Tom Terrell, 1951–2007

Friends and colleagues remember one of the music biz's few universally beloved men

Over the years, I got to see firsthand what a true renaissance man he was. He did it all and could hold discourse on all manner of things. In turn, he touched so many folks with his kindness, advice, recommendations, and just plain Terrell-ness that I know I'll be getting e-mails for years to come about something the man did or said that has finally panned out for them. For me, his Terrell-ness also means his ability to pull out a jam that no one else has heard yet. Tom attacked my jadedness with the wonderful, eye-opening sensation that there was still an uncharted future. —Brian M. Bacchus, producer/a&r, SoulFeast


Tom, whom I also knew as "Scooter"— I don't know why—would leave whatever he was working on till the last minute. He stored everything in his head; it seemed he'd never make it, and then he'd blurt it out on the keyboard in a brilliant rush of words and color. Tom knew who he was. I suggested one day that he write something less free-form and more biographical. He said, with perfect logic: "You called me for this job, didn't you?"

It was years into our friendship before I knew that Tom was a photographer, when he told me in an offhand way that the Parliament project at hand could use some new photos and that he just might have something. In he'd walk, wearing beautiful Alain Mikli glasses—how did he find those?—and out of an old bag would tumble prints from the old-school gods.

Tom coined a singular music-industry phrase: As someone more than happy to take free goods, he called himself a "promosexual." I still laugh when a visitor grabs a few freebies. I can see Tom, smiling. — Harry Weinger, producer, Universal


When Tom heard, a couple of years ago, that I was putting together a photo exhibit marking the 25th anniversary of VP Records, he showed me a great shot he'd taken at London's Notting Hill Carnival in 1985. A DJ is set up on the sidewalk, and a couple of young kids, a boy and a girl, are dancing to the music on top of a car. It's priceless: all you need to know about how people of African heritage manage to add color and rhythm to their lives in Old Blighty. Of course, it's not out of the question to see that photo as a self-portrait of Tom himself. He was a DJ. He was a dancer. He was also a writer, photographer, promo man, and consummate hipster.

Ultimately, Tom Terrell always reminded me of Charlie Parker, who was once asked about his religious affiliation and replied: "I am a devout Musician." The same can be said of Tom, too. (And I have no idea whether he ever played a lick on an actual musical instrument.) Tom Terrific was a devout Musician, and he was beloved for his devotion. I have always been proud to call him my friend. — Bill Adler, writer/gallerist, Eyejammie


A little over a year ago, our band Harriet Tubman played a short set at a beautiful benefit night for Tom at the Canal Room in NYC. It was an honor, in my heart, that Tom had specifically requested that Harriet Tubman perform. We composed a song dedicated to him—something original, from our hearts to his. It was and is titled "Afro Sheen." Inspired by a day of listening to the "Queen of the Hammond B-3 Organ," Twinkie Clark and the Clark Sisters, it is the "good news" of our Urban Gospel. It is Brooklyn, it is Deadwood Dick, it is romance, it is mean, it is Colored, it is high-steppin', it is testifyin' and death-defyin'! We gave it to Tom in performance at the benefit, in love and respect and Bruthahood. That was a beautiful night for everyone. There was so much love in the room! So much tireless support from his peeps.

In a life, love defines us. Nothing else. As we define him by the love he gave and received, Terrell was/is a great man. Thank you, Tom, for coming and being with us. Thanks for letting your little light shine, shine, shine. . . . —Brandon Ross, musician


Hey, Tom. To the point: I knew I couldn't hang with you the first time Don Palmer took me by your apartment on First Ave. Your house was messier than mine, and I was trying to get away from all those things you were into . . . too "Beat" for me. But I am your friend 'cause, as your Aunt Shirley said, we could share some food. Plus that lady in your house was a total distraction. I could see we had the same kind of indulgences. Then, over the years, I'd meet the writer, the photographer, the bohemian poet-soothsayer at gatherings or en route to wherever it was that we were going. And still going. Through V'man and 'Becca, we crossed and crossed again. We went to see Louis Armstrong, and through his glory I saw you glow with the same kind of fascination and enthusiasm that I have for the mentor of all music that is to represent us in our residence and our voyage. You knew then! . . . And through his voice, I knew too. His voice touched you. So for me, Louis Armstrong is our connecting rod. He is our "BubbleMan". . . . By the way, thank you for the picture, it is my favorite. You touch, too, and you carry the message well. And you seem to have given us all something to do. —Butch Morris, musician
Dear Tom: Man, I'm sitting here listening to Bootsy's Christmas Is 4 Ever and wondering what to get you this year. A couple of weeks ago, you asked for the Fred Astaire DVD box. I thought that was some funny shit, but then again, you were the only person I knew who could wax on about Wishbone Ash. Anyway, you're going to miss the rum, whiskey, and brandy eggnog this year, and the Memorial Day barbecue, when you would deign to eat some pork while making everyone look 'cue-fabulous in your photos. So the next 'cue will be the 1st Annual Terrell. . . . I write this knowing that you were a goofy, totally irresponsible sage. You'd cuss me out for banging your bell at 2 a.m., but we'd sit for hours listening, talking, pondering. Generosity. Love. You helped me keep it together when two of my friends died. We sat and talked about your dad when you learned that he had died. I had to ask his name. "Tom," you said. And we shared fried chicken in the VFW hall basement after that rainy morning.
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