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Tom Wright 
Knew & Used Photography
International Debut

Dennos Museum Center
Traverse City, Michigan

by Michael Horne 

The Beginning… 

I awoke the morning of November 13th to the sounds of howling wind and the sight of the winter’s first falling snow.  My first thought- "Would the Exhibit go on?"  Power outages were being reported across western Michigan and the local forecast for Traverse City was for 70mph gusts, and up to 4” of snow accumulation.  With the exception of the occasional snow squall, the 4-hour drive to Traverse City turned out to be uneventful.  My son and I arrived in Traverse City early that afternoon and, although windy, the predicted snow never materialized.  We checked into the Park Place Hotel and then called Rick Coates to let him know we had made it. 

The Exhibit… 

We arrived at the Museum that evening at 6:00 and proceeded up to the ticket table to get our V.I.P. passes.  I gave them my name, but was told they didn’t see it on the list.  Luckily, Rick was close by and said, “Yes, he has to be on it.  He is the big winner of our contest!”  About the time Rick finished saying this my name was found, so with V.I.P. passes hanging off our necks we entered the exhibit.  The sight that first struck me were the large photos of The Who hanging from the center ceiling.  On the surrounding walls, prints were displayed of other artists that Tom had photographed, the most prominent displays being of The Faces, The Who and The James Gang.  Alongside each photograph was a short description, adding the interesting story behind the photograph. 

It wasn’t difficult to spot Ian McLagan- you just had to look to where all the photographers were.  I waited for the crowd to back away before attempting to introduce myself.  I was nervous and thought perhaps I’d get a handshake, nice to see ya, and a photo, if I were lucky.  Eventually, I calmed myself enough to introduce myself and told him I had won the contest.  Well let me tell you, he is one of nicest people you could ever meet.  I instantly felt very comfortable with him, called my son over and introduced him and then the 3 of us proceeded to have a nice talk. He later was kind enough to pose for a couple photographs. I’m really grateful to of had the opportunity of meeting him. To sum it up, he’s just a really nice and down to earth person.

The Panel Discussion…

The discussion began with The Star Spangled Banner played by a guitarist, a la Jimi Hendrix.  Opening greetings were then made by the museum director, which was followed by Rick Coates.  Rick began by stating that the weather had stranded at the Chicago airport some of those planning to attend.  He then read an email from Pete Townshend,  expressing his regrets for not be able to attend and congratulating Tom for his work and well deserved recognition.  Rick then announced that Joe Walsh had to cancel, too.  Joe had just finished touring with the Eagles when he found his home in San Diego threatened by the fires.  When Joe realized he couldn’t make it, he put together a video that was played for the audience.  In the video, Joe expressed his regrets and added a few tales about his time with Tom.  Afterwards, Rick started the interview with Tom.  Tom began by discussing his days at Ealing Art College and his early friendship with Pete Townshend, continuing on through his joining with The Who on their first U.S. tour, his days at the Grande Ballroom in Detroit, and his later work with The James Gang and The Faces.

Rick and Tom were then joined on stage by John Payne (Appraiser), David Teegarden (of Teegarden and Van Winkle fame) and Ian McLagan.  Each member of the panel spoke of their days with Tom, with the exception of John Payne, who addressed the historical significance of Tom’s work. 

Rick then announced they’d been informed they had to clear the stage.  Why this was happening wasn’t made clear, and it all seemed a bit confusing.  Then, as the last panelist left the stage, the rear curtain began to rise and the beginning chords of “I Can’t Explain” filled the room at a near deafening level.  It was the Wholigans, a very good and unexpected surprise to close out the panel discussion.  The Wholigans finished off by playing  “Substitute” and  “My Generation,” capped off with smashing the guitar and drum kit in good ole Who fashion!

The Jam Session…

Well, this started off slow.  There were a couple of local bands that played initially.  They were good, but not what I was waiting for, so I went off to find Tom and hopefully shake his hand.  I spotted him sitting in the dining area with Ian, David Teegarden, and others.  Not wanting to interrupt them, I sat at a nearby table. As I got up to walk around, one of the Wholigans came up to me (the J.E. impersonator, Dave Smith) and we started talking.  Then I met the “fake” Roger (Barry Quinn).  Both were extremely nice people, and it was pleasure talking with them.  

I then noticed Tom was somewhat free, so I went over and introduced myself.  He was sitting and asked me to sit down.  We talked about the Exhibit, about the contest I won... an extremely nice person… this was the highlight of the evening for me.  I had just asked Tom if he’d mind if I got a photo with him, when Rick came over saying they had to get in the other room to start the jam session.  Tom said we had to take the photo first and called Ian over.  So while Rick was pleading with Ian to hurry up and get out onstage, I handed my camera to someone (whomever you are, thank you) and the picture gets taken. 

The Jam session begins with Frank Bach, the stage announcer from Detroit’s Grande Ballroom, telling of the days he spent working for Tom, and then introducing the musicians.  Other than for Ian and David, I’m embarrassed to say I don’t remember the other musicians names.  Perhaps someone else reading this could fill in those blanks.  The All Star Jam Session started playing about 11:00 and finished up just after midnight.  The Wholigans rounded out the evening, playing until 2:15 or so and provided a great finish to the end of a great evening.

The Next Morning…

I woke up early and went down to the Hotel restaurant for some much needed food.  By chance, David Teegarden and his wife ended up sitting next to me.  We ended up talking about the previous nights events, the weather in Michigan and of his home in Tulsa.  Both Dave and his wife were very nice and I’m glad to of had the opportunity of meeting them.


Prior to the events of the evening, my excitement had been in anticipating of what musicians might be attending and of the Jam Session.  As it turned out, it was the viewing of Tom’s work that captivated my eye and interest, along with Rick’s interview with Tom and of my meeting Tom that I found to be most memorable.  

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