It is remarkable how few people know that the same person produced Bob Dylan’s three defining early albums (as well as “Like a Rolling Stone”), the first two Velvet Underground albums, Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention’s debut “Freak Out” and pivotal music by jazz legends Sun Ra and Cecil Taylor (including tracks with John Coltrane), among many others.
It was Tom Wilson, a visionary music producer who died in 1978 at the age of 47.
He was even the man who in 1965 overdubbed a folk-rock backing onto a song he’d recorded the previous year by an acoustic duo who had already split up and were living on different continents — that would be Simon & Garfunkel — resulting in the smash hit that ignited their career, “Sounds of Silence” (the duo quickly reunited and hastily recorded a new album). He also produced key songs by the Animals (the classic “Don’t Bring Me Down”), Nico, Soft Machine, Donald Byrd, Art Blakey, Hugh Masekela, Gil Scott-Heron, Blues Project and others — and yet only serious music geeks have the faintest idea who he was.
Finally, one of the greatest and most versatile music producers of the 1960s is getting his due in “Tom Wilson: Lost in Transition,” an estate-authorized narrative film from Pfonetic producing partners Greg Richling and Jonathan Sheldon (“Immediate Family,” “Swing State”), along with Peabody Award winning film producer Bob L. Johnson (“Rodney King,” “A Huey P. Newton Story”), and Tom Wilson III. Executive producers Matthew Helderman and Luke Taylor of BondIt Media Capital are handling financing.
Actors will be announced at a later date; the producers are aiming for a 2022 release.
The film follows Wilson from his upbringing in Jim Crow-era Waco, Texas, where he suffered from tuberculosis as a child, to his academic days at predominantly black Fisk University to largely segregated Harvard University, where he first fell in love with jazz.
After graduating from Harvard, he founded the groundbreaking jazz label Transition Records — producing and releasing music by Sun Ra, Taylor and others throughout the 1950s — before taking a job as a Columbia Records staff producer, where he helmed Dylan’s defining albums, “The Times They Are A-Changin’,” “Another Side of Bob Dylan” and “Bringing It All Back Home,” which followed the bard’s trajectory from folksinging to genre-defying rock.
Asked by Rolling Stone’s Jann Wenner in 1969 about rumors that Wilson had convinced him to venture into rock, Dylan equivocated briefly and then said, “He did, to a certain extent. That is true. He did. He had a sound in mind.”
Wilson left Columbia for Verve Records, where he helmed the Velvet Underground’s monumentally influential debut album “The Velvet Underground and Nico” — although group benefactor Andy Warhol is credited, the members said Wilson was the true producer — and the follow-up “White Light/ White Heat.” He worked extensively into the 1970s, but suffered from Marfan syndrome and died of a heart attack in 1978.
Said Greg Richling, film producer and Grammy-winning artist, “Tom Wilson’s many accomplishments as a music producer should have made him a household name with famed producers such as George Martin, Quincy Jones, and Jerry Wexler. Our film will make sure that happens.”
Added Bob L. Johnson, “We are thrilled to bring this story of a truly trailblazing music visionary to the world. Working with Tom’s son adds insight and depth to this compelling creative legacy.”
Said Tom Wilson III, “My father’s story of perseverance over adversity, commitment to pushing boundaries, and his seminal contribution to music, will make this film an inspirational one. Some of the heaviest people in music have come up to me over the years and said how much my father impacted their careers, how grateful they are, and how his work should be better known. I am excited for this film to bring my father’s legacy into the light.”