Don Was
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Don Was

Don Was
Don Was - Americana Music Association showcase - Nashville, Tennessee (2010)
Background information
Don Edward Fagenson
Born (1952-09-13) September 13, 1952 (age 67)
OriginDetroit, Michigan, US
GenresRock, new wave
Musician, Record Producer, Record Executive
InstrumentsBass guitar, guitar, vocals, piano
Was (Not Was)
Orquestra Was Bob Dylan, Rolling Stones, Bonnie Raitt, John Mayer, Bob Weir and Wolf Bros

Don Edward Fagenson (born September 13, 1952), known as Don Was, is an American musician, record producer and record executive. Primarily a bass player, Was co-founded the funk-rock band Was (Not Was). In later years he produced songs and albums for many popular recording artists. In 2012, he became president of jazz music label Blue Note Records.

Life and career

Born in Detroit, Michigan, United States,[1] Was graduated from Oak Park High School in the Detroit suburb of Oak Park, then attended the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor but dropped out after the first year. A journeyman musician, he grew up listening to the Detroit blues sound and the jazz music of John Coltrane and Miles Davis, amongst many others. As a teenager, Was further influenced by the 60s counterculture, most notably John Sinclair.

In high school, Was the lead singer and guitar player in a Detroit rock band called the Saturns.

The first recording project that he engineered and produced was in 1971 with drummer Muruga Booker on a recording called Rama Rama / Endless Path.[2]

Using the stage name "Don Was", he formed the group Was (Not Was) with school friend David Weiss (David Was). The group found commercial success in the 1980s - releasing four albums and logging several hit records. Their biggest hit was "Walk the Dinosaur", off of their album What up, Dog? A jazz/R&B album of Hank Williams covers, "Forever's A Long, Long Time" was released in 1997, under the name Orquestra Was.[3] In 2008, Was (Not Was) reunited for an acclaimed new album titled Boo! and tour.

Was has received four Grammy Awards including the 1994 Grammy Award for Producer of the Year.[4][5] He produced several albums for Bonnie Raitt including her Nick of Time album that won the 1989 Grammy Award for Album of the Year.[4] Don also collaborated with co-producer Ziggy Marley, on Family Time, winner of 2009's Best Musical Album For Children.[4] He produced the Rolling Stones 2016 album Blue and Lonesome, which won the Grammy for Best Traditional Blues album.

He served as music director and/or consultant for several motion pictures such as Thelma and Louise, The Rainmaker, Hope Floats, Phenomenon, Tin Cup, Honeymoon in Vegas, 8 Seconds, Switch, The Freshman, Days of Thunder, Michael, Prêt-à-Porter, Boys on the Side, Toy Story and The Paper.

In 1995, he directed and produced a documentary, I Just Wasn't Made for These Times, about former Beach Boy Brian Wilson. The film debuted at the Sundance Film Festival and won the San Francisco Film Festival's Golden Gate Award. He also received the British Academy Award (BAFTA) for Best Original Score in recognition of his compositions for the film Backbeat.

Was, who is a fan of the Rolling Stones and saw them in concert when he was age 12 in 1964, produced their albums Voodoo Lounge, Stripped, Bridges to Babylon, Forty Licks, Live Licks, A Bigger Bang and Blue & Lonesome. He also worked on the Rolling Stones's reissues Exile on Main Street, released in May 2010 and Some Girls released in October 2011. Was scoured old master recordings of the albums for lost gems, remastering some songs while producing entirely new vocals and tracks on others.[6]

Was also produced the B-52's 1989 album Cosmic Thing, which included their smash hit "Love Shack".

Since 2008, Was has hosted the proceedings (and led the house band) at the Detroit All-Star Revue, an annual showcase of local acts from the Detroit music scene.[7]

From 2009 to 2012, Don hosted a weekly radio show on Sirius XM satellite radio's Outlaw Country channel called The Motor City Hayride.[8] During the 2011 season of American Idol, Was appeared in several episodes producing contestants Haley Reinhart, Scotty McCreery, Paul McDonald, Lauren Alaina and Casey Abrams.

In January 2012, he was appointed president of the jazz record label, Blue Note Records in succession to Bruce Lundvall.[9]

He won the 2014 Emmy Award for Outstanding Music Direction for his work on the CBS TV special "The Beatles: The Night That Changed America."

On November 18, 2015, at DAR Constitution Hall in Washington DC, he led the house band that performed at a concert celebrating Willie Nelson, recipient of the 2015 Library of Congress Gershwin Prize for Popular Song.[10]

In 2018, Was joined former Grateful Dead guitarist Bob Weir and drummer Jay Lane to form Bob Weir & Wolf Bros, a trio which undertook a North American tour in the Fall of 2018,[11] and continued with a second tour of twenty more shows in the Spring of 2019.[12]

Personal life

Don Was is the father of three sons who are also musicians; Tony, who plays in Eve 6, Henry plays in Thumpasaurus, and Justin Jay's Fantastic Voyage, and Solomon who has played in Leven Kali, and Felly. Don is married to former Virgin Records A&R executive and video director Gemma Corfield, and is the brother of Nancy Potok, Chief Statistician of the United States.[13]

Selected discography


  1. ^ "Don Was - Biography". AllMusic. Retrieved 2014.
  2. ^ "Rama Rama - Endless Path, by Muruga Booker". Retrieved 2019.
  3. ^ "Don Was Biography". Musician Guide. Retrieved 2014.
  4. ^ a b c "Grammy Award Past Winners Search - Don Was". Retrieved 2014.
  5. ^ Harrington, Richard (August 26, 1995). "Brian Wilson's Sensational Safari". The Washington Post. p. D.01. Retrieved 2010.
  6. ^ "Don Was Revisits 'Exile On Main Street'". Retrieved 2019.
  7. ^ DeVito, Lee (July 8, 2015). "Get Your Mojo Working". Detroit Metro Times. Euclid Media. 35 (39): 58. Retrieved 2015.
  8. ^ "Don Was Joins Sirius XM for Show". Retrieved 2014.
  9. ^ Chinen, Nate (May 2, 2012). "Exuberance Is Just One of His Skills". The New York Times. Retrieved 2012.
  10. ^ Thanki, Juli (November 18, 2015). "Willie Nelson saluted by Alison Krauss, Jamey Johnson, more". The Tennessean. Retrieved 2015.
  11. ^ "Bob Weir & Wolf Bros. Announce Fall Tour". Retrieved 2018.
  12. ^ "Bob Weir & Wolf Bros Confirm Spring Tour 2019". Retrieved 2019.
  13. ^ Muskovitz, Alan (November 7, 2017). "Three WWII veterans honored for their military efforts -- and beyond". The Detroit Jewish News. Retrieved 2020.

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