In Memoriam: An Interview with T-Bone Wolk

Renowned bassist Tom "T-Bone" Wolk died of a heart attack on February 27. Best known for his work with Hall & Oates (he often co-produced their albums as well), Wolk also had a stint as a member of the Saturday Night Live band, and worked with a variety of artists over the course of his career, including Squeeze, Jellyfish, Carly Simon, Billy Joel, Shawn Colvin, Elvis Costello and Willie Nile (who he co-produced as well). Columnist Rich Tozzoli interviewed Wolk recently in the November 2009 issue of Pro Sound News, reprinted here in memoriam. Wolk's smooth, low tones will be missed.
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Hall & Oates tour, 1997. Photo by Clive Young.
Renowned bassist Tom "T-Bone" Wolk died of a heart attack on February 27. Best known for his work with Hall & Oates (he often co-produced their albums as well), Wolk also had a stint as a member of the Saturday Night Live band, and worked with a variety of artists over the course of his career, including Squeeze, Jellyfish, Carly Simon, Billy Joel, Shawn Colvin, Elvis Costello and Willie Nile (who he co-produced as well). Columnist Rich Tozzoli interviewed Wolk recently in the November 2009 issue of Pro Sound News, reprinted here in memoriam. Wolk's smooth, low tones will be missed.

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Lots at Stake with T-Bone

by Rich Tozzoli.

T-Bone Wolk is truly one of the great characters in this business. Many may recognize him as the guy with the cool hat that's held down the bass duties behind Daryl Hall & John Oates since the early '80s. "Bone" was also the house bass player on Saturday Night Live from 1986-92 and has recorded with and/or toured with the likes of Carly Simon, Elvis Costello, Billy Joel, Cyndi Lauper and many more. A fine songwriter/producer in his own right, he's also an accomplished guitarist and plays accordion, harmonica and mandolin. Recently, I had him over for a session and we sat down on a sunny, crisp fall day to catch up.

Tell me about the days growing up in Yonkers, and what it was like at the time.

Well, it was the late '60s, and I was a teenager in Westchester County, NY going to Roosevelt High School. It was crazy back then; Steven Tallarico had a band called the Dantes and a band called The Chain Reaction, but you would later know him as Steven Tyler from Aerosmith. He was in the 'hood. So was his drummer, Joey Kramer.

Between Sam Ash in White Plains and the Eastchester Music Center, it was just a freak show. It was the explosion of the club scene, the drinking age was 18, and kids 15 and 16 with phony licenses were going out to see music. The bars were packed with bands seven nights a week.

Bob Mayo was also around, in Rat Race Choir before he got the infamous call to go to England and play with Peter Frampton on Frampton Comes Alive. I remember Paul (Ace) Frehley coming to see me play on Sunday nights at a place called the Lodge in the Bronx, when I played guitar. I even remember the one night he sat outside on the curb with me and told me about the band he was about to join and they were going to wear makeup and go out and make a record. I said, "Well, Paul, good luck with it all!" It was a remarkable time for musicians.

When cutting bass tracks in the studio, do you like to do it early in the creative process or later?

I really love to play with an existing track, and I subscribe to that whole thing McCartney figured out around "Paperback Writer" when they saved the bass for last. He was able to then find the right bass part. That was a significant turn in production to me. I like to come in later in the process, and all my parts really come from the singer and/or the melody. I pay attention to the flow of it all, and I do my best to just support that, as opposed to playing just a groove with a drummer.

What about your gear?

Sound-wise, I'm equally happy to plug into a B15 or big ass SVT or even a Marshall stack or Fender Bassman. Really anything that gets the job done. I come with and without pedal boards; I go DI or non-DI. Whatever studio I'm in, I like to do it their way.

Do you like using plug-ins?

Oh, absolutely. Our engineer up in Pawling, Pete Moshay, has got some amazing ones, and he's been throwing them on my basses for years now. I'm very happy with them. I love that SVT one, but honestly, I'm not an engineer so I just know what sounds good. I like to say I've been engineered by the best in the business.

What's your favorite bass to record with?

Well, I've got that '64 P bass I used on SNL and a lot of Hall and Oates records. I got a Gibson Ripper in '81, not only because of Ricky Danko, but I remember seeing the bass player in the Ohio Players play with one. I've got some great Hofners that when it's time to pull them out, it's time to pull them out! I've got a President and couple of Violin basses.

How do you prepare for a session, do you always chart it out?

Yes, I like to do my shorthand. I gave up on music paper years ago, because I don't want to be reading a chart in the studio. I just want a roadmap. I like to get inside whatever anyone may have sent me as a preexisting track or whatever, but then I put it aside and not think about it anymore. I really like to play as much as I can from just memory.

What's on your plate now?

We've got this ongoing internet concert series called, Live From Daryl's House, with Daryl Hall that we do once a month. The core band is the Hall and Oates band, and we have a musical guest every month. The guests have ranged from Chromio and Company of Thieves to recent months with Todd Rundgren and Smokey Robinson. I play guitar on that show with Daryl, as I do in the Hall and Oates band now. I've also been doing some film work again with Elliot Goldenthall and Teese Gohl, who were two of the producers on the Julie Taymor Across the Universe soundtrack. I produced a record for EMI artist, Mutlu, and I'm always working on a record with my buddy, John Eddie, in Nashville. I'm just putting the finishing touches on my homegrown, organic, certified solo record, which is just a little selection of songs I've been coveting through the years for the Hall and Oates fans who I love very much.