Photo by Matthew Shelter
Tal Wilkenfeld, the 29-year-old bassist who is opening for The Who on the current leg of their “The Who Hits 50!” Tour, has been wowing the music industry for the better part of 10 years. In 2006, while still a teenager, she was invited to sit in with the Allman Brothers, and then joined Jeff Beck’s band for a world tour in 2007. Her performance at Eric Clapton’s 2007 Crossroads Festival in Chicago has generated more than 10 million plays on YouTube. She has recorded with the likes of Prince, Trevor Rabin, Jackson Browne, Joe Walsh, Ringo Starr, Brian Wilson, Toto, Todd Rundgren and Ryan Adams. In addition to opening for The Who, Wilkenfeld is embarking on her first ever headlining tour, and has a new album coming out this summer.
What was your first musical memory?
My first musical memory was my dad playing me Vivaldi when I was probably 2-1/2 or 3. I remember sort of humming along, and my dad remembers that as well. But I wasn’t exposed to a lot of recorded music growing up. I had just a few CDs – Jimi Hendrix, Rage Against the Machine, Tool, Incubus – and that was about it until I moved to America, and was exposed to a variety of different kinds of music.
You first gained renown in 2006 when some members of the Allman Brothers heard you playing in a club, and then invited you to sit in with them at a Beacon Theatre gig. What was that like?
I was playing clubs every night in New York. Oteil [Burbridge] heard me first, and then Derek [Trucks] heard me. And those two then just encouraged me to go on with them [at the Beacon]. I don’t think Warren [Haynes] and Gregg Allman even knew about it at first. Oteil just handed me his bass at the beginning of “Elizabeth Reed” and literally just ran into the audience and was watching me in the audience, smiling. And we jammed for, I don’t know, however long the beginning of the song is, and then next thing I know, everyone else is off the stage except for me and I’m playing bass solos for five minutes or so. Then the song continues, but it was probably a 40-minute jam or something, which was really fun. It was the first time I was on a big stage. Then when it came time to audition for Jeff Beck’s band, I sent him a recording of me playing with the Allman Brothers, and that was probably one of the factors that got me that gig, so I’m really grateful to the Allman Brothers.
How did the opportunity to open for The Who come about?
Well, my agent called me and suggested that if I was going to put out my music this year, that I should maybe open up for various artists. I asked him who he had in mind and he said, ‘Yeah,’ and I said, ‘What?’ and he said, ‘Yeah…The Who.’ [Laughs] I said, “Okay, that’s interesting,” but nothing came of that conversation. So I just decided – once it got put in my head, you know, opening for The Who, and I started thinking about it – I just decided to take it upon myself to email Pete Townshend. And I didn’t know how I was going to do that, because I didn’t have his email. But everyone’s connected in this business, and I did get his email and sent him a note basically expressing my gratitude for how kind he was to me when I had met him very briefly six or seven years ago, and saying I’m putting out some new music and if the opportunity arises I’d love to open for you guys. I didn’t think much of it, and literally 20 minutes later there was a response in my inbox, and I thought, you know, it must be one of those auto-responses, but then I opened it and it was a real response. And he said he thought it was a great idea. And so now I’m opening for The Who!
Wow, I didn’t know you could do that – just email Pete Townshend and ask him if you could open for them.
Yeah [laughs], I feel very privileged!