1 Aug 2022
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.