Tom Willett (1950- ) is an American musician, author and entertainment industry executive. He toured and recorded extensively as a bass player during the ‘60s and ‘70s, served as booking agent and manager for numerous artists in the ‘80s, and worked as an Artist & Repertoire and Marketing executive in the ‘90s. In the ‘00s he co-founded a fully-accredited artists’ colony for college-aged musicians and entrepreneurs, and currently entertains fantasies of a restless retirement in Sodom-on-the-Cumberland, Tennessee.
Touring and Recording Bands
Born in 1950 in Portsmouth, VA, Thomas Alva Willett III (Tom) moved with his family to the Washington, DC suburbs in the mid-1960s. While attending Thomas Jefferson High School in Fairfax County, VA, he played bass with DC-area Garage Rockers the Keggs, the Uncalled Four, and the Nightcrawlers, which also featured Gerry Beckley, later of the best-selling British ex-pat band, America.
While completing coursework for a B.A. in Psychology at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, NC, Willett toured with Brit Rock-Psychedelic outfit Orange, featuring Danny Brubeck, son of legendary Jazz pianist Dave Brubeck, on drums.
After graduation in 1972, Willett recorded and toured with the Sons of Thunder,
founded by Blaine Smith in 1968 and the first U.S. Rock act to record a contemporary Gospel album for a major label (Till the Whole World Knows, Zondervan). He also played bass for D.C. Folk-Rocker Scott Wesley Brown.
Early Not-for-Profit Work
While pursuing post-graduate studies in the mid-1970s at a commune in the Maryland suburbs, Willett helped launch both the Cornerstone Study Center (Jim and Lorraine Hiskey) and the C. S. Lewis Institute (James Houston, John R.W. Stott, J. I. Packer). He and Santa Rosa, CA-native Julie Atterbury were married in 1978.
Booking and Artist Management
Willett returned to the music industry in 1979 when he launched the Chanan Agency to handle booking and management for DC-area talent including musician/author Brian McLaren and college-circuit favorites, Jim and Kim Thomas (the Carpenter’s Tools, SaySo).
In 1980, Willett joined Dharma Artist Agency in Nashville, TN where he served as booking agent for a number of leading artists, including Leon Patillo (Santana), Maria Muldaur, and Richie Furay (Buffalo Springfield, Poco). He later formed Tom Willett Artist Management to provide career direction for John Fischer (Word/A&M), Scott Wesley Brown (Sparrow/EMI), and Marty McCall (MCA Songbird).
Artist & Repertoire Work in Los Angeles
In 1984, Willett was asked to become Executive Director of Artists and Repertoire in Los Angeles for ABC’s Word Records, the world's largest distributor of inspirational music and books. Responsible for signing new artists and overseeing production, Willett managed the creation of more than 50 award-winning CDs and videos, including Grammy and Dove Award winning records by Sam Phillips, The Choir, Dion DiMucci, Philip Bailey (Earth, Wind & Fire), Randy Stonehill and Bryan Duncan.
While in L.A., Willett founded What? Records, a boutique label marketed and distributed by A&M Records. Working with T Bone Burnett, David Miner, John Carter and Lynn Nichols, What? released four critically-acclaimed albums: IDeoLa’s Tribal Opera, Tonio K.’s Romeo Unchained and Notes from the Lost Civilization, and Dave Perkins’ The Innocence.
Willett’s A&R work saw him in the studio with such notables as T Bone Burnett, Phil Ramone, Charlie Peacock, Booker T. Jones, Little Richard, Tchad Blake, Bill Schnee and Doug Sax.
Marketing, Product Management and Career Development
In 1990, Willett and Epic Record’s Roger Klein brokered a new marketing and distribution relationship for Word with Epic Records and Sony Music Entertainment. After relocating to New York, he, along with Dan Beck (Michael Jackson, Pearl Jam, Indigo Girls, Sade), coordinated the release and marketing of over 300 albums that generated more than $50,000,000.00 in revenues. While serving as Vice President of Marketing for Word/Epic, Willett and his team spear-headed international marketing campaigns for such artists as Al Green, Deniece Williams, Shirley Caesar, Phil Keaggy, Soul Mission, Sandi Patty, Petra, and Point of Grace. Through their efforts, Word/Epic artists found expanded audiences, while leading mainstream personalities such as Bruce Cockburn, Wynton Marsalis and Garrison Keillor crossed back over into the Gospel marketplace.
In 1995 Willett moved to Virginia, and later, Florida, to pursue writing and independent marketing. He published more than 50 articles in music and arts journals while helping manage the literary estate of Dr. Richard C. Halverson, former Chaplain of the U.S. Senate. With Beck, he formed ADi, a property development and marketing organization focused on creating unique entertainment, character and lifestyle properties. In conjunction with Peacock Papers, ADi’s products found distribution in Hallmark and other leading card and gift shops. Their recording and touring project, The American Soul and Rock & Roll Choir, went on to tour performing arts centers throughout the U.S. Willett and Beck later co-managed Hip-Hop trio, Scratch Track, and artist/writer/filmmaker, Will Gray.
During this period, Willett also founded Creative Development Network, providing career support to Artist/Producer T Bone Burnett (Counting Crows, Wallflowers), recording artist Sam Phillips (Virgin, Nonesuch), and Internet sensation, Boondogs, the first band signed to a major recording contract based solely on consumer voting during the first wave of downloadable .mp3s.
Music Industry Educator and Mentor
In 2000, Willett was asked to spearhead a feasibility study for the creation of a fully-accredited, 4-month long off-campus study experience for college students interested in careers in the music industry. In conjunction with CCCU’s Dr. Richard Gathro and a committee of college presidents, deans and music department chairs, he created a business plan and curriculum that offered developing artists classes and hands-on experience in songwriting, recording and performance, while training young entrepreneurs in artist management, booking, publishing, record company operations and marketing. Established on the Island of Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts in the Fall of 2001, Willett and the faculty and staff of the Contemporary Music Center (CMC) have helped launch the careers of more than 1,000 students from nearly 100 colleges and universities. After 10 years with the CMC, he served as an Adjunct Professor in the Mike Curb College of Entertainment and Music Business at Belmont University before becoming Music Business Instructor and Director of Education at Dark Horse Institute. In September of 2017, Willett was named President of Dark Horse Institute.
Willett’s work has been cited in Rolling Stone, Billboard, Musician, the L.A. Times, Entertainment Weekly, CMJ and the Hollywood Reporter, while his articles encouraging excellence in music making and marketing have appeared in Image, The Wittenburg Door, CCM, Release, The Other Side and Prism.
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