11 Takeaways from Musician Tom Wilson’s Wild Career

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When talking about musician and artist Tom Wilson, it’s best to let him talk for himself: “I didn’t realize how interesting I was.”

Wilson is a Canadian rock and folk musician from Hamilton, Ont. He’s won three Junos and released 14 albums including three solo records, but he doesn’t confine himself to just writing and performing music. He dabbles in movies, painting, and is currently working on his first book.

His music career started when he sold his first song at age eighteen to George Thorogood and headed to Los Angeles, but it took off when he came back to Canada to form the Florida Razors. Since then he’s experimented with a range of musical styles from the roots sound of Blackie and the Rodeo Kings to the blues-inspired rock of Junkhouse. His current project is LeE HARVeY OsMOND.

Wilson was at the Banff Centre this fall as a visiting artist collaborating with the Banff Musicians-in-Residence program.

While he was here, he sat down for a conversation with Allison Brock, his program manager during his Junkhouse days, to talk about everything from stealing his first guitar to finding out he was adopted at age 53.

Here are some of his most quotable moments:

On Growing Up Poor

It’s a good training ground, poverty is often a good inspiration. It’s a good place to leave. It’s a good place you never want to go back to, and when you are on your own as an artist it makes you fight to never have to have a coat hanger getting reception in the back of a black and white T.V.  ever again.

On His First Song

I think it was, “Be My Lady Tonight.” It was definitely for a girl because the other thing about playing guitar, about being a musician, is there’s a better chance to get laid. You know what I mean…and you know what? It’s true.  

On Being Uncool

On Business

I kinda read about Colonel Saunders. I didn’t really take my cues from other musicians, as far as doing business goes. I took my cues from other people that were also survivors, and also grew up poor and figured out how to make ends meet. Colonel Saunders used to drive around and sell chicken out of the trunk of his car.

Allison Brock: Which is kinda scary.

Yeah who was eating that shit?

On Folk Musicians

They’re dicks. Not across the board, but there are enough dicks in the field. I completely scared them. I mean look at me I am probably the last great Canadian folk singer because I sing songs and I sing music that is in the tradition of folk music. What goes on around my fire, I bring over to your fire. It’s storytelling and it’s messages.

On Getting Sober

I felt so attached, I’m so in the groove, I’m so present and I said what the hell’s going on—oh I’ve been playing music on drugs and alcohol my entire life. Being clean and sober’s actually got some benefits to it.

On Making Art

I will only make music with people who don’t want to show off...The most important thing you can bring to art whether it be visual art or acting, or music, writing is to not show off. Because you can play a million notes and a million notes don’t mean anything. Three notes mean a lot.

On The Joker

On Being Grounded

The thing that helped me the most was I have so much love around me. I really am the luckiest man on the planet. I have my kids, I have my grandkids. Both my wives love me. My ex-wives. All my ex-girlfriends still love me. My new girlfriend loves me. You people love me. I was so grounded with that.

On Aging

When you get in your fifties you realize you’ve created a work of art and it’s your life and you can’t go back and change anything and you start to embrace all the scars, all the impurities. All the mistakes become part of a canvas or a piece of music that is a work of art.

On Family

If you do it right, your children look out for you as much as you look out for them. They know you so well. I hate that Crosby Stills and Nash song “Teach Your Children” but it’s true.

Want to hear more? You can watch the full talk below, or listen to the podcast version.