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Tom Wright 1944-2022

It’s with great sadness that we heard of the death of Tom Wright, photographer, long time friend and tour manager of The Who. An American from Alabama, Tom studied photography at Ealing College of Art in the early 1960s which is where he introduced graphic design students Pete Townshend and his flatmate Richard Barnes to the twin pleasures of smoking marijuana and listening to American blues, jazz, folk and R&B. Tom’s vast record collection included artists such as Jimmy Reed, Lightning Hopkins, Howlin’ Wolf, John Lee Hooker, Little Walter and Snooks Eaglin, along with the likes of Joan Baez, Ray Charles, Bo Diddley, Julie London and Mose Allison.

When he was busted for possession and threatened with deportation, Tom got himself an airplane ticket back to America, leaving his entire record collection in the hands of Pete Townshend. Via this extraordinary and eclectic mix of albums and singles Pete then began to develop his own individual, rhythmic style which later defined The Who’s unique sound, moving them away from being just another 60s beat group into a ‘maximum’ R&B group and later the legendary behemoth that became ‘the best live rock’n’roll band in the world’.

When The Who toured the US in the summer of 1967 as support band for Herman’s Hermits, Tom joined them as their road manager and tour photographer and from these early days in the band’s career came some of the most defining images of the period. He toured with The Who for another two US tours in 1968, photographing the band constantly before taking on the job of manager of Russ Gibb’s prestigious Grande Ballroom in Detroit for a couple of years.

Over the next thirty five years Tom toured with Rod Stewart and The Faces, the Rolling Stones, The Eagles, Joe Walsh and The James Gang, Elvis Costello and many others, constantly photographing the bands, their crews, their shows and life on the road.

In 2007, with the assistance of Susan VanHecke, he wrote Roadwork: Rock and Roll Turned Inside Out, a gritty book full of tall tales, anecdotes and plenty of fabulous black-and-white photographs of life on the road in the US, published in the US by Hal Leonard and by Omnibus in the UK. Pete Townshend wrote the foreword in which he commented, “One thing is certain, had I not met Tom Wright, The Who would never have become successful. We would have remained The Detours, a solid little pop band doing what hundreds of others were doing around the same time . . .

Tom made his home for many years in San Antonio, Texas and in 1993 the Dolph Briscoe Center for American History at the University of Texas at Austin became the repository for Tom Wright’s archive of over 120,000 photographs and thousands of rock music tape and phonographic recordings.

On the publication of Tom’s book in 2007 The Center for American History honoured Tom Wright at a reception at Austin’s Headliner’s Club with supporters, family members, and friends gathering to acknowledge Tom’s contribution to rock and roll history. Among the guests were the event’s host and speaker, Pete Townshend, and Joe Walsh and Ian McLagan.

Ian McLagen, Pete Townshend and Joe Walsh with Tom Wright and his family. Photo by William Snyder

Rest in peace, Tom. You were a one-off.

Above, Tom Wright and Pete Townshend. Photo by William Snyder

“Tom Wright is the Jack Kerouac of rock and roll photography” ~ Joe Walsh

“Tom Wright – a f**king great photographer with a special touch.” ~ Keith Richards

Portrait of Tom by Royce Deans.

20 thoughts on “Tom Wright 1944-2022”

  1. Hutchison Taffy says:

    I knew Tom during his time in Northern Michigan.
    He made you feel like you were life long friends.
    The world needs more Tom Wrights!

  2. Kay Beck says:

    Rest in Peace Tom. Boom, Boom

  3. Steve Voorheis says:

    Beautiful

  4. Jennifer Laumer says:

    What a grand(e) write-up.
    He was a dear man, a dear friend and I am honored to have known him all my life as a dear cousin. I miss the spot-on wit and the great laugh and will continue to think of him always with a smile on my face.
    Thanks for the memories Tom, and thanks for the lifetime of irreplaceable photographs.

  5. Barry Hay says:

    Shit Tom. You will be sorely missed. I’ll never forget you called Antoinette the cream of the litter. I feel honored to have known you and may you rest in peace brother

  6. Well spoke. Tom taught me everything I know about photography and much about life in general and I was his darkroom assistant for a few years.

    We lived together at the Southwest Craft Center in San Antonio when he taught there and later in Austin when we were gallery bums, living in an art gallery warehouse there.

    He touched so many lives so profoundly and yet with so little understanding of the impact he was having. He was a Zorba without boundaries. When I knew him, he could have taken or left photography but would have never turned his back on rock and roll.

    Kinetic energy was his thing. Moving forward. No time like the future. “Destroy and you create.” He paradoxically embodied Gustov Metzger’s mantra, casually disregarding the preservation of, among other things, own his mind and body. Leaving enough of his creative output behind for so many of us, not just Peter Townsend, to say if that if it hadn’t been for Tom pushing and inspiring us back in the day we would never have found our own creative grooves. Hard to imagine that he will ever rest in peace.

  7. Dan Hosper says:

    I first met Tom through Chaz Ziemba and Jem Targel and Jim Craig introduced me from the third power band
    We hung out in LA Detroit in northern Michigan
    He was a phenomenal talent very serious about his art it was an honor to spend time with him I’m certain a lot of people have benefited from his work in the music world he needs more credit for his influence with the musicians he met with the who the different bands in the British bands and Detroit bands
    He meant a lot to my friends you’ll be sorely missed

  8. Leo Early says:

    Proud to have known Tom and to document his fascinating life. Great to known his images will live on. God speed Sir.

  9. Rene Vasquez says:

    Rest well, dear boy.

  10. Bill Robbins says:

    Tom was my predecessor as manager of the Grande and he arrived in Detroit a whirlwind of Rock n Roll energy and enthusiasm. He embraced the music scene of the Grande and Detroit and made it his own. Tom’s love of the music and his photography of it were as unique as he was. RIP my friend

  11. Richard says:

    Rip Tom…. As well as being a total individual, you gave us The Who. Your contribution will live on for eternity. God bless.

  12. Paul Mick says:

    Photographers are to the modern world what painters were to the Renaissance, what cave painters were and what not everyone can become to the extent of Tom Wright. May your f-stops be all they can be in between worlds. RIP ✌️😎

  13. Joe Pugliese says:

    RiP Tom!
    We had some laughs!
    My Condolences Toni!

  14. Val (Laumer) Elder says:

    A very early memory of Tom is as the 4-years-older cousin who was asked by his mother and my mother to babysit his little sisters and cousins one afternoon in central
    Florida. Then he took his meager pay and blew it all buying ice cream treats for each of us from a passing vender truck. What generosity of spirit!

    And always, a great grin and an infectious laugh.

  15. Cathy says:

    Thanks for the Who efforts, God Bless

  16. Certainly Because Tom I Would Not get fooled Againg.Have a Nice Trip, if you can Send Pictures!!

  17. Kozmo says:

    Kozmo here…it was fun with Tom !! ….. we go back to ’67 … in Flint ..crossed paths … was in the banguet room at the Inn … but, had to leave towards Detroit … talked to the Magoos fan club president … met her before at the Chess-Mate club ….. I was blessed to know Tom …and Jan !!!…… the “FOREST-GUMP” of Rock’n Roll (that was with love – right place .. right time guy ) ………. he was the there in there if you were there ! …. Adios amigo …..

  18. Ricky Hernandez says:

    Dear Tom,
    I’ve been thinking a lot about you, the last couple of months. I wanted to try to find you in Michigan where you were staying the last time we spoke; 2010, maybe. Just to say thank you. Meeting you and getting to know you when you were hanging at Mi Tierra’s Restaurant redecorating, in 1994, taking pictures and hanging with the Cortez family. What is the guerro doing here? I found out soon enough. Thank you for your support and encouragement when I was about recording my grandfather’s music. You loved RECUERDOS so much. You took it personal, and that’s what I love about you. Apparently you were everyone else’s cheerleader as well. I wish I would’ve tried to call you. Damn it. Just to hear you say, “Slow down, you’re still playing it too fast.” As others have said, you inspired. Thanks Tom. I’ll never forget the gringo I met at Mi Tierra’s Restaurant in SA. Love you mucho.
    Your friend, Ricky

  19. Irish Jack says:

    I didn’t know Tom Wright during the early days of Ealing Art College even though I knew Pete while he was studying there. Years and years later I had the absolute pleasure of meeting and talking with him at a Who Convention in Shepherd’s Bush. He wanted to drag me along to see his photographic exhibition but I stupidly politely declined because I was going to be performing a reading of my memoirs in half an hour. He understood. I felt bad about it later because I knew how much of an influence he had on Pete Townshend and how sad it was that he had to go back to America to avoid deportation…..for a tiny bit of weed. What a lovely man he was, what a decent human being. Love you Tom x

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