Tom Wright article

Brian Cady brianinatlanta2001 at
Sun Jun 10 18:22:06 CDT 2007

Again, go get this book! It's a must have.

>From the Traverse City Record-Eagle:

No regrets 
The man who tuned Pete Townshend 
Record-Eagle staff writer

CENTRAL LAKE — There's nothing quite like a heart
attack to provide a guy with a little clarity.

After surviving a seven-artery bypass, photographer
Tom Wright of Central Lake knew he'd nearly checked
out with work undone. Piled in his basement were boxes
upon boxes of uncataloged negatives, and one heck of a
story yet to be completed.

The memoir Wright had been kicking around in his head
for years suddenly took on a new importance. The
resulting "Roadwork: Rock and Roll Turned Inside Out,”
co-authored by Susan VanHecke, was released on May 31
by Hal Leonard Publishing.

Wright, an iconic photographer whose collection
resides at the Center for American History at the
University of Texas, chronicled life as an insider
with bands like The Who, The Eagles, Small Faces, MC5,
the Rolling Stones and others.

Educated at Ealing Art School in England, where he met
a young Pete Townshend in 1962, Wright would later
manage the Grande Ballroom in Detroit. It was a
pivotal stop for any 1960s or '70s band on tour. 

His images were first exhibited at the Dennos Museum
Center in Traverse City in 2003, and he recently
helped start a photography school in San Antonio,

His 300-page, 46-chapter "Roadwork” begins with a
forward by legendary Who guitarist and songwriter
Townshend. He credits none other than Wright for the
eventual success of what has been called by some "the
greatest live band ever.”

"One thing is certain, had I not met Tom Wright, The
Who would never have become successful,” writes
Townshend. "Being specially blessed by him when he was
at his teenage peak is the most significant moment of
my musical life.”

How did the young photographer studying abroad have
such an influence on Townshend, then an emerging
musician playing local gigs? He used a simple mixture
of good times, American R&B records and marijuana.

"It sort of blew Johnny Cash tunes and Chet Atkins
onto the back burner and got Chuck Berry, Jimmy Reed
and that kind of thing introduced into his scenario,”
chuckled Wright, who would get booted from England not
a year later for drug possession.

But Townshend, irrevocably altered by the friendship,
got to keep the records. Incorporating the sounds of
American blues into The Detours, later to become The
Who, he would bring that repackaged American sound
back across the pond to phenomenal success.

And Wright got the call to document it from the
inside. His camera candidly caught the sound check,
the arrival at the hotel, the party backstage, onstage
and a whole lifestyle swathed in food, drink, groupies
and excess.

"The pace was full-throttle,” he recalls of the first
Who tour in Chapter 11. "The dash to the plane. Next
airport. Running late. Can't miss sound check, screw
the hotel, go straight to the gig. I kept my
footlockers full of photo gear in constant motion, but
they were nothing compared to the mountains of amps,
guitars and speakers in hard cases and on wheels that
went with us everywhere.”

An airplane ride to Nashville that makes an emergency
landing in Memphis provides just enough time for Who
drummer Keith Moon to nearly kill himself jumping into
the hotel pool from his third story room.

Wright shot over half a million pictures, many which
have never been seen. He road managed the 1968 Who
tour, and the Goose Lake and Detroit Rock and Roll
Revival festivals, camera always at the ready. 

He attributes much of his success to the art school
education in England, where the philosophy was "do the
best you can with the materials on hand.” That meant
developing and printing film on the road, in makeshift
hotel bathroom darkrooms, laughing at the
photographers who sent their film off for processing. 

"I thought, damn, by the time they get to the airport
to stick a package on a plane, I've already got
16-by-20s thumbtacked to the wall,” he said, silently
thanking his Ealing instructors. "Many a time, while
duct-taping plastic over the windows or getting drunk
and setting up my darkroom in the bathroom of the
Holiday Inn, I did look back with a grin on my face.”

Wright still has much work left, including assembling
negatives and finding a new studio. But having stared
the Grim Reaper in the face, Wright was able to put a
question to rest that he'd struggled with while in and
out of rehab in the years after the party ended.

"I kept waiting to be terribly afraid and waiting for
all these regrets to come rolling in,” he said,
recounting his experience lying in the hospital
awaiting surgery. "In reality, I was laying there at
death's doorstep thinking: 'It's been great.' I'm so
glad I did what I did, and I wouldn't change one
second. I would even go back and turn the dial just

On the Web:

Wright's Web site:

Center for American History, The Tom Wright

-Brian in Atlanta
The Who This Month!
My blog:

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