The New York Daily News said David Wilcox gave “sensitive singer/songwriters back their good name.” A self-taught guitar player who experiments with a variety of tunings, Wilcox backs his thought-provoking lyrics with fluid guitar work. He has won a loyal following through his memorable live performances, which he takes pride in adapting to different audiences.
Born and raised in Cleveland, Wilcox briefly attended Antioch College in Yellow Springs, Ohio. Once there, he was inspired to learn to play guitar when he heard a woman playing music in a stairwell. He was attracted to the sound of open tunings and went about learning Joni Mitchell’s songs, which relied on a variety of tunings. He even designed a capo (a device used by guitarists to hold down strings and change the key they’re playing in) with the unique feature of leaving one or more strings unaltered.
Following his year at Antioch, Wilcox hit the road, spending the next three years traveling, working odd jobs, and playing guitar. When he returned to college in 1981, he attended Warren Wilson College in Asheville, North Carolina. Wilcox would claim he almost accidentally majored in religion. He primarily took classes that interested him, and after a certain amount of time, his advisor told him that he had enough credits to graduate with a major in religion. Wilcox became well known as a regular performer at McDibbs, an Asheville, North Carolina nightclub. In 1986 he released his debut album on his Song of the Wood label, The Nightshift Watchman. Thank to a performance at the Bluebird Cafe in Nashville, Tennessee, Wilcox attracted the attention of A&M Records. A&M signed him in 1989 and released How Did You Find Me Here? as his major label debut, followed by Home Again in 1991 and Big Horizon in 1994.
Wilcox was well regarded from the start and became one of the most popular in a new generation of American folk artists. He writes thoughtful songs about intimate subjects, such as romantic commitment; many of the songs seem almost confessional. His guitar work is intricate and flowing. Critically acclaimed early in his career, he was often referred to as the “new James Taylor” and also won comparisons with such British folk artists as Nick Drake and John Martyn. He quickly became an established touring musician.
Despite Wilcox’s strong appeal to folk audiences, A&M was disappointed with the sales from his three albums and dropped the musician from the label after Big Horizon. Wilcox bounced back rather quickly, signing with Koch Records, which released his first live album, East Asheville Hardware, in 1995. The album takes the unusual twist of presenting songs Wilcox was known for in live performances rather than presenting live versions of his best-known songs. William Ruhlmann of All Music Guide described the songs as “comic, bawdy,
Born c. 1959 in Cleveland, OH; married; one child.
Independently produced debut album, The Nightshift Watchman, 1986; signed with A&M, released How Did You Find Me Here?, 1989; signed with Koch, released East Asheville Hardware, 1995; signed with Vanguard, released Underneath, 1998; signed with What Are Records?, released Live Songs and Stories, 2002.
Addresses: Record company —What Are Records?, At-Source Distribution, 2401 Broadway, Boulder, CO 80304, website: http://www.whatarerecords.com. Website —David Wilcox Official Website: http://www.davidwilcox.com.
whimsical, sentimental, touching.… ‘Mango’ [is] perhaps the most straight-spoken song of romantic disappointment since Nilsson’s ‘You’re Breakin’ My Heart.’… This album of throwaways may be David Wilcox’s best album. It’s certainly his most immediately enjoyable.”
Koch rereleased The Nightshift Watchman in 1996, then followed with Wilcox’s 1997 release Turning Point. By the time the songs in this album were written, Wilcox had reached a turning point or two in his own life. He had married and had a son. For this album he took up the electric guitar and toured with a band for the first time. He told Performing Songwriter that picking up the electric guitar was like starting from scratch: “On this CD, I’m trusting my own sense of direction. I used to enjoy sailing where the wind blew, and that faith felt fine, but I needed the other kind of trust to balance it.” Performing Songwriter described the sound on the album as a “more punchy, muscular sound.”
In 1998 Wilcox signed with the legendary folk label Vanguard and released two albums: Underneath in 1998 and What You Whispered in 2000. The latter was described as having a “lilting, round-the-kitchen-table sound to it” by John Lehndorff of the Denver Rocky Mountain News. In fact, most of the album was recorded at Wilcox’s home. Lehndorff wrote: “The result was a richer sound with Wilcox playing baritone guitar, steel guitar, miniature guitar, keyboards and even a banjo.” Apparently he was comfortable with his place in the music world. He told Los Angeles Times writer John Roos, “It used to matter to me that I reach a lot of people, but I’m content to touch fewer people now—but, hopefully, on a deeper level.” A&M released The Very Best of David Wilcox in 2001 and in 2002 What Are Records? released his second live album, Live Songs and Stories.
In talking about his songwriting, Wilcox explained to Sojourners’ Kimberly Burge: “What can sometimes stir me to write is if someone I know is going through something that confounds them or they’re in the middle of some pain that they can’t find their way out of. I can imagine singing a song to them that would give them a handhold to climb out of it, or help them see a vision of change.” This hand-holding style of music has drawn a lot of fans to Wilcox. He values his relationship with his audiences. “Music will always be sacred to me,” he told Roos in the Los Angeles Times. “It might sound corny, but over the years I’ve built up a great trust with my fans … and that’s something I would never want to betray.” He also states on the liner notes of David Wilcox Live Songs & Stories, “I have never believed that my voice or my guitar were worth listening to because of how well I sing or play. But I will stand up for a song that has something to say because I believe in the message.”
Throughout his years as a performer, Wilcox has given as much to his life performances as his recorded music. He’s developed an intimate stage persona and a whole philosophy for how he approaches his audiences. His What Are Records? publicity materials describe him as a “master of pacing and improvising the perfect set list,” but it is more than that. He collaborates with his audience and enthusiastically introduces new artists as opening acts. His performances, while meaningful, are full of insights that make people laugh. As he explained in his publicity material: “[When I’m on stage], I realize that the real instrument I’m playing is not the strings and the words and what the songs are. It’s more just orchestrating the emotion of the room and finding ways to draw people in and getting them together—moving from one emotion to another. That’s the real instrument.”
While his lyrics are not overtly Christian, their spiritual quality has drawn Christians to him. Still, Wilcox defies the constraints of popular Christian music. “The [Christian songwriter’s] first responsibility is to tell the truth,” he told Burge. “I would much rather have somebody say, I’m really angry and I’m scared and I don’t believe anything.’ I’d much rather hear that than hear somebody try to do some sweetness-and-light sort of song if, really, they’re angry and scared. It’s most important to tell the truth.” “I know from my experience that music can change lives,” Wilcox commented in his publicity materials. “I believe in the power of the humble song to give somebody a vision of what’s possible for their life. I know that music is a way to get a feeling really quickly that would ordinarily take years of experience. As an audience member, what I go for is nothing less than healing and salvation. Not entertainment at all. It’s much bigger than that. It’s medicinal music. That’s what I aspire to.”
The Nightshift Watchman, Song of the Wood Music, 1986.
How Did You Find Me Here?, A&M, 1989.
Home Again, A&M, 1991.
Big Horizon, A&M, 1994.
East Asheville Hardware, Koch, 1995.
Turning Point, Koch, 1996.
Underneath, Vanguard, 1998.
What You Whispered, Vanguard, 2000.
The Very Best of David Wilcox, A&M, 2001.
Live Songs and Stories, WAR.?, 2002.
Denver Rocky Mountain News, September 7, 2000.
Los Angeles Times, March 16, 1999.
Performing Songwriter, July/August 1997.
San Francisco Bay Guardian, October 11, 2000.
Sojourners, November-December 2001, p. 42.
Vintage Guitar, May 2002.
“David Wilcox,” All Music Guide, http://www.allmusic.com/ (April 2, 2002).
David Wilcox Official Website, http://www.davidwilcox.com (April 15, 2002).
Additional information was provided by What Are Records? publicity materials.
"Wilcox, David." Contemporary Musicians. . Encyclopedia.com. (February 17, 2019). https://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/wilcox-david
"Wilcox, David." Contemporary Musicians. . Retrieved February 17, 2019 from Encyclopedia.com: https://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/wilcox-david
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