Taylor Swift had just traded in her learners permit for a license when her debut single introduced non-country fans to Tim McGraw. Her song by that name propelled the singer/songwriter to the momentum characterized by her career, which is documented on the walls of what Al Wilson calls his “man cave.” Large albums mounted in glass frames look onto the drum sets that crowd the basement studio in Wilson’s Longmont home. That’s because for six years he toured with Swift—the youngest artist to ever be nominated for, and win, the award for Entertainer of the Year. And today, when Wilson says, “You’re slammin’ and you’ve got a flow happening and you’re in a groove,’” he’s not talking about drumming. He’s talking about the whirlwind that found him on a world tour. “It was like The Beatles,” he said, and later lamented fame’s isolation. This year marks the first that Wilson has traded in the touring gig for a teaching one, which he does privately in his home. There, he sat down with YS to reflect on his career, crediting his success with having the courage to fail.
“I was 18 years old and I had a friend who played drums in the dorm. And I’ll never forget the first time I walked into his room and he was playing. The energy in the air of those musicians just interacting together; I’m getting chills right now thinking about it. It was profound. And it was the drums. I borrowed his set when he went on vacation and when he came back, he gave them to me. And that was all she wrote.”
“As soon as my daughter was born and I saw her little face and her eyes, I knew I wanted to take my career to another level to provide a better future for her. Eight months later we moved to Nashville from Colorado. I drove 21 hours when I initially moved there and I didn’t go to sleep. I didn’t take a shower. I grabbed a conga and a snare drum and I went to a writer’s night and played percussion with anyone who would let me play with them. A good friend of mine who plays on a ton of Taylor’s recordings recommended me before the first record came out. They hired me as band leader and drummer. Everything snowballed so fast, I ended up being tour manager, production manager, travel agent.”