Critics have used many labels—”storyteller,” “folk poet,” “troubadour”—in trying to capture the essence of Georgia singer, songwriter, and composer Larry Jon Wilson. Like Wilson himself, his music has defied easy categorization, and such descriptions as country folk, country blues, folk blues, country-narrative folk, and a mixture of soul and country all represent attempts to characterize Wilson’s work.
Born on October 7, 1940, in Swainsboro, in Emanuel County, to Louise Phillips and John Tyler Wilson, Larry Jon Wilson was raised in Augusta. He attended high school at Carlisle Military Academy in Bamberg, South Carolina, before attending the University of Georgia, where he majored in chemistry. From 1963 to 1973 he worked in Langley, South Carolina, for United Merchants and Manufacturers as a technical consultant in fiberglass manufacturing.
At the age of thirty, Wilson received his first guitar and taught himself to play. Four years later Wilson—by then a husband and the father of three (later four) children—abandoned the world of polymers for his music. In 1975 his first album, aptly titled New Beginnings, debuted to critical acclaim. Other albums with the Monument label of CBS Records followed, including Let Me Sing My Song to You (1976), Loose Change (1977), and The Sojourner (1979). His compositions reflect his experiences, and many focus on his southern childhood; one writer called them “eloquent, elegiac songs of the South.” Of his first album, the critic for the Saturday Review in New York said, “Larry Jon Wilson’s New Beginnings is, to sum up, the best thing I have heard in country, rock, pop, or you-name-it for a very longtime.” Wilson developed a devoted following of fans and critics on the touring circuit and gained the respect of well-known music colleagues. He was a favorite at the famed Bluebird Cafe in Nashville, Tennessee.
In spite of Wilson’s accolades and enthusiastic fans, no “hit” emerged. Wilson left the music world in 1980, disillusioned with its business aspects and unwilling to compromise his musical integrity for commercial success and stardom. He returned to the business in the late 1980s when other songwriters encouraged him to attend the Frank Brown International Songwriter’s Festival in Perdido Key, Florida. He began touring again in 1989 and accepted occasional engagements thereafter.
In 2000 his New Beginnings/Let Me Sing My Song to You albums were rereleased as a CD in Great Britain and chosen as the Re-Issue of the Month for June 2000 by MOJO magazine, Britain’s leading popular-music periodical. In the summer of 2003, two songs from Wilson’s original album appeared on another British-produced CD entitled Country Got Soul. In 2009 he released a new album, Larry Jon Wilson.
Wilson resided in Augusta, where he continued to write and sing. He died on June 21, 2010, of a stroke while visiting family in Roanoke, Virginia.