August 3, 2022
The Briscoe Center mourns the loss of Tom Wright, documentary photographer and manager for some of the most legendary acts in rock and roll. Wright’s compelling and intimate photographs of performers, audiences, and concert venues provide a true insider’s perspective into the history of rock music from the 1960s to the 1990s.
“My friend Tom Wright was a remarkable photographer. He skillfully used his camera to document the lives and work of some of the most influential rock bands, including the Rolling Stones; Rod Stewart and Faces; Joe Walsh’s first band, The James Gang; the Eagles, and most especially, Pete Townshend and The Who,” said Don Carleton, executive director of the Briscoe Center. “His work was greatly enhanced by his close friendships with members of the bands with which he traveled and covered. Those relationships gave Tom an intimate, off-stage access that allowed him to photograph those artists as they prepared for their concerts and as they traveled on tour. I’m deeply saddened by his passing.”
Born in Alabama in 1944, Wright studied photography at England’s Ealing Art School in the early 1960s. It was there that he met Pete Townshend, who would go on to be the founder of The Who. Their friendship grew from a shared passion for music, and Wright’s extensive and eclectic music collection became a significant influence on Townshend’s artistic development. Wright became The Who’s official photographer in 1967 and chronicled the group’s explosive rise. Townshend later noted, “One thing is certain, had I not met Tom Wright, The Who would never have become successful. We would have remained a solid little pop band doing what hundreds of others were doing around the same time.”
Wright went on to tour with, manage, and photograph legendary rock musicians, documenting the reality of life on the road. Guitarist Joe Walsh called Wright “the Jack Kerouac of rock and roll photography.”
“He said he was going to take the best pictures and he actually did,” Ian McLagan, keyboardist and Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee. Wright photographed McLagan and other members of the Faces on tour for many years. “On the road, the best room after a gig was his room, because his bathroom was full of the photographs being developed that he’d taken that day. So you always knew what was going on and what had gone on because it was in the bath.”
“Tom was an early donor to the Briscoe Center’s program to preserve the work of documentary photographers,” Carleton noted. “He had a relationship with the center for nearly 30 years, and helped extend our efforts to build our music collection. He was instrumental in McLagan’s donation of his papers to the Briscoe Center.”
In 2007, Wright published Roadwork: Rock and Roll Turned Inside Out, with stories of life on the road paired with his photos. The Briscoe Center celebrated the book’s release with a reception at the Headliner’s Club in Austin. About 150 supporters, family members, and friends gathered to acknowledge Wright’s contribution to rock and roll history. The attendees included Pete Townsend, who served as co-host and as the featured guest speaker, Joe Walsh, Ian McLagan, and Mark Andes (of Spirit and Firefall).
Wright donated his archive to the center in 1993. The archive is divided into two parts. The Tom Wright Photograph Collection contains more than 120,000 photos and thousands of audio and video recordings. Material related to British rock group The Who is the major focus of the collection. Also included are videos and CDs of The Who, a tape of Pete Townshend describing Tommy before its first U.S. performance, and a portfolio of sepia toned photographs of Joe Walsh.
The Tom Wright Papers include personal papers, articles and clippings, correspondence, and concert tour information such as itineraries and financial records, and sound recordings, including the oral history interview “Townshend about pictures.”