TOM “T-BONE” WOLK, BEST KNOWN FOR HIS 29-YEAR ROLE AS THE hat-wearing bassist in Hall & Oates, succumbed to a heart attack on February 27, 2010; he was 58. Wolk collapsed hours after finishing a recording session for Darryl Hall’s upcoming solo CD, in Pawling, N.Y. The R&B duo, which referred to Wolk as “the ampersand in Hall & Oates,” was crushed by the loss of their musical brother. Wolk touched many lives in a brilliant but unsung career as a bassist and producer also adept at guitar, accordion, and various other string and keyboard instruments. Among the artists Wolk spent key studio and live time with include Elvis Costello, Carly Simon, Billy Joel, Shawn Colvin, Paul Carrack, and Roy Orbison.
Wolk was born in Yonkers, N.Y. and was a state accordion champion by age 12. Seeing the Beatles on Ed Sullivan, however, led him to bass and guitar—the former influenced by James Jamerson and Paul McCartney. Although he studied art at Cooper Union, most of his youth was spent playing in bar bands, where he first met guitarist G.E. Smith (who gave him the nickname T-Bone—for blues guitarist T-Bone Walker—after Wolk played his bass behind his head during a solo). By the time he auditioned for and joined Hall & Oates in 1981, Wolk had cracked the studio and jingle scene on the recommendation of Will Lee, and had played on rap’s first gold record, Kurtis Blow’s “The Breaks.” As Hall & Oates racked up such Wolk-driven hits as “Maneater,” “Private Eyes,” “I Can’t Go for That (No Can Do),” “Out of Touch,” “One on One,” and “Family Man,” T-Bone and Smith also headed the Saturday Night Live house band, from 1986-1992. Downtime from Hall & Oates led to tours with Carly Simon and Billy Joel, and endless studio sessions highlighted by four albums with Costello and one with Costello and Burt Bacharach.
A longtime resident of Brattleboro, Vermont, Wolk maintained a steady recording and touring pace, especially in light of Hall & Oates recent reemergence. He also appeared on the latest albums from Simon (his fifth with her) and ex-Yankee/guitarist Bernie Williams. Wolk is survived by his wife, Pam. Will Lee summed up, “The passing of T-Bone is a huge loss to tasteful, spirited, enthusiastic music-making. His positivity, talents, and gentle production techniques were totally unique. I called him ‘Eagle Ears.’ I’ll never forget the first playback I heard of his bass playing. I was bowled over by the tone. It was meticulous and methodical, with equal parts crispness and warmth. He went on to do so many great projects as a guitarist, accordionist, singer, producer and more (check out ‘Last Boat Leaving,’ from Elvis Costello’s album, Spike). His legacy lives on. Here’s to you, Bone, in loving remembrance.”
For a savory, one-course sampling of T-Bone Wolk at his bass best, check out the Hall & Oates album and DVD, Live at the Apollo [RCA, 1985], with special guests David Ruffin and Eddie Kendricks of the Temptations.