Tom 'T-Bone' Wolk: Bass player and multi-instrumentalist known as 'the ampersand' in Hall & Oates
Friday 30 April 2010
The multi-instrumentalist Tom "T-Bone" Wolk used to joke that he was best known for being "that guy with the hat" who played bass with the American soul duo Hall & Oates. Having joined them in 1981, just after they completed the Private Eyes album, he appeared in the video for the title track and became their longest-serving collaborator.
He provided the driving bass on their 1982 US chart-topper "Maneater", served as musical director and arranger, and co-produced the albums Ooh Yeah! (1988), Change of Season (1990), Our Kind of Soul (2004) and Home for Christmas (2006), as well as Daryl Hall's second solo album, Three Hearts in the Happy Ending Machine (1986). Indeed, Wolk was such an integral part of the partnership both on stage and in the studio that Hall called him "the ampersand" in Hall & Oates.
Over the past three decades, Wolk was also an in-demand sideman on guitar, accordion, mandolin, mandocello, dulcimer and keyboards as well as bass, and made significant contributions to albums by, among others, Roseanne Cash, Shawn Colvin, Elvis Costello, Jewel, Billy Joel, Cyndi Lauper, Bette Midler, Harry Nilsson, Robert Palmer and Squeeze. Between 1986 and 1992, Wolk was a member of the Saturday Night Live house band led by the Hall & Oates guitarist G.E. Smith, and fulfilled many of his teenage dreams by backing musicians like Eric Clapton and Robbie Robertson of The Band when they appeared on the satirical topical show.
Born in 1951 in Yonkers, New York state, he belonged to that generation whose lives and aspirations changed when the Beatles appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show in 1964. Wolk, who played accordion as a child and had won a state-wide championship on the instrument the previous year, nagged his father until he bought him an electric guitar.
In his teens he played in various garage bands. After high school, he enrolled at Cooper Union school of art in New York, but dropped out to concentrate on gigging with Billy Vera, Lonnie Mack and Judy Collins, as well as recording advertising jingles. He also wrote a manual, Rock Riffs for Bass (1978). In 1980, he provided the distinctive bass line on "The Breaks" by hip-hop pioneer Kurtis Blow, which sold half a million copies. The following year, he successfully auditioned for Hall & Oates and played on such hits as "One on one", "Family man", "Say it isn't so", "Adult education", "Out of touch" and "Method of modern love", as well as the multi-million-selling albums HO (1982) and Big Bam Boom (1984). Wolk played guitar on Carly Simon's hit "Coming around again" and often worked with her, most notably as musical director on her Live From Martha's Vineyard HBO special in 1987.
On his website, Elvis Costello paid tribute to Wolk, who died of a heart attack: "One of T-Bone's most endearing qualities was the way in which he retained the perspective of the fan and student while being a master of his instruments. If you mentioned, say, Rick Danko or Paul McCartney with regard to the approach to a song, he could joyfully incorporate something of their style in his part, while remaining utterly his own man."
Thomas Wolk, musician, producer, songwriter: born Yonkers, New York 24 December 1951; died New York 27 February 2010.
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