JOURNALISTIC AND CRITICAL PERSPECTIVES ON TOM WILSON

Q&A with Bill Flanagan
by Bill Flanagan
BobDylan.com, March 22, 2017

Bill Flanagan: Tom Wilson is kind of a mysterious figure, not much is known about him. What did he bring to the party as a producer?

Bob Dylan: Tom was a jazz guy, produced a lot of jazz records, mostly Sun Ra. I just turned around one day and he was there. Nowadays they’d call him a producer, but back then they didn’t call him that; he was a typical A&R man, responsible for your repertoire. I didn’t exactly need a repertoire because I had songs of my own, so I didn’t know what an A&R man did. Somebody had to be there from the record company to communicate with the engineer. Back then I don’t think I was ever allowed to talk to an engineer. […] Tom was Harvard-educated but he was street-wise too. When I met him he was mostly into offbeat jazz, but he had a sincere enthusiasm for anything I wanted to do, and he brought in musicians like Bobby Gregg and Paul Griffin to play with me. Those guys were first class, they had insight into what I was about. Most studio musicians had no idea, they hadn’t listened to folk music or blues or anything like that. I think working with me opened up Tom’s world too, because after working with me he started recording groups like The Velvet Underground and The Mothers of Invention. Tom was a genuinely good guy and he was very supportive.

Marshall Crenshaw pays homage to late producer Tom Wilson
By Roger Catlin
Washington Post, August 12, 2016

“A friend of mine, the musicologist Irwin Chusid, launched this website in October 2013, and I just got pulled down into the rabbit hole. I got lost in this thing. I’d seen Wilson’s name on records before. Everybody who has any rock records has one or two with his name on them. But I wasn’t super conscious about him, I didn’t know that much about him. I looked at this website and realized this guy is an absolute giant, he’s like an essential figure in popular music of my lifetime. Irwin said he put the site up in the hopes that an author or a filmmaker would pick up on the story and do something with it. After 10 days or so, I realized I was seeing the movie in my mind, and this notion I should make the documentary myself just lodged in my brain.”
AUDIO: Crenshaw talks about Wilson on WFMU’s Todd-O-Phonic Todd show (July 15, 2017)

True Heroes of Texas Music: Tom Wilson
By Michael Corcoran
Lone Star Music Magazine, December 18, 2015

“As monumental as were those [early Wilson-produced] Dylan and Simon & Garfunkel albums, Wilson’s most challenging work in the recording booth came after Columbia, when he became a staff producer at MGM/Verve in 1966 and helmed the debut albums by both Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention and the Velvet Underground within a two-month period (March-May 1966). You couldn’t get too weird for Wilson, who released cosmic freejazz philosopher Sun Ra’s first album in 1956. Jazz By Sun Ra came out on Transition, the label Wilson started in 1955, right after he graduated from Harvard with a degree in economics. After you’ve worked with an ‘Arkestra’ leader who claimed to be from Saturn, Andy Warhol’s junkies aren’t going to freak you out.”

The Amazing Tom Wilson
by Eric Olsen
Blogcritics.org, October 23, 2003

“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 [in 1955], 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 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.”

Interview with Wally “Famous” Amos
May 28, 2013

“I can’t necessarily recall a time when Tom and I talked that much about music. We talked a lot about girls. We probably talked about girls more than anything else.” ‎

The Man Who Put Electricity Into Dylan
by Michael Watts, Melody Maker,  January 31, 1976

It was during his two years at Columbia that his career was really made. To begin with, there was Bob Dylan. “I didn’t even particularly like folk music,” said Wilson. “I’d been recording Sun Ra and Coltrane, and I thought folk music was for the dumb guys. This guy played like the dumb guys. But then these words came out. I was flabbergasted. I said to Albert Grossman, who was in the studio, ‘If you put some background to this you might have a white Ray Charles with a message.’”

The Important Tom Wilson
Michael Gray, 2013

Wilson invites Al Kooper to play guitar on “Like A Rolling Stone.” Kooper sits down at the organ and makes history. At first, Wilson is skeptical. What was Dylan’s actual response to Wilson’s doubt?

The Producers: Tom Wilson
by Derek Ansell, Jazz Journal,  October 2012

“When Wilson’s Transition label sampler LP came out in 1956, the John Coltrane track, ‘Trane’s Strain,’ featuring the saxophonist with Curtis Fuller, Pepper Adams, Paul Chambers and Philly Joe Jones, was so badly reviewed that Wilson decided to scrap the session it came from and not to issue the LP.”

Produced by Tom Wilson: A Guide to a Forgotten Visionary
JiveTimeRecords.com, February 28, 2012

“Ask your friendly neighborhood music nerd about the great producers of the ‘60s and you’ll hear some familiar names: Phil Spector. George Martin. Berry Gordy. But Tom Wilson? Probably not. True, the output of this Zelig-like figure, though prolific, has very few distinguishing characteristics. There’s no ‘Wall of Sound.’ No Abbey Road studio wizardry. No Funk Brothers. Yet despite this lack of an authorial stamp, Tom Wilson’s legacy is perhaps even more significant and far-reaching than those of any of his contemporaries.”

Dion DiMucci: The Tom Wilson Sessions
Whistle Taste (blog), April 20, 2010

“The twelve songs they recorded all showcase superior, unique genius. Dion is at the top of his game both on vocals and on guitar, his songwriting is diamond perfect, his band is loose, that Tom Wilson sound is unmistakable, this is better than perfection, this is heaven. Yet, for some mysterious reason I cannot and will never understand, Columbia shelved the whole thing.”

Before Rock, There Was Jazz: Tom Wilson And Transition Records (podcast)
David Brent Johnson, IndianaPublicMedia.org, October 19, 2009

“Transition Records merits a mark in music history for two reasons. It was the first label to record two of modern jazz’s most adventurous artists: charismatic bandleader Sun Ra and the pianist Cecil Taylor. Secondly, the founder and producer of Transition Records was Tom Wilson, a young, African-American political science/economics graduate from Harvard who would go on to produce some of the most important rock records of the 1960s.”

The Greatest Music Producer You’ve Never Heard Of Is …
Michael Hall, Texas Monthly, January 7, 2014

“Much of Wilson’s life is a mystery—especially the beginning. How did a boy raised in Jim Crow-era Waco become one of the great music men of the twentieth century? How did he cultivate such an ear for talent? His end is a riddle too. What happened to Wilson in his final years? What we do know is this: for a good chunk of time in between his beginning and his end, especially from 1955 to 1968, Tom Wilson made history. Modern music wouldn’t be the same without him, and, a word to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, he deserves to be honored for that.”

Tom Wilson Produces the Burt Ward “Boy Wonder” Sessions
Dangerous Minds (blog), August 1, 2013

Ward: “I should have had the wisdom I now have when I signed a recording contract with MGM Records — I wouldn’t have signed it. Tom [Wilson] was assigned as my producer. He brought in one of the visually wildest groups imaginable as my backup band, the Mothers of Invention. What a sight! Neanderthal. They had incredibly long, scraggly hair, and clothes that appeared not to have been washed in this century if ever. These were musicians who became famous for tearing up furniture, their speakers, their microphones and even their expensive guitars onstage. They were maniacs!”

Updated: July 16, 2017