When word arrived of the passing of T-Bone Wolk., I just happened to be in a recording studio with a number of colleagues with whom we had both worked during the mid-80s and early 90s.
After the initial shock, we spent some timesimply talking about T-Bone’s beautiful playing and even recalling various funny incidents as a way of staving off our incredulity at the announcement.
One can only imagine the feeling of loss for his family and his closest musical allies, to whom I extend my sympathies.
John Oates and Darryl Hall’s beautifully expressed tributes remind me that music first founded in the vitality and possibility of youth must now accept and reason with loss and absence.
Needless to say, it was at a Hall and Oates show in the around 1983, that I first heard T-Bone play in person. I think I came away from the date most vividly remembering his bass playing and I doubt Darryl and John would be offended by this remark.
On the first album of mine to which T-Bone contributed, “King of America”, he found himself in the company of former Elvis Presley bass-player, Jerry Scheff and jazz master, Ray Brown, in whose company he entirely deserved to stand.
T-Bone played just great on “Jack of All Parades”
However, one of the more enduring songs from that record, “Brilliant Mistake”, actually featured T-Bone on guitar and accordion, an instrument on which he had been a childhood champion.
Indeed, it was on this last instrument and as a vocalist that T-Bone briefly became a member of the touring line-up, “Elvis Costello and His Confederates”, alongside, Jerry Scheff, Jim Keltner, Benmont Tench and James Burton.
In the late 80s, when I was trying to learn how to arrange for larger and more contrasting groups of players, I turned to T-Bone to bring in the vital grounding more expansive songs such as “Last Boat Leaving” and “Satellite”.
This last song provided my first personal introduction to Burt Bacharach, who happened to be working in an adjacent studio at the time and whose arrangement style I naively imagined the recording echoed.
So when Burt and I first wrote together, about six years later, it was T-Bone who we called to play on “God Give Me Strength”.
One of T-Bone’s most endearing qualities was the way in which 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 this part, while remaining utterly his own man.
In fact, I think he took delight in doing this and it is something you hear most clearly on our recording of “So Like Candy”.
For his indelible playing, his generous spirit, not to mention always admirable choice of lid, I will always think of T-Bone with great fondness, respect and the regret that I did not get to share more time with such a wonderful musician.
He was a truly sterling fellow.