This is part two in a series of exclusive stories on Michigan rocker Marshall Crenshaw, who is playing The Ark in Ann Arbor on Sunday night with special guests The Bottle Rockets. Crenshaw recently talked with WLAA’s Terry Jacoby about his career, his current projects and life as a rock and roller.
The name might not jump off the page but Tom Wilson’s music has certainly played in your ears whether it was through the voice of Bob Dylan, the Mothers of Invention, Simon & Garfunkel, the Velvet Underground, Cecil Taylor, Sun Ra, Eric Burdon and the Animals, and many others.
There is a famous picture of Wilson standing next to Bob Dylan as America’s master poet plugged in for “Like a Rolling Stone.” Wilson produced several of Dylan’s albums, from “The Times They Are A-Changin” (1964) through “Bringing it All Back Home” (1965) as well as “Like A Rolling Stone.” Soon after that legendary session, Wilson left Columbia Records for Verve Records, where he produced Frank Zappa and most notably the Velvet Underground.
Tom Wilson is often hailed as “the greatest producer you’ve never heard of,” and Marshall Crenshaw is setting out to change that. Crenshaw, the 80s pop master whose self-titled debut album was critically acclaimed and featured one hit and a bunch of others that should have been, has expanded his musical and artistic reach over the past three decades.
While many artists are obsessed with shining the spotlight on themselves, Crenshaw is pointing it at someone else who he feels history has ignored and even cheated out of his place in the roots of rock and roll. Crenshaw set up a Kickstarter campaign for a documentary film on Wilson, tentatively called “Tom Wilson’s World.”
“In the fall of 2013 I got the idea but didn’t start shooting stuff until 2016,” said Crenshaw, who is appearing Sunday night at The Ark in Ann Arbor with special guests the Bottle Rockets. “When I latched onto the story I became obsessed with it. The things that he did in his life really shook the culture.”
As impressed as he was with what Wilson had accomplished in his short life (Wilson died of a heart attack in Los Angeles in 1978 at age 47.), Crenshaw was equally as appalled that he wasn’t getting any of the credit for those accomplishments.
“It was crazy, unjust and flat out wrong that he was being totally forgotten by history right at that moment,” Crenshaw said. “It’s starting to change a little bit and he’s starting to get a little bit more recognition since I started working on this project.”
Crenshaw says Wilson was somebody who created a “really important artistic legacy and his life story is an essential American life story.”
“It’s the story of a really gifted person who met a tragic end,” he says.
Crenshaw also has his own take on the roots of rock and roll.
“People always point to different things and say this is the root of this,” he says. “What I’ve found over the course of my life is that the roots of this or that are usually more interesting. I usually like it better than the stuff that it spawned.”
Wilson’s daughter passed away about a year ago. He also has a son. Crenshaw said he had the support of the Wilson family which was very important to him.
“They were really warm and supportive of me and what I wanted to do,” he said. “That meant a lot that they were appreciative and that was a big motivator for me to do the project.
“It’s been a lot of fun and a learning experience.”
Crenshaw, who is the producer, hopes to complete the project later this year.