Remembering one of the best musicians you’ve never heard of…unless you really pay attention to the liner notes of albums or were a part of the New York City studio recording scene of the ’80s and ’90s. Tom Wolk, better known as “T-bone” was born on this day in 1951, in Yonkers, New York.
Wolk apparently was a musical talent from a young age. By the time he was 12, he was the New York state champion accordion player! But that was also the year the Beatles showed up on Ed Sullivan, and like with so many other kids, his trajectory was changed. He was especially taken by Paul McCartney, and decided to take up the bass right then. He did just that, and got good quickly. During his high school years, he was playing in bar bands, becoming friends with G.E. Smith at the time. The pair would work together extensively years later.
By 1980 he’d gotten to be a well-liked session player, and his lucky break occurred. He came to the attention of Daryl Hall & John Oates, who brought him onboard to play bass for their 1982 H2O album, with its hits like “One on One” and “Maneater”. Apparently they liked him and his skills, so they brought him back for the single “Adult Education” that they were tacking onto a compilation album. He played guitar as well as bass on that. From there on in, he was a regular with them, playing more and more instruments as they worked on, at times playing his accordion, as well as keyboards from piano to synthesizers and even co-producing their Ooh Yeah album. He was their touring bassist as well, playing the famous Apollo Theater show when they were joined by David Ruffin and Eddie Kendricks of the Temptations. By the late-’80s G.E. Smith was working with Hall & Oates frequently as well; when Saturday Night Live were looking for a new house band, both of them got the call and stayed on that show for six years. Remarkably, despite all those jobs, he also toured with Billy Joel and Carly Simon when not busy with Hall & Oates, and worked on albums by artists ranging from Squeeze to Elvis Costello to Bernie Williams. Baseball fans might recognize that name more than music fans – Williams was a star player for the New York Yankees!
When not playing music, which likely was not often, he lived in rural Vermont with his wife. Sadly though he died at age 58 from a heart attack. He was working on a record with Daryl Hall at the time. Many musicians expressed their sadness at his passing but none more so than John Oates. Oates wrote “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 made everyone he played with better.”
Which makes us wish T-bone had been a more widely recognized part of the musical menu.