The owner of one of the coolest résumés in all of music, Texas transplant Tom Wilson graduated from Harvard University with an abiding love of jazz, fueled by his involvement in the Harvard New Jazz Society and campus radio station WHRB. Upon graduation, he launched Transition Records, a jazz label which counted bandleaders Sun Ra and pianist Cecil Taylor among its artist roster.
While his stint at Transition would have secured his place in music history, Wilson shifted gears and spent much of the 1960’s producing that decade’s most important, enduring rock records. After stints with United Artists and Savoy Records, Wilson latched on at Columbia, where he produced three (-and-a-half) of Bob Dylan’s most influential ’60s records: The Times They Are A-Changin’, Another Side of Bob Dylan, Bringing It All Back Home and four tracks on The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan. He also overdubbed electric instruments on Simon and Garfunkel’s “The Sounds of Silence,” turning what would have been an obscure acoustic album track into a generation-defining pop hit.
After landing at Verve, Wilson signed Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention and produced their first two albums, Freak Out! andAbsolutely Free (though autodidact Zappa presumably did the knob-twiddling; Wilson kept the Verve brass from interfering with the out-there band’s caustic vision). He then produced the Velvet Underground’s second album, White Light/White Heat and VU chanteuse Nico’s debut album, Chelsea Girl.
Returning to his New England roots, Wilson — who had established his own independent production company, Rasputin — produced Boston psych-rockers Ill Wind’s lone album, 1968’s Flashes, which was released by ABC. Rasputin/ABC also released the Bagatelle’s11PM Saturday. A 1968 compilation, Tom’s Touch: A Collection of Tom Wilson Productions collected his late-’60s Rasputin work.
Sadly, this musical Zelig succumbed to a heart attack in 1978. He was 47.
(by Stephen Haag)