EXPIRED: 12/01/09 – Eric Woolfson, 64, was best known for being the brains behind the band that didn’t bear his name. As cofounder of the 1970s British progressive rock group the Alan Parsons Project, Woolfson was songwriter and sometime vocalist when guest vocalists didn’t show up to the studio.
He never intended to be part of someone else’s project, however, as he had his own plan all along.
Born in Glasgow, Scotland, Woolfson found himself bored as a piano-playing accountant. He moved to London in search of a musical career and got work with Jimmy Page and John Paul Jones (pre-Zeppelin), session work on Marianne Faithfull hits, and a short stint in Herman’s Hermits. His prowess in the studios got him publishing and producing gigs as well.
He then became a manager, signing on Carl Douglas, who sang the hit Kung Fu Fighting, and Alan Parsons, an Abbey Road engineer for the Beatles and Paul McCartney.
With Parsons, the pair fooled around in the studio at length, forming a collaboration that allowed Parsons’ engineering skills to augment Woolfson’s songwriting. The resulting tapes were labeled “Alan Parson’s project” although that was only ever supposed to be a working title. It stuck. And even though Woolfson was never supposed to be a member, The Alan Parsons Project was born.
The band’s first album, based on Woolfson’s obsession with Edgar Allan Poe, Tales of Mystery and Imagination: Edgar Allan Poe, was released in 1976 and set the stage for many of the union’s works from then on: dozens of musicians, guest singers, thematic albums. Woolfson would sing a guide vocal track for each song, which the album’s eventual lead vocalists would use as a reference. Woolfson original track sometimes remained as the finished piece. This was the case in some of their biggest hits, including “Time”, “Don’t Answer Me” and the band’s signature tune “Eye in the Sky.”
From 1976 to 1987, the pair collaborated on 10 albums and sold over 40 million records. But when the hits started coming and the songs became more about chart success, a rift formed. Woolfson was more interested in longer form musicals and he left the Project to work on his on compositions.
Freudiana, originally meant to be the 11th album by The Alan Parsons Project, was taking a while to get off the ground. During development Woolfson met Brian Brolly, who had workrked with Andrew Lloyd Webber to create the musical Cats. With help from Brolly, Woolfson could visualize Freudiana as a stage musical. He left The Alan Parsons Project immediately.
Freudiana premiered in Vienna in 1990, and it was a financial mistake. But Woolsfon would not be deterred. Four years later he created the musical Gaudi, about the Spanish architect, and then Gambler, about life in Monte Carlo. He found success in Asia and won a Tony award equivalent there. Two years ago he continued his success in Asia with the musical theatre play Dancing Shadows, before returning to Berlin this year with Poe, a musical about his continuing obsession with the poet.