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 71)
Detroit, Michigan, U.S.
  • Musician
  • producer
  • record executive
  • Bass guitar
  • guitar
  • vocals
  • piano
Years active1971–present
Member ofWolf Bros
Formerly ofWas (Not Was)

Don Edward Fagenson (born September 13, 1952), known professionally as Don Was (/wʌz/), is an American musician, record producer, music director, film composer, documentary filmmaker and radio host. Since 2011, he has also served as president of the American jazz label Blue Note Records.

For his work as a record producer, he has won six Grammy Awards, including Album of the Year in 1989 for Bonnie Raitt's Nick of Time and Producer of the Year in 1994. In 1995 he produced and directed a documentary about the life of Brian Wilson, I Just Wasn't Made for These Times, that won the San Francisco Film Festival's Golden Gate Award. As a film composer, he won the 1994 British Academy Award (BAFTA) for Best Original Score in recognition of his work on the film Backbeat. 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.

Records that he has produced have sold close to 100 million albums for a wide range of artists including The Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, Willie Nelson, John Mayer, Wayne Shorter, Kris Kristofferson, Iggy Pop, The B-52s, Brian Wilson, Elton John, Garth Brooks and Ryan Adams.

Primarily known as a bassist, he has toured as a member of Bob Weir and The Wolf Bros since 2018.

Life and career

Born in Detroit,[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 was influenced by 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.

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 six Grammy Awards including the 1994 Grammy Award for Producer of the Year.[2][3] He produced several albums for Bonnie Raitt including her Nick of Time album that won the 1989 Grammy Award for Album of the Year.[2] Don also collaborated with co-producer Ziggy Marley, on Family Time, winner of 2009's Best Musical Album For Children.[2] 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 International 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, a longtime Rolling Stones fan who saw them in concert when he was 12 in 1964, has produced for the band since 1994, working on their albums Voodoo Lounge, Stripped, Bridges to Babylon, Forty Licks, Live Licks, A Bigger Bang, Blue & Lonesome and Hackney Diamonds. He also worked on the Rolling Stones' reissues of Exile on Main Street, released in May 2010, and of Some Girls released in October 2011. Was scoured old master recordings of the albums for lost outtakes, remastering some songs while producing entirely new vocals and tracks on others.[4]

Was also produced the B-52's 1989 album Cosmic Thing, which included their 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.[5]

From 2009 to 2012, Don hosted a weekly radio show on Sirius XM satellite radio's Outlaw Country channel called The Motor City Hayride.[6] 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.[7]

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

On November 18, 2015, at DAR Constitution Hall in Washington, D.C., 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.[8]

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,[9] and continued with a second tour of twenty more shows in the spring of 2019.[10][11]

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.[12]

Was played bass on the 2021 Bob Dylan recordings of "Blowin' in the Wind," "Masters of War," "The Times They Are A-Changin' (song)," "Simple Twist of Fate," "Gotta Serve Somebody," and "Not Dark Yet" produced by T-Bone Burnett and recorded and mixed by Michael Piersante for a one-time sale as Ionic Originals.[13]

In 2023, it was announced that Was would join former Dead & Company members Weir, Lane, Jeff Chimenti, Oteil Burbridge and Mickey Hart as part of Dead Ahead, a four-day festival in Cancún, Mexico in early 2024.[14]

Personal life

Was is the son of World War II veteran and Bronze Star Medal awardee Bill Fagenson, who served with the 96th Infantry, 381st Regiment. Was's sister is Nancy Potok, former Chief Statistician of the United States.[15][16]

Was 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


  1. ^ "Don Was – Biography". AllMusic. Retrieved March 29, 2014.
  2. ^ a b c "Grammy Award Past Winners Search – Don Was". Retrieved March 29, 2014.
  3. ^ Harrington, Richard (August 26, 1995). "Brian Wilson's Sensational Safari". The Washington Post. p. D.01. Retrieved January 25, 2010.
  4. ^ "Don Was Revisits 'Exile On Main Street'". Retrieved November 10, 2019.
  5. ^ DeVito, Lee (July 8, 2015). "Get Your Mojo Working". Detroit Metro Times. 35 (39). Euclid Media: 58. Retrieved September 3, 2015.
  6. ^ "Don Was Joins Sirius XM for Show". Retrieved March 29, 2014.
  7. ^ Chinen, Nate (May 2, 2012). "Exuberance Is Just One of His Skills". The New York Times. Retrieved May 4, 2012.
  8. ^ Thanki, Juli (November 18, 2015). "Willie Nelson saluted by Alison Krauss, Jamey Johnson, more". The Tennessean. Retrieved November 19, 2015.
  9. ^ "Bob Weir & Wolf Bros. Announce Fall Tour". Retrieved November 2, 2018.
  10. ^ "Bob Weir & Wolf Bros Confirm Spring Tour 2019". Retrieved March 22, 2019.
  11. ^ Paul, Alan. "Bob Weir: For the Veteran Grateful Dead guitarist, retiring is not an option". The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved March 27, 2022.
  12. ^ "Don Was Motor City Playlist » WDET 101.9 FM". October 14, 2021.
  13. ^ a b "Three Bob Dylan Re-Recordings to Go Up for Private Sale Via Christie's: 'Simple Twist of Fate,' 'Gotta Serve Somebody,' 'Masters of War' (EXCLUSIVE)". September 6, 2023. Retrieved September 7, 2023.
  14. ^ "Bob Weir, Mickey Hart, Derek Trucks, Susan Tedeschi & More To Go Dead Ahead At New Destination Event In Mexico". September 11, 2023.
  15. ^ 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.
  16. ^ 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.
  17. ^ Hodgkinson, Will (September 6, 2023). "I've heard Hackney Diamonds. It's the best Rolling Stones album since 1978". Music. The Times. News Corp. ISSN 0140-0460. Retrieved October 31, 2023.