The death has been announced of Tom Wright, a longtime friend and confidant of The Who as both photographer and tour manager. The Alabama-born Wright, the stepson of an American Air Force officer, studied photography at Ealing College of Art in the early 1960s, where he met Pete Townshend and flatmate Richard Barnes.
A statement on The Who’s website credits the American with expanding Townshend’s early knowledge of blues, by artists such as Jimmy Reed, Lightnin’ Hopkins, Howlin’ Wolf, John Lee Hooker, Little Walter, and Snooks Eaglin, and the music of Joan Baez, Ray Charles, Bo Diddley, Julie London, Mose Allison, and others.
Indeed, as Townshend recorded in his Who I Am memoir, when Wright was deported from the UK for drug possession and went back to the US, Pete inherited his entire record collection, which helped to shape The Who co-founder’s future direction as a songwriter.
Creator of ‘defining images’
The statement goes on: “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.” The book was published by Hal Leonard in the US and by Omnibus in the UK.
In the foreword, Townshend wrote: “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.”
The Center for American History held a reception at the time-honored Headliners Club in downtown Austin, in Wright’s adopted state of Texas. Friends, family and admirers, including Townshend as host and speaker, as well as Joe Walsh and Ian McLagan, gathered to acknowledge his significant contribution to rock history.
A 120,000-item archive
As well as his work with The Who and others mentioned, Wright photographed J. D. Souther, the Thunderbirds, Bob Seger, and others. In 1993, the Dolph Briscoe Center for American History at the University of Texas at Austin inherited Wright’s archive of over 120,000 photographs and thousands of recordings.
The website story quotes Walsh describing Wright as “the Jack Kerouac of rock and roll photography” and Keith Richards calling him “a f**king great photographer with a special touch.”