Terry Wollman’s songs have topped the Billboard chart. His song, “Mandela,” that he co-wrote with Keb’ Mo’, reached #1 on Smooth Jazz Top 20 Chart, #4 on the Billboard Chart and spent five months on Billboard’s Top 20. He has worked with some of today’s greatest musicians and recording artists. He has recorded six albums and one 25-year retrospective album. He is known as a guitarist, a performer, a producer, a director, a composer, a radio host and a highly regarded force in the music business.

Stay Thirsty Magazine enjoyed visiting with Terry Wollman in Los Angeles for this Conversation about his work and his thoughts on the music business.

Terry Wollman – No Problem

STAY THIRSTY: How important was the invention of the electric guitar in 1931 to contemporary music?

TERRY WOLLMAN: It was absolutely critical to the development of pop, jazz, blues, R&B, soul and every style of music in between. Prior to that game changing invention, guitar playing was (in most cases) limited to rhythmic accompaniment. Adding a pickup to the instrument created a broad tonal palette that helped move the guitar to the front of the stage.

STAY THIRSTY: Early proponents of the electric guitar included Les Paul and T-Bone Walker, to name just two, and Jazz musicians were the first to adopt it. What drew you to the electric guitar as your instrument of choice and what made it so important in your career?

TERRY WOLLMAN: My first instrument was an acoustic guitar. It was physically painful to play because the strings were so high that it was difficult to press down against the frets. My fingers literally bled from practicing until I developed callouses. I begged my parents for an electric guitar which was easier to play, so I would say “pain” is what drew me to the electric guitar. It has been invaluable in my career because it allows me unlimited sounds and colors to create music with, both in the studio and on stage.

STAY THIRSTY: Who made the greatest electric guitars in history and what made them different from the rest? Is there one specific guitar that you have played or owned that holds a special place in your heart?

TERRY WOLLMAN: Fender and Gibson originally led the pack in creating the best sounding electric guitars, inspired by Les Paul and Leo Fender. Now there are companies like Xotic, Duesenberg and Rick Turner Guitars building some of the world-class instruments that I play. The Valley Arts Custom shop made my two personal favorite electric guitars for me in the late 80’s. I also love my Taylor 912C acoustic guitar which I got for my 1998 Say Yes album, and have traveled the world with ever since.

STAY THIRSTY: Although you have a degree in arranging from Berklee College of Music, your career has included roles as a musician, producer, composer, musical director and arranger. Which of those roles most closely represents who you are and which one gives you the greatest fulfillment?

TERRY WOLLMAN: You mean who is my favorite child? It truly is impossible to choose, but I would say that being a Producer/Music Director draws from all of those skills and inspires me to create music with other gifted musicians and artists. That fulfills me!

STAY THIRSTY: You have worked with many of the greatest musicians and artists of our time, including Joan Baez, Michael McDonald, Dionne Warwick, The 5th Dimension, Eartha Kitt and Melissa Manchester. Of all the people you have collaborated with, which ones have had the most influence on your music and on your growth as a composer and producer?

TERRY WOLLMAN: Honestly…all of them have influenced me with their passion, dedication, musicianship and focus. Joe Sample, who I worked closely with in my early career, showed me what it meant to be an artist/composer/musician/arranger/producer. Melissa Manchester, who I still collaborate with, continues to set the bar high every time she steps on stage, writes a song or records an album. These artists have shown me the beauty of giving your all every time you create music.

Terry Wollman and Melissa Manchester (Courtesy of Terry Wollman)

STAY THIRSTY: As a successful recording artist with many Billboard top rankings to your credit, what are the characteristics that you look for in a song that help to make it a hit?

TERRY WOLLMAN: Melody, melody and melody. Additionally, a lyric with clarity, depth and a fresh perspective that invites the listener into the story. As an artist and a producer, my job is to serve the song and bring it to life. Once the song’s direction reveals itself to me, I surround myself with greatness…a community of musically generous musicians and engineers who bring their talent, experience and “A” game to everything they do.

STAY THIRSTY: If you were to concentrate on just one area in your wide musical career going forward, what would it be and with whom would you like to work that you have not?

TERRY WOLLMAN: I would choose producing because it allows me to express myself musically and collaborate with artists who inspire me every day. I have had the great pleasure of producing Alan Bergman with Dave Grusin, Dick Van Dyke, (co-producing) Tony Bennett and Melissa Manchester (with guest artists Stevie Wonder, Keb’ Mo’, Al Jarreau, Dionne Warwick, Dave Koz and Joe Sample). I love pop music and would love to work with artists like Justin Timberlake. I have a deep love and passion for the collaborative process of creating music. My goal is to keep working with up-and-coming artists as well as continue producing the great legends of our generation.

STAY THIRSTY: What advice do you have for young musicians who aspire to influence the direction of contemporary music in the 21st century?

TERRY WOLLMAN: Look both forward and back to find your inspiration. Stand on the shoulders of those who came before you to hear where the music that resonates in you came from. Immerse yourself in art, and in life, to find your own voice. Be fearless, passionate and uncompromising in the integrity you bring to everything that you do…and make sure to have fun along the way.


All opinions expressed are solely those of its author and do not reflect the opinions of Stay Thirsty Media, Inc.