Tom "T-Bone" Wolk passed away unexpectedly on Saturday, Feb. 27 of an apparent heart attack. He had just turned 58 in December. He'd lived in Saxtons River and in the Brattleboro area for the past 20 years.
An accomplished musician, Wolk was best know as the multi-hat-wearing bass player in the Saturday Night Live house band when it was led be G. E. Smith from 1986 to 1992, and from 1981 on he had been the bass player with Daryl Hall and John Oates of Hall and Oates fame. Hall and Oates is one of the most successful duos in rock history, with six #1 hits, 34 Billboard Top 100 hits, six gold albums and seven that went platinum. At the time of his death, Wolk continued to play regularly in concert with Hall and Oates, and was essentially co-host and guitarist on Hall's groundbreaking monthly internet show, Live from Daryl's House (www.livefromdarylshouse.com).
On the website, Hall posted the following about T-Bone's death: To say that I am shocked is the ultimate understatement. T-Bone was my musical brother and losing him is like losing my right hand. It's not if I will go on, but how. T-Bone was one of the most sensitive and good human beings that I have ever known. And, I can truly say that I loved him.
His death occurred just hours after a recording session with Hall in Pawling, NY, and a day or so before he was appear on NBC's Late Night with Jimmy Fallon with Hall & Oates.
As an accomplished accordion player (he had been New York state champion at 13!), bassist and guitarist, Wolk worked as a session musician, music director and producer throughout his career.
A small sampling of some of the performers Wolk worked with includes some of the greatest names in modern music: Carly Simon, Shawn Colvin, Elvis Costello, Roseanne Cash, Cyndi Lauper, Harry Nilsson, Amanda Marshall, Grey Eye Glances, Paul Carrack, Diane Ziegler, Charlie Musselwhite, Jewel, Ivo, Jellyfish, Avril Lavigne, Billy Joel, Joe Pesci, Leslie Miller, John Eddie, Chynna Phillips and Eileen Ivers.
Most recently he'd worked on records by a number of new artists including N.Y. based Marianne Marino, Norway's M2M, Americana icon Emory Joseph, NY Yankees centerfielder Bernie Williams and Robert Hazard, who wrote Cyndi Lauper's hit "Girls Just Wanna Have Fun."
T-Bone was greatly admired, both on the international music scene, and also among local musicians. He was famed for an encyclopedic knowledge of music, a modest manner, his humor and his willingness to help other musicians, famous or not so famous.
John Oates posted these comments on Hall's website: His character was pure and his unique and quirky personality touched everyone he encountered. His musical sensibility was peerless, any instrument that he touched resonated with a sensitivity and skill level that I have never experienced while playing with any other musician.
He possessed an encyclopedic knowledge of styles and musical history which he referenced to support all the artists that he played with over the years. He became our band's musical director over time, leading by example and by the deference and respect that everyone who played alongside him so rightfully accorded him. He made everyone he played with better.
So many times when I'm working on a musical passage or part, I think to myself: "How would T-Bone play this" and aspire to his level every time I perform. To this day I always keep one of his "I Love Vermont" guitar picks with me where ever I go.
I contacted several local musician friends that I knew had worked with T-Bone, and asked them to share their experiences with our readers,
Scott Ainslie sent me the following: As you will hear, T-Bone was a deeply talented musician wrapped up in a decidedly kind and generous person. His loss...well, his loss is beyond the power of words to describe.
As a musician, T-Bone came into a very long and compressed session with me and unloaded a truck full of stuff into my living room. Three basses, a trunk full of percussion things, a keyboard/synthesizer, a couple guitars...and played them all better than anyone: tastefully, thoughtfully, and with a musical literacy that could astound even the casual listener, along with his professional friends.
As a man, T-Bone really did make the world a better place. All that talent and a fair amount of fame (if fame can ever be said to be fair), and the attitude of gratitude. He made the whole world around him sound better and feel better. His eagerness never overran you, he just came to meet you, fully.
There are very few people who manage to deal with the obstacles that stand between them and actually being with another person in the present moment. It's not a simple thing to attend to someone else. T-Bone Wolk had done a lot of that work and when I was with him; he was with me.
Lisa McCormick directed me to what she'd written on her blog when she heard about T-Bone's passing:
The most amazing and inspiring musician I have ever known, T-Bone was best known for his role as bassist for Hall & Oates, and the Saturday Night Live Band.
But the "Big Time" was only part of his musical life. A deep appreciator of sharing the love of making music, T-Bone championed a lucky handful of us "Smaller Time" singer-songwriters.
He was incredibly supportive and enthusiastic about my music, and working with him was nothing short of thrilling.
I was privileged to work with T-Bone on three of my CD's, and one unforgettable live concert. And even more privileged to know him as a dear friend. Deeply kind, hilariously funny, tender and warm, and a rare precious musical talent, T-Bone will be dearly and terribly missed.
Rest in peace, my friend. And, thank you.
I knew that my good friend Derrik Jordan had worked with T-Bone on several projects, and would be deeply affected by this loss. Despite that, Derrik sent me the following:
I met T in 1988 when he was coming to Brattleboro, renting hotels and staying for weekends. He loved the town and people here. I introduced him to Billy Shaw at Soundesign since he was always in need of a studio. They became good friends and T did many many sessions there. He brought Billy a lot of business by bringing a lot of great musicians through the studio to record their albums, some of which I got to play on. He even had his own closet at Soundesign where he kept a lot of his guitars and basses for a while.
He had come one day to my wife Margie Pivar out of the blue for a Shiatsu session and when they were talking afterwards he told her that he was a musician and she said that her husband was one too. He told her that I should send him a tape of my songs. I did and he liked them a lot. I was going to NYC every week at that time, singing jingles and writing songs and was trying to meet as many people as I could. Though he barely knew me, T-Bone introduced me to some great people in NYC - some heavy hitters and some songwriters who were old friends of his. It was very generous of him. I worked with these people and met many more people through them, expanding my network.
He co-produced my first CD "Expecting A Miracle" and it was just fantastic working with him. He helped with arrangements and played bass, guitar, accordion and pump organ on it. I loved working with him and he really helped me pull it together. He also played guitar on my song "Water, Wind And Sun" on my "Touch The Earth" CD.
He produced a CD for Gary Rosen called "Cookin" and called me in to play on it. He then recommended to Gary that I produce his "Teddy Bear's Picnic" CD which I did. T-bone would call me in for sessions that he did at Soundesign including one that I did with Robert Hazard who is famous for writing "Girls Just Wanna Have Fun" for Cyndi Lauper. T-Bone played with the superstars (a veritable who's who of pop and folk) but also was just as happy to play with great local musicians. It was all the same to him. He loved people and he loved good music. And he loved to be supportive of all musicians. He was the perfect side man. He had no ego whatsoever and his goal was to make the music better which he did with total ease.
His bass playing was always so melodic and brought the other instruments together like some kind of magical musical glue. His favorite bass players were Paul McCartney and James Jamerson. One of his great bass parts is found on the Hall & Oates song "I Can't Go For That." Give it a listen and you'll see some of his genius. There's an effortless grace and rhythmic punctuation and great use of space in that performance.
The last time I played live with him was for Gary Rosen's memorial service where we played guitars and I sang "Here Comes The Sun." It was a powerful and beautiful moment. A few weeks before that we had gone to Gary's house at his wife Mary's request and brought our guitars and serenaded Gary for a couple of hours. We played old rock chestnuts like "Wild Thing" and some of Gary's songs. Gary couldn't move but still had a twinkle in his eyes. He had a laser pointer attached to his baseball cap and could only slightly move his neck muscles. He could only communicate with us by pointing the laser pointer at an alphabet board in front of him and slowly spell out words. We asked Gary what it was like to be stuck in his body like that and Gary spelled out "I still have joy." T and I were completely blown away and talked about it many times later.
T-Bone did a lot of recording with Will Ackerman at his Imaginary Road Studio in Dummerston. I got to record many times with him in the last few years, overdubbing my percussion and violin parts on top of his great bass playing.
It was always a supreme pleasure to work with him on these recordings and even though he wasn't there in person when I was in the studio he was there in the music.
Rest in Peace, T-Bone. You are deeply missed.