- Tom Wilson (producer)
Thomas Blanchard Wilson Jr. (
March 25, 1931– September 6, 1978) was an American record producerbest known for his work in the 1960s with Bob Dylan, Frank Zappa, Simon and Garfunkeland The Velvet Underground. He worked for Columbia Records, then went to Verve Records.
Wilson was born in 1931 to Tom and Fannie Wilson. He grew up in
Waco, Texas, where he attended A.J. Moore High School, and was a member of New Hope Baptist Church. Tom was known by his initials, T.B. in his youth. While attending Fisk University, Wilson was invited to Harvard where he became involved with the Harvard New Jazz Society and radio station WHRB; to the latter he later credited all of his success in the music business.
He was virtually the only
African-Americanrecord producer working in mainstream American popular music, and was most productive in the 1960s, though he made his first mark in the mid-50s. Having a goal in mind of setting up a record label and recording the most advanced jazzmusicians of the day, he formed a label called Transition Records. The label did release several albums, including Sun Ra's " Jazz By Sun Ra(or Sun Song)" (which was Ra's first LP, though a second LP for Transition was unreleased until 1968) and the album " Jazz Advance" by Cecil Taylor. However, the label eventually folded, and most of their material was sold to Delmark Records, a small Chicago-based label.
As a staff producer at
Columbia RecordsWilson was one of the "midwives" of folk-rock. He produced Simon & Garfunkel's 1964 debut LP " Wednesday Morning, 3 A.M." which included " The Sound of Silence". Seizing on local radio interest in the song in Floridaand inspired by the huge success of The Byrds' folk-rockversion of Bob Dylan's " Mr Tambourine Man", Wilson took the duo's original acoustic track and, without Simon or Garfunkel's knowledge, overdubbed electric instruments, turning the track into a #1 pop hit, helping to launch the folk-rock genre. Simon and Garfunkel, who had already split, re-united after the hit and went on to greater success.
Wilson's other major achievement was his work with
Bob Dylan, producing " Bringing It All Back Home". Wilson is credited as one of the producers of " Highway 61 Revisited", even though he only produced one song, Dylan's 1965 single " Like a Rolling Stone," where he allowed musician Al Kooperto play the signature organ part, even though up to that point he had only been a guitarist.
After working with Wilson, both Dylan and Simon & Garfunkel went on to work with another Columbia staff producer,
Bob Johnston. Johnston produced several albums for both acts.
In 1966 he signed the
Mothers of Inventionto Verve Recordsand was credited as producer on the group's seminal debut album " Freak Out!" although it is widely believed that Frank Zappa, the leader of the group, did most of the real production work.
For Verve Wilson also produced
The Velvet Underground, featuring Lou Reed, John Cale, and Nico. Another of his Verve production credits was The Blues Project, which featured Al Kooper as vocalist and keyboardist. In fact, Kooper had met and joined the Blues Project after the band had auditioned for and been rejected by Columbia Records, where Kooper had been playing in Bob Dylan's band, which was being produced by Wilson.
Wilson was also credited with producing the first album by
While it is undeniable that on most of his notable productions, the lion's share of the creative work is attributable to the primary artists, composers and instrumentalists on these recordings, it stands to reason that it is more than mere coincidence that Wilson was a supervising presence at the birth and blossoming of some of the major breakthroughs in American music in the mid-20th Century. From his championing of the innovative early work of Sun Ra, Cecil Taylor and Frank Zappa, to his shepherding of Bob Dylan from standout folk singer to full-fledged legend and voice of a generation; from his resuscitation of a dying Simon and Garfunkel duo, leading them to stardom and making possible the exploration of their unique musical world to his helming the session that yielded "Like a Rolling Stone", often cited as the single greatest song of the Rock 'n' Roll era, Tom Wilson was a crucial force. Though he rarely receives notice comparable with these mammoth achievements, Wilson clearly belongs in the discussion (along with luminaries such as
Phil Spector, George Martin, Brian Wilsonand Teo Macero) of the most important and influential producers of the 1960s. If for nothing else, Tom Wilson should be remembered as the person that gave Dylan his rock and roll sound....indeed, as the person that first got Dylan to "plug in" (on Bringing It All Back Home). Something that Dylan has long acknowledged (1969 Rolling Stone Interview, Jann Wenner : "There's been some articles on Wilson and he says that he's the one that gave you the rock and roll sound . . . and started you doing rock and roll. Is that true?"Dylan :"That is true. He did. He had a sound in mind".). citequote
"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." "Wilson was sticking his neck out. He laid his job on the line by producing the album." - Frank Zappa
Kurt Loder, Bat Chain Puller, 2002, Rowman & Littlefield ISBN 9780815412250]
Sun Ra: " Sun Song"
Cecil Taylor: " Jazz Advance"
Sun Ra: "The Futuristic Sounds of Sun Ra"
Bob Dylan: The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan(4 tracks, uncredited)
Bob Dylan: " The Times They Are A-Changin'"
Bob Dylan: " Another Side of Bob Dylan"
Simon and Garfunkel: " Wednesday Morning, 3 A.M."
Simon and Garfunkel: " The Sound of Silence" single
Bob Dylan: " Bringing It All Back Home"
Bob Dylan: " Like a Rolling Stone" single (also on the 1965 album " Highway 61 Revisited", otherwise produced by Bob Johnston)
Mothers of Invention: " Freak Out!"
Eric Burdon& The Animals " Eric Is Here"
Mothers of Invention: Absolutely Free
The Blues Project: " Projections"
The Velvet Underground: " The Velvet Underground and Nico" (as post-production editor, remixer, and producer of the track "Sunday Morning")
Nico: "Chelsea Girl"
The Velvet Underground: " White Light/White Heat"
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