim

  • twilson

    Hey Folks, This is Tom’s son, T.Wilson. I just had this article forwarded to me by a friend and would love get in touch with anyone interested hearing from me or my sister Darien.
    Especially Doug Rathbun and Paul Payson…
    I’m alive and well and hiding in the TV Biz in Northern California. My sister Darien is living down in Southern California.
    Hope all is well with everyone, and thanks so much for all the kind words about my dad. They truly are heart-warming, and I must confess a bit overwhelming…
    Take care, T.

  • PHYLLIS SMITH

    Hi Eric, I was thrilled to receive this article..I was Tom’s assistant at Columbia and at MGM from 1964 thru 1968.
    I have the fondest memories of Tom, he had the best laugh, he was so smart and had a great sense of humor and I just thought he was wonderful. I was at so many of the recording sessions during those years..it was so exciting for a young woman from Brooklyn. I have never forgotten him and think of him often. I could go on and on…but I’ll give someone else a chance…I’m in touch with his son and am planning to meet him next week as a matter of fact.

  • Jim Bourget

    Hey Eric,

    There is no doubt that Tom Wilson should be in the R & R Hall of Fame…it’s really ludicrous. Looks like you’re getting a ground well of support. As people find out and spread the word I’m sure you can help make it happen.

    I know his son and daughter will have some memorabilia and I would certainly hope that Dylan, Simon and Garfunkel and others would like to get involved.

    Let’s make it happen.

    Jim

  • Eric Olsen

    so very exciting to hear from Tom, Jim and Phyllis. I am postiive Charlie (comment 16) would be thrilled to hear from you guys for his BBC radio bio.

    I have zero doubt that Tom should be in the Rock Hall, and his fascinating story should be much better known. Certainly I think a book makes sense, or perhaps better still a documentary. How much video footage is available? That would make a huge difference. YOu certainly have plenty of big names involved in the story!

  • Eddie Rabin

    An old bandmate of mine ( “The Novae Police” ) was in “The Last Ritual”. He was their guitarist. His name is Joe Gabriel, but he had some a/k/a ‘s ,like P.McQuade. Anyway, if anyone can point me in the direction of finding him again, that would be great !

  • John Richo

    Tom was my lifetime best friend, and I gave the eulogy at his memorial service. Phyllis,,, I spoke ewith T last evening and asked that he give you my contact info. Some years ago I made an effort to get Tom into the R&R Hall of Fame. I am a bit PO’ed by some of Tom’s contempories lack of interest, and sensed some jealousy. T and I will be making another effort.

  • Johnny Indovina

    I am so happy to see this. Frustrating to me that he is mentioned so seldom. I have often wished that he could have worked with me on my albums. Count me in any demonstrations that are needed to get Tom a Hall induction.

    Johnny indovina

  • kate hungerford

    I knew Tom for the last year of his life….funny, today I passed Avenida del sol and thought of him…I looked up to find the house but couldn’t spot it…probably gone by now, so much building in Coldwater….I was on a job in New York and was to call him from the airport when I arrived, but left message after message and got no answer. Finally I left my number…and sure enough, I got a call from
    Cara de Menil, who told me the sad news. Tom had already suffered a heart attack and had no intention of living life as an invalid….This was not someone who would ever ‘take it easy’…..
    Lost track of Cara some time ago….T….might you be in touch with her? Katie

  • Jonathan

    FANTASTIC article, Eric! I hope that you’ll do the book eventually :) The only error I could find was pointed out earlier in the thread: Lou Reed was, in fact, born Lewis Alan Reed(see Bockris, “Transformer”, 1995). He has occasionally gone on record as saying that his real last name is “Firbank”, but this is actually an oblique reference to the English author Ronald Firbank, one of Reed’s favorite writers.
    I’ve been listening to a lot of Dylan, VU, and Simon & Garfunkel lately, and I’m amazed that there is so little information available on the obviously brilliant producer of all those classic records. Do us all a favor and write the Tom Wilson bio!

  • GoHah

    Eric: I’m glad this article got a second wind–I also was familiar with Wilson’s name but not his background. Thanks for filling in the gaps.
    —Gordon

  • Eric Olsen

    thanks Jonathan and Gordon, it has been deeply gratifying to find I am no theonly one out there who thinks Tom deserves a much more prominent role in our cultural history. And with all the contacts who have come forth, I am much more optimistic about being able to do a real bio at some point.

    Thanks again to everyone!

  • http://well.com/~djg djg

    I remember when I was in Jr. High the New York Times Magazine did a feature on Tom Wilson… I’m sure that’s available, if not on-line…

    Thanks for this – it’s better than Ritchie Unterburger’s profile which otherwise dominates the available info on Wilson.

    Let me add my voice to those urging a BOOK – or at least a made for TV movie

  • Darien wilson

    Hi! I am Tom’s daughter, Darien Wilson. I am also trying to gather the ridiculous amount of money and energy they demand in order to get my Dad a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Bon Jovi? Adam Sandler? C’Mon!!!! That is so sad that they are honered and good ol’ Tom Wilson is but a memory. If anybody wants to pledge, I will generously donate and get in touch with Richo to give us his excellent Bio to submit with a check for $15,000.00 They only award one posthumous “star” a year, so I am sure this will not be an easy feat.
    You all are fantastic for keeping his spirit alive…THANK YOU!
    Darien Wilson

  • http://www.moistworks.com Alex

    Darien, I’m writing a book on rock and roll, and am (and always have been) interested in your father. I’d love to speak with you (or anyone else who knew him) about him, if you’re willing and have the time. You can email me at moistworks at gmail.com. Eric, lovely stuff – all these folks are right; you should do a book!

  • Doug Rathbun

    Eric,

    Been out of the states and noticed T and Darien lurking about. # 17, 21 & 33.

    I can’t seem to find them using the usual suspects. Can you give me a clue?

    Doug Rathbun
    [Personal contact info deleted]

  • http://lisadel Lise Delaplace

    Hi, and Thank you for the wonderful article.
    I have known the Wilsons in Cambridge, in 1965-67. I lived with the Wilsons: Beverly, Darien and T. and continued to see Tom when later I lived in New York. I am amazed that I could not find out about you guys, earlier. I searched for you in Cambridge many times, and never new Tom passed away so soon, too soon … Tom was such a cool guy, and his influence in the NYC music scene, was fantastic then, how could he be forgotten? Yes a book about him should be written. If T. or Darien or Beberly can send me a short note, I would appreciate. I hope you’re all fine.

  • Emily Hall Sullivan

    Dear Darien It’s me … Emily,

    Was listening to Simon & G this am and thought I would look up your Dad online … sure enough there was a photo with Dylan, then you and T. e-mailing on this … I’ll call Ginny … I’ve wanted to get to you since you came to visit Peabody that one time … Em

  • Jason Rose

    Fantastic piece! I am a big fan of this man’s work. Thanks for writing this most informative article.

  • jack

    Rick wrote : Eric, great article. I worked for Tom’s recording studio in 1975. He was a beautiful man with great vision. Yes, that is him laughing at the beginning of Bob Dylan’s 115th Dream. He told me Bob liked recording with Tom because he would come in run the songs down on acoustic guitar and leave. Tom would overdub the band later.

    This is not true. The Dylan tracks were recorded live in the studio (Dylan & band playing together, as the tape rolled). Listen to any outtake as proof.
    The only exception was 4 tracks that Wilson o/d backing musicians on, December 1964, and never issued.

  • Steven Prazak

    After communicating with Eric Olsen and Al Kooper as well as a number of my own colleagues, I’ve decided to start work on a full fledged bio on Tom Wilson. Rather amazed no one has done one by now, to be honest. I very much look forward to communicating with many of you who knew and worked with this fascinating cat. This is obviously a story worth telling. Anyone who’d like to get in touch in advance, feel free: srprazak(at)aol(dot)com

    Steven Prazak
    Atlanta

  • S. Salvatori

    OMG I had no idea Tom Wilson was so instrumental in launching Zappa’s career. I’ve been a Zappa fan all my life and never bothered to look at the production credits of his first recordings. Not sure if George Duke was in the band that early. Wonder if he knew Tom Wilson? If so, he’d probably be a great guy to contact.

    I know of Mr. Wilson’s work through “The Last Ritual” – one of his lesser-known psychedelic projects for Lumumba Productions. Recording and remix engineer: Jack “Super Baby” Adams. Advice printed on the rear album cover: “Achtung! IS VERY HEAVY MUSIC. PLAY LOUDLY AS POSSIBLE. YES!” And it actually does sound better the louder you play it. Interestingly, the music was quite dynamic. During the quiet interludes it’s just dripping with an awesomely wet reverb that sets an incredibly sensual “mood”. You can sometimes find a copy of this in a record shop on Bleeker Street, NYC. Actually, I sometimes see it online for $30. Wonder if anyone from that project ever got any royalties?

    The production was top notch, using only the best NY session musicians. My Dad played Bass Trombone in that band. A few years earlier he had graduated from Berklee in Boston with some greats…Gary Burton, Steve Marcus, Sadao Watanabe, Graham Collier, et. al. He took “The Last Ritual” gig thinking it would be financially beneficial. I know it certainly wasn’t his musical forte. I remember he dragged our whole family to a club (The Circus?) for a rare afternoon appearance. I was around eight years old – it made a life-lasting impression. It was so LOUD! The women were so HOT and the energy was so ELECTRIC – it was sensory overload for a pre-pubescent kid. Looking back I probably inhaled a lot of second hand funny stuff that day; though I’m sure my parents would never have brought us if they’d had any clue that kind of stuff would be happening right in the club. Dad still shudders at the mention of that band. Says he could never hear himself playing because it was too loud; but of course as a kid I really dug it and I played the record over and over again (to his chagrin).

    Another great NYC horn player in that band was Sharon Moe. She played French Horn and I think she sang some of the ooh la la la’s. She is still a very well respected NYC “Classical” horn player. Someone mentioned the guitar player, Gabriel, in an earlier post. Anyone know if he’s still alive? He had an awesome sound that was cutting-edge late 60’s! If anyone wants more scoop on this project, email me and I’ll see if I can pick Dad’s brain for any more details. He’s getting old now and I haven’t talked to him about this stuff in years but he’s still amazingly lucent at times.

  • Eddie Rabin

    To S. Salvatori – –
    I am the “someone” who posted earlier about Gabriel, guitarist of The Last Ritual. I too, saw them at the Electric Circus in about 1968,only I believe I saw them at night. Incredibly, the 2 other then-unknown groups on the bill were Alice Cooper and Sha Na Na ! ( sorry if this is getting a little OT )The sax player was Kenny Lehman, who I knew from Juilliard, and who went on to a successful Disco-producing career.
    Dead or alive ? This is the kind of speculation Gabe would LOVE, and let’s hope it’s the latter.
    If you need to contact me, I’m in the book ( phone or Union. )

  • http://www.myspace.com/RETAIL retail

    Tom Wilson is the greatest unsung hero of rock & roll. He invented folk rock. Before Wilson and his work with Dylan and Simon & Garfunkle, rock & roll was bubblegum. It didn’t say anything. Wilson realized before anyone else that rock could have a message. His work with Dylan preceded The Beatles’ “Rubber Soul” when Lennon & McCartney began to write serious lyrics and their music took an adventurous turn. Tom Wilson is as important as Sam Phillips and Sir George Martin in the development of rock as a cultural force. The music industry could use someone like him in these times when mediocrity and crass stupidity is celebrated on MTV.

  • http://www.sonicbids.com/RETAIL retail

    Wilson’s work with the Velvet Underground also puts him at the conception of punk.

  • http://www.cassy-poetry.websitewizard.com/ Cassandra

    RE: JIM BOURGET

    Your last post was on October 5, 2005 but apparently you were in a car accident, which resulted in a fatality, in Nigeria in October 2001. I was told that you had no family. Please contact me, a fellow Bourget, to verify some things. You may contact me at my URL or just by posting another message.

  • nosehair muthatrucker sash

    Tom was the man ..Met and know his daughter Darien who is a character if there ever was one.. I think thay should do a movie about his life and it would be cool.I told my wife about 20 years ago a movie about Ray Charles would be good and they did it…Anyways I never knew just how influential he was with other bands besides Velvet Underground……He was groundbreaking and great…A star ?Give him a street!

  • Segun

    Wow! How beautiful to find this tribute!

    I was just listening to Nico’s fabulous “Chelsea Girl”. I’ve always loved the chamber folk production by Tom Wilson, which has influenced so many folk recordings since. And I was amused to discover that Nico wanted a full rock band instead with no strings or flute. Seems that Tom Wilson just ignored her, another wise decision from a master producer!

    Someone should really do a film about him. It’s not often that record producers are celebrated, but Tom was in a pivotal position straddling 60s avantgarde and mainstream pop.

    For me, a black man into folk, rock & punk, he is mos def a true black role model.

    & so sweet to see his friends & family commenting here too!

  • Daniel Abraham

    I’ve wondered for over 25 years why nobody seemed to care about Tom Wilson. Glad to see I was wrong, hopefully someone will finally write a book about him.
    The VU’s Banana lp, the Soft Machine’s 1st lp, Like a Rolling Stone, and probably the most successful ‘remix’ ever – Simon & Garfunkel’s Sound of Silence… That alone should get the man’s name etched in stone somewhere as one of the most important producer of the last 50 years.

    Listen to the Dolph’s acetate to realize how sensitive TW was in handling the VU. For that record alone, he is for me one of the all-time greats.

  • che

    I was just thinking of the Last Ritual and have that album in my collection. I need to convert it to a cd before I lose it.

  • http://redtelephone66.blogspot.com/ Leonard

    Mr. Salvatori,

    Would like as much info as you can muster about the Last Ritual.
    I bought this lp when it first came out in’69 and have played it regularly ever since, i posted it on my blog awhile ago, so if anyone wants to hear it, head over to Redtelephone66

    i also have the Chelsea Biege lp that included most members of The Last Ritual. speaking of Tom Wilson’s productions, does anyone know what ever became of Harumi? that was another fantastic record!!!

  • Jim

    Obviously he had quite a track record for a relatively brief whil. I’ve long had a vinyl 12″ of a VU radio intv (Reed/Cale) on-air with Wilson as host. One of those overpriced pic-disc things, it’s brief but worth getting for fans. Just don’t buy it as a collectible: it’s only 7 minutes or something. Anyway, Wilson comes off as a too-cool hepcat, in a notably mellow mood (such as I try to maintain myself) but the talk gives away precious little about him. At most, he seems comfortable with Lou and John (both in an unusually relaxed mood themselves, very pleasant with their host, unlike certain other later interviews with others) but he seems oddly unfamiliar with some of their music. No criticism intended, but you’d have to hear it to understand my intent here.

  • paul payson

    I see that T Wilson #20 or 21 was interested in getting in touch with me, can you give me his contact info? [Personal contact info deleted]

  • steven stancell

    my name is steven stancell, music producer, former columnist and author of the first rap encyclopedia. i decided to do a book on tom wilson in 2001. we had many similarities, and as a black man into rock, folk and a bunch of other stuff, i thought it would be a perfect fit, especially since i was already into most of the artists he worked with. i spoke with a few people back then who knew him like clarence avant, al aronowitz, and especially gail zappa and phyllis smith. both ladies were really sweet and abundantly helpful. (phyllis even provided pictures.) then 9/11 happened and that was it. publishers weren’t interested in this at all. a few years later i tried again and the response from them was the same. i’m glad to see that there are people who know how important this man was.

    steven stancell

  • howard gilliam

    eric icanfill you in ontoms activities in los angeles. iwas his partner in angel city sound our recording studio in hollywood.he was aprodecer for motown los angeles at the time. we recorded several motown artists.tom also wrote amovie script which he gave to me.titled “birth of a nation part 2. one of the major magazines did a double fold color spread of ton and all the famous artists he recorded he wasin hiswhite suit and no socks his usual atire.we were very close friends and hung out a lot.Tom and I were the same age.a small story of tom and frank zappa. tom took him to new york to meet the record people. coming out of thr plaza hotel tom could not get a taxi to stop when they saw zappas wild wild hair. i cantell you many stories about Tom but i am not too coputer oriented. howard gilliam.

  • howard gilliam

    To add to my previus comments.at angel city sounds we recorded John Mayols best album.also recorded fleetwood Mac and numerous other top artists.Tom Wilson was producer.I actualy was named executive on one of them. Howard gilliam.

  • Manderley (Kim) MacArthur

    Twilson. T…..this is Kim. Now my name is Manderley since 35rys. Would love to contact you if you see this blog. In Cambridge at present. M

  • BobBerkeley

    The first photo I saw of Tom Wilson was on the cover of the Mothers’ “We’re Only in It for the Money” album, standing apart, wearing a letterman’s sweater and looking competent and cool as all hell. Which he undoubtedly was.

  • http://www.nomadjunkie.com Dennis Leroy Kangalee

    Wonderful article, thanks for this little gem…that celebrates a “hidden” gem — especially in the African American canon of great artists/musical curators of the 20th century. I have had drop down, dragged out fights with folks about Tom Wilson and have repeatedly had to defend his varied contributions due to the fact that a lot of people are ignorant of his contributions and then “alienated” when they discover he was black. But that’s their own hang ups and problems. I have always admired Wilson’s contributions and many of the artists he’s collaborated with. I appreciated Richie Unterberger’s desire to have interviewed Wilson and its nice to see folks on this thread give their respect to him…I mentioned him in public at the premiere performance of my solo play/performance “Gentrified Minds” — when someone asked me who was an inspiration, I blurted Tom Wilson. When asked why? I said because he was so dynamic and radical for his time and worked with such a variety of artists, no matter who or what or when they did or came about. I am writing a “sketch” about Wilson for AfroPunk next month.

  • Stephen Yanicak

    Reading the bio and blog comments about Tom Wilson makes me feel so blessed that I attended grammar school during the 1960s…and listened to all that fantastic music. The span (variety) of all the music he produced during that period was what the 1960s were all about.. I have many of his major productions (Dylan to Simon and Garfunkel to the Velvets to the Mother’s) and frequently contaminate my 14 yr-old daughter’s iTunes collection with my favorite picks (much to her delight). Tom Wilson rightfully deserves his “Founding Father” seat in the R&R Hall of Fame.

  • Paul payson

    I would like to find T Wilson, he was trying to find me , 20 & 21. I knew him and his sister back in Cambridge in the 60s. We had a blast with Beverly in Cambridge and up at some farm in New Hampshire. I know Jim W. Was also interested in finding T and Darian.

    Thanks for any help you can give me……..

  • http://youtu.be/ET6C_Su4lrc Steven Stancell

    Tom Wilson Video

  • C. Alexander Brown

    I had started with Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s legendary documentary/public affairs programme “This Hour Has Seven Days, and worked my way up to being a producer with The Public Eye. I was the first person to put Ralph Nader on TV. without boasting but telling God’s simple truth, some of my documentaries, were earth shaking including — “Chemical and Biological Warfare,” “Unsafe autos(killer cars)” and “To Be Black In Philadelphia” It had a tremendous impact, and I was fired one week later by Richard Neilsen the executive producer. No one would hire me so I went to L.A. and Dr. Richard Scott of NET/PBS looked at one of my films and hired me on the spot to be a producer of “The Advocates” The lawyer of my production team, Steven B.Stein, a former N.Y Federal Prosecutor introduced me to his friend Tom Wilson. We hit it off [I am a Black Jamaican Canadian with stories to tell about aspects of Canadian reality].
    Tom saw some of my poetry and some songs I had written and we felt that hey!!!… we could try some things together….!! Magic words…. through an open portal unknown verdant fields stretching into the distance. Then he died. There are no words to describe the sense of loss and the numbness.
    So now here we are, with the world finally discovering that a truly great man was amongst us for a short while. Too short. And by the way, Tom’s the one who told Simon and Garfunkel to stop calling themselves “Tom & Jerry.”

    C. ALEXANDER BROWN,
    Rockcliffe Park, CANADA,
    Baden Wuerttemberg, GERMANY.

  • Justin Quintner

    What a great article. I learnt so much this morning reading your article.Tom Wilson sounds like he was a pioneer of the contempoaray music industry with his involvement in the folk music scene with Bob Dylan and Simon and Garfumkel and right through to art rock with The Velvet Underground and Frank Zappa. A Hall of fame induction, and or some sort of recognition would be fitting for such a man who was preared to go against the trends and truly wear his heart (and ear) on his sleeve.

  • Tim McGovern

    Tom Wilson was the first producer I ever worked with..he was exactly that: tall, good-lookin’, well dressed, easy to talk frankly with, articulate and willing to take musical risks…..more than deserving to be in the R&RHoF

  • http://www.themortonreport.com Eric Olsen

    I am still amazed by the longevity and relevance of this article – very gratifying to see that it continues to make a difference. Eventually Tom will get the level of recognition he is due

  • jacobihc

    Nico was born in Cologne, Germany. We don’t have too many international icons over here, so we have to be alert…