Tom Wilson (25 March 1931 - 6 September 1978) was an American music producer.
In 1955 Wilson set up his own jazz label, Transition, while he worked as a radio producer until the late 1950s. One of his releases was the jazz compilation album Jazz in Transition (1957). During the early 1960s he became A&R director for Savoy Records, before he became a producer for Columbia Records in 1963 – producing early recordings by Bob Dylan, such as the albums The Times They Are-A Changin' (1963), Another Side of Bob Dylan (1964) and Bringing It All Back Home (1965), as well as the single Like A Rolling Stone (1965). He also produced The Futuristic Sounds of Sun Ra (1961) by Sun Ra.
Wilson added a rhythm section to Simon and Garfunkel's accoustic "The Sounds of Silence." and released it as a single. It went to number 2 in the charts. Wilson later left Columbia and went to MGM/Verve where he would work with The Velvet Underground. He produced their records The Velvet Underground & Nico (1967) and White Light/White Heat (1968), as well as Nico's Chelsea Girl (1967) and The Soft Machine (1968) by Soft Machine.
Wilson was one of the founding owners, with Chris Stone and Gary Kellgren (Wilson's Engineer), of the Record Plant recording studio in New York.
Zappa and Tom Wilson
David Anderle was a talent scout in LA and he persuaded Wilson to come from New York to see The Mothers at the Whisky a Go-Go. He liked what he saw and signed them up to Verve Records. Zappa was so grateful that he named Wilson among his list of influences in in the sleeve of Zappa's debut album Freak Out! (1966), under the heading: "These People Have Contributed Materially In Many Ways To Make Our Music What It Is. Please Do Not Hold It Against Them." However, Wilson was under the wrong impression that Zappa and the Mothers were merely a white blues rock band. In "MGM" Zappa said: ""When they first heard us, we were working in a club in Hollywood called the Whisky a Go-Go and the A&R man, uh, producer Tom Wilson, came in, he heard us play one song, it was the Watts Riot Song, and it's some sort of an R&B-type thing, so he figures, topical R&B group, just what we need, [laughter], so he phones up the company, … I got one, datadah, we're goin' into the studio, you know, not too much later we're going to the studio to record and they didn't know what was happening. He got on the phone, we … first we did Any Way The Wind Blows, that was the first thing we recorded and the second thing we did was Who Are The Brain Police? and by the time we finished Brain Police his head going around like this, y'know 'n' he says, what happened to the other one that I heard at the "Whisky a Go-Go", and he called back to New York and he said, I got something strange happening here in the whole project, just expanded incredibly and everybody got really thrilled over suddenly, thought they got a real hot item on their hands."
Zappa recalled in Absolutely Frank. EQ Magazine Interview about the recording of The Return Of The Son Of Monster Magnet: "Tom Wilson, who was the producer on that session, admitted to me several years later that he has taken acid that night, so he was in there in the control room turning the knobs on acid. And I didn't even know. So he must have had some kind of weird experience.
Wilson produced Zappa's albums Freak Out! (1966), Absolutely Free (1967) and We're Only In It For The Money (1968). He also produced The Animals' album Animalism (1966) and the single Boy Wonder I Love You/Orange Colored Sky (1966) featuring Burt Ward. On both Zappa was arranger/conductor.
Zappa about Tom Wilson
Tom Wilson, who was producing records for MGM at the time, came to the Whisky a Go-Go while we were a five-piece group, while Henry Vestine was still with us. He heard us sing "The Watts Riot Song (Trouble Every Day)." He stayed for five minutes, said "Yeah, yeah, yeah," slapped me on the back, shook my hand and said, "Wonderful. We're gonna make a record of you. Goodbye." I didn't see him again for four months. He thought we were a rhythm and blues band. He probably went back to New York and said, "I signed me another rhythm and blues band from the Coast. They got this song about the riot. It's a protest song. They'll do a couple of singles and maybe they'll die out". He came back to town just before we were going to do our first recording session. We had a little chat in his room and that was when he first discovered that that wasn't all that we played. Things started changing. We decided not to make a single, we'd make an album instead. He wouldn't give me an idea of what the budget would be for the album, but the average rock and roll album costs about $5,000. The start-to-finish cost of FREAK OUT was somewhere around $21,000. The first tune we cut was "Any Way The Wind Blows." Unfortunately, it's a bad mix, but the track is really good. Then we did "Who Are The Brain Police?" When Wilson heard those he was so impressed he got on the phone and called New York, and as a result I got a more or less unlimited budget to do this monstrosity. The next day I had whipped up the arrangements for a twenty-two piece orchestra. It wasn't just a straight orchestra accompanying the singers. It was the Mothers five-piece band plus seventeen pieces. We all worked together. The editing took a long time, which ran the cost up. Meanwhile, Wilson was sticking his neck out. He laid his job on the line by producing the album. MGM felt that they had spent too much money on the album and they were about to let it die, but it started selling all over the place. Like, they'd sell forty copies in some little town the size of a pumpkin in Wyoming. We sold five thousand albums all over the country with no extra-hype or anything. Finally the company started pushing the album and sales went even higher." -The Incredible History Of The Mothers, Frank Zappa in Hit Parader, No. 48, June 1968.
"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."' - Frank Zappa, Rolling Stone Interview, 1988
"Well, Tom was a great guy. Uh, he had a fascinating ability to read the Wall Street Journal, have a blonde sitting on his lap and tell the engineer to add more compression to the vocal all at the same time. But, by the time we started working on our third album, uhm, he was not talking to the engineer as much and talking to the Blonde a little bit more and so I said, 'Blonde, just let me produce this. I know, you have other things in your mind, and the' … uh, "We're Only In It For The Money" was the first album that I produced, he produced the first two." - MTV interview with Frank Zappa, 1986, recorded on Tom Wilson (The Track), from The MOFO Project/Object (Deluxe Edition).
- Whisky a Go-Go
- Frank Zappa the Incredible Boss Mother
- The Incredible History Of The Mothers
- The Fabulous Furry Freak Brother!