Don Was

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Don Was
Don Was Nashville, Tennessee (2010)
Don Was Nashville, Tennessee (2010)
Background information
Birth nameDon Edward Fagenson
Born (1952-09-13) September 13, 1952 (age 69)
OriginDetroit, Michigan, US
  • Musician
  • producer
  • record executive
  • Bass guitar
  • guitar
  • vocals
  • piano
Years active1971–present

Don Edward Fagenson (born September 13, 1952), known professionally 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[edit]

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 took further influence from 1960s counterculture, most notably John Sinclair.

In high school, Was became 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", from 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. In 2008, Was (Not Was) reunited for a new album titled Boo! and tour.

Was has received four Grammy Awards including the 1994 Grammy Award for Producer of the Year.[3][4] He produced several albums for Bonnie Raitt including her Nick of Time album that won the 1989 Grammy Award for Album of the Year.[3] Don also collaborated with co-producer Ziggy Marley, on Family Time, winner of 2009's Best Musical Album For Children.[3] 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.[5]

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.[6]

From 2009 to 2012, Don hosted a weekly radio show on Sirius XM satellite radio's Outlaw Country channel called The Motor City Hayride.[7] 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.[8]

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.[9]

In 2018, Was joined former Grateful Dead guitarist Bob Weir and drummer Jay Lane to form Wolf Bros, a trio which undertook a North American tour in the Fall of 2018,[10] and continued with a second tour of twenty more shows in the Spring of 2019.[11][12]

On April 16, 2021, Was debuted a new radio show, the Don Was Motor City Playlist on WDET-FM, Detroit's NPR station, with co-host Ann Delisi.[13]

Personal life[edit]

Don is the son of World War II veteran and Bronze Star Medal awardee Bill Fagenson, who served with the 96th Infantry, 381st Regiment. Don's sister is Nancy Potok, former Chief Statistician of the United States.[14][15]

Don is married to former Virgin Records A&R executive and video director Gemma Corfield, and they have three sons who are also musicians—Tony, who played in Eve 6, Henry who plays in Thumpasaurus and Justin Jay's Fantastic Voyage, and Solomon who has played in Leven Kali and Felly.

Selected discography[edit]


  1. ^ "Don Was – Biography". AllMusic. Retrieved March 29, 2014.
  2. ^ "Rama Rama - Endless Path, by Muruga Booker". Retrieved November 10, 2019.
  3. ^ a b c "Grammy Award Past Winners Search – Don Was". Retrieved March 29, 2014.
  4. ^ Harrington, Richard (August 26, 1995). "Brian Wilson's Sensational Safari". The Washington Post. p. D.01. Retrieved January 25, 2010.
  5. ^ "Don Was Revisits 'Exile On Main Street'". Retrieved November 10, 2019.
  6. ^ DeVito, Lee (July 8, 2015). "Get Your Mojo Working". Detroit Metro Times. Euclid Media. 35 (39): 58. Retrieved September 3, 2015.
  7. ^ "Don Was Joins Sirius XM for Show". Retrieved March 29, 2014.
  8. ^ Chinen, Nate (May 2, 2012). "Exuberance Is Just One of His Skills". The New York Times. Retrieved May 4, 2012.
  9. ^ Thanki, Juli (November 18, 2015). "Willie Nelson saluted by Alison Krauss, Jamey Johnson, more". The Tennessean. Retrieved November 19, 2015.
  10. ^ "Bob Weir & Wolf Bros. Announce Fall Tour". Retrieved November 2, 2018.
  11. ^ "Bob Weir & Wolf Bros Confirm Spring Tour 2019". Retrieved March 22, 2019.
  12. ^ Paul, Alan. "Bob Weir: For the Veteran Grateful Dead guitarist, retiring is not an option". The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved March 27, 2022.
  13. ^ "Don Was Motor City Playlist » WDET 101.9 FM". October 14, 2021.
  14. ^ Muskovitz, Alan (November 7, 2017). "Three WWII veterans honored for their military efforts — and beyond". The Detroit Jewish News. Archived from the original on July 2, 2018. Retrieved October 31, 2021.
  15. ^ Laderman, Linda (August 24, 2015). "Elementary: Attorney helps school build on a storied past". Detroit Legal News. Archived from the original on August 12, 2020. Retrieved October 31, 2021.

External Links[edit]