Thomas Blanchard Wilson Jr. (March 25, 1931 - September 6, 1978) was an American record producer best known for his work in the 1960s with Bob Dylan, the Mothers of Invention, Simon and Garfunkel, the Velvet Underground, Cecil Taylor, Sun Ra, Eddie Harris, Nico, Eric Burdon & the Animals, the Blues Project, the Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem, and others.
Wilson was born on March 25, 1931 to Thomas Blanchard and Fannie Odessa (Brown) Wilson. He grew up in Waco, Texas, where he attended A.J. Moore High School, and was a member of New Hope Baptist Church. He was known by his initials, T.B., in his youth. While attending Fisk University, Wilson was invited to Harvard University 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.
On graduating from Harvard, he borrowed $900 to set up Transition Records, having a goal in mind of setting up a record label and recording the most advanced jazz musicians of the day. The label released about a dozen albums, including Sun Ra's Jazz By Sun Ra (retitled Sun Song when reissued in 1968), which was Ra's first LP (a second LP of Transition material was unreleased until 1968), and the album Jazz Advance by Cecil Taylor, which was Taylor's debut release. Transition also released the first sessions led by Doug Watkins, Donald Byrd, and Herb Pomeroy. The label went bankrupt in 1957 and the catalog was sold off to the Blue Note and Delmark labels. Wilson's work with Transition Records helped him obtain a job with United Artists Records in 1957. He went on to work as a producer for various jazz labels, including Savoy Records, for whom he again recorded Sun Ra in 1961.
As a staff producer at Columbia Records Wilson was one of the 'midwives' of folk-rock, producing three of Bob Dylan's key 1960s albums: The Times They Are a-Changin', Another Side of Bob Dylan, and Bringing It All Back Home, along with the 1965 single, "Like a Rolling Stone." Wilson also produced the final four tracks Dylan recorded for The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan, after he replaced John Hammond as Dylan's producer in 1963.
Wilson 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 Florida and inspired by the huge success of The Byrds' folk-rock version of 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.
After working with Wilson, both Dylan and Simon & Garfunkel worked with another Columbia staff producer, Bob Johnston, who produced several albums for both acts.
In 1966, Wilson signed the Mothers of Invention to Verve Records and 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.
Also in 1966, after the Animals split from producer Mickie Most, Wilson became their producer, which continued until the original band broke up in 1967. Wilson also produced the Velvet Underground, featuring Lou Reed, John Cale, and Nico. Another of his Verve production credits was the Blues Project's first studio album Projections (1966) featuring Al Kooper as vocalist and keyboard player. Wilson co-produced the Soft Machine's eponymous first album with Chas Chandler in 1968.
Wilson was an important producer (alongside his contemporaries Phil Spector, George Martin, Brian Wilson and Teo Macero) of the 1960s. He has been said to have had the skill of "putting the right people together for the right projects".
Wilson made an important contribution to Dylan's rock and roll sound, producing his first rock recordings on Bringing It All Back Home. In the 1969 Rolling Stone Interview, Jann Wenner asked, "There's been some articles on Wilson and he says that he's the one that gave you the rock and roll sound. Is that true?" Dylan: "Did he say that? Well if he said it... laughs more power to him.laughs He did to a certain extent. That is true. He did. He had a sound in mind".
Frank Zappa paid this tribute: "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."
Wilson died of a heart attack in Los Angeles in 1978. He was buried at the Doris Miller Memorial Park in McLennan County, Texas.
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