Born in 1952 in Austria; son of a pianist; married Michelle Wolf. Education: Studied piano at Conservatory of the City of Vienna. Memberships: American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP).

In 1975, award-winning pianist Peter Wolf moved from his native Austria to southern California where he quickly rose to stardom as a keyboard player for the legendary experimental rock band Mothers of Invention. Later, recording companies began to tap his recognized talent as a composer and musical arranger, and he acquired a reputation as one of the leading producers in the recording industry of the 1980s. After 20 successful years in Los Angeles, a massive earthquake stuck the region. His home, studio, and equipment were destroyed by the massive tremors, driving Wolf back to Austria. Without missing a beat, the respected producer re-established the Pet-Wolf Music Studio near the Swiss-German border, where his American clientele traveled willingly across the ocean to continue their work with Wolf.

Wolf was born in 1952 in Austria. The son of a pianist, Wolf began to study music at age four; two years later he enrolled at the Vienna Conservatory. By age 16, he rejected the classical music culture, turning to pop, jazz, and other modern musical forms. Although Vienna was far from the home of rock & roll, Wolf found a mentor in a local musician named Carl Reitzer. Together the two started a combo; for four years the group performed and recorded as Gypsy Love. Eventually Reitzer developed an interest in jazz styles, which brought about the demise of Gypsy Love. Wolf then started a new group called Objective Truth Orchestra. With that group, he continued to perform in clubs around Vienna, but by 1975, at age 23, Wolf felt a need to move closer to the center of the rock music scene. He moved to the United States in 1975, but found himself performing jazz music, primarily in the southern states, for lack of finances. By 1977, he ventured a move to Los Angeles where he supported himself as a studio musician for a time. His luck turned to fine fortune when he made contact with music legend Frank Zappa. An innovative and demanding bandleader, Zappa hired Wolf as a keyboard player for the legendary Mothers of Invention. Wolf's keyboard styles were heard on many of the most popular records by that group, including Tinsel Town Rebellionin 1981, and the Joe's Garageseries of albums, as well as Shut Up 'N Play Yer Guitarand You Can't Do That on Stage Anymore.

According to Wolf, the years spent with Zappa afforded a musical education far superior than any study hall or conservatory might ever provide. Regardless, Wolf's classical conservatory training served him well as a member of Zappa's band; although the group was clearly billed as a rock band, Zappa derived his complex scores not only from jazz and rock and roll, but also from classical composers. During those years, Wolf became experienced with a variety of electronic keyboards and synthesizers. He also diverged into musical arrangement and production for other musicians in the mid 1980s, and contributed similar services to the Mothers. Wolf maintained his professional relationship with Zappa until Zappa's untimely death in 1992.

Over the years, Wolf was associated also on occasion with Ina Wolf. In the mid 1980s, the two collaborated as a band under the bill of Wolf & Wolf. The duo was heard most notably on El Dorado album by another Zappa band member, Patrick O'Hearn.

According to Wolf, production was neither a professional priority nor a preference of his. It was recording industry executives, in fact, who recognized Wolf's skill and solicited him to work as a producer. After Wolf successfully produced Nightshift, a number-one selling album by the Commodores, his reputation as a producer solidified. The album's success caused a reverberating effect in the industry, and his services were sought after more aggressively than before. As the success of Nightshifthelped to renew the Commodores' career, Wolf next accepted an offer to produce for Starship. He worked the same characteristic magic for that band, which was a resurrected version of the once-popular Jefferson Airplane. His initial effort for Starship culminated in the 1985 release of the album Knee Deep in the Hoopla. There followed two number-one hits for Starship, a chart-topper for singer El Debarge, and a number-one release by Wang Chung, "Everybody Have Fun Tonight." Each hit bore the metaphorical stamp of Wolf as producer or co-producer.

Wolf, who viewed the record producer's function as largely political, modestly refuted his skills in that aspect of the work. His success in the production arena, nonetheless, brought listening pleasure to millions of fans over time. By 2000, he amassed a success record which included 40 releases that rose to the top 40 in the music charts. Additionally, eight Wolf productions achieved number-one status.

Despite the severe financial blow to his home and career that resulted from the earthquake that struck Los Angeles on January 17, 1994, Wolf successfully regrouped, although he moved his studio to more stable ground in Austria. The financial loss was overwhelming. His home and recording studio were demolished, including millions of dollars of electronic production equipment and instruments. Largely due to the respected reputation he had earned, he successfully overcame the disaster and built the new studio in Europe; he dubbed the facility Little America. Little America is located in the Alpine town of Weiler, not far from Zurich, Switzerland, and near the German border. His clientele followed willingly across the Atlantic Ocean, where he continues his work with stars including B. B. King, James Ingram, and Cliff Richard.

Wolf enjoys taking an active role in the productions that he oversees. In 1999 he worked on Eye to Eye with the Scorpions, a heavy metal band out of Germany. With Wolf's assistance, the Scorpions used that album to shift the group's image from that of balladeers and instead re-affirmed their status as rock singers. Along with his production and technical expertise, Wolf contributed original songs to the album. In an interview with Virtual Cardiff online, the fivesome expressed their gratitude to Wolf and his incomparable instinct for production, indicating that he had broadened their horizons considerably and alerted them to new facets of their talent.

Among Wolf's projects at the turn of the millennium in 2000 was the production of an album for chanteuse Natalie Cole. In addition to taping and producing the affair, he composed the title song, "Snowfall on the Sahara." Other prominent musicians that have been associated with Wolf include Patti LaBelle, the Pointer Sisters, Chicago, and Indecent Exposure.

Wolf, in addition to his diverse skills as a pianist, keyboardist, producer, and arranger, is a respected composer and songwriter. The late 1990s found Wolf immersed in a project to compose a symphony for the Austrian Klangvolke (cloud of sound) festival. Upon completion of the work, aptly titled Progression: A Millennium Symphony,Wolf collaborated with the 100-piece Bruckner Orchestra and an impressive collection of popular singers to debut the piece at the open-air electronica festival along the banks of the Danube River, on September 4, 1999. His spouse, singer Michelle Wolf, wrote lyrics for the piece and contributed to the performance, providing a vocal rendition for one of the seven movements. Wolf enhanced the symphony with a narrative, which was presented by actor Klaus Maria Brandauer of Austria. Coolio, Jennifer Paige, and James Ingram sang other movements. Vincenzo la Scola and Cliff Richard together provided vocals for one of the movements, as did Toto's Steve Lukather and Alex Birnie of the Vienna Boys' Choir. Brass players from Earth, Wind, and Fire, former Zappa drummer Vinnie Colaiuta, and other prominent instrumentalists backed the orchestra.

In developing the presentation for Klangvolke, Wolf made generous use of fireworks, superimposed sirens, and other sound effects. During the performance, a jet plane swooshed across the sky overhead, even as video screens rendered scenes of fighter planes, deforestation, and other depraved and grueling images. Wolf, who admittedly turned for inspiration to the advancement of society during the second millennium, offered scenes of children at play, plus religious and ethnic celebrations as well. Likewise, inferences to the bane of racism were abundant as he gleaned representative illusions of ongoing societal ills. Susan Ladika quoted Wolf's explanation in Europe,"Wolf said the aim of Progressionis to 'put a big mirror in front of us and ask, where the hell are we humans nowadays?'" The production, which aired on television both in Germany and Austria, was also released on compact disc.

Although the work by Wolf was admittedly his first symphony, he was already well-established as a composer. Wolf, who produced the movie themes from Pretty Womanand Top Gun among others, composed the soundtracks of several major feature films as well, including Never-Ending Story (Part 3),and Weekend at Bernie's (Part 2).After writing the soundtrack to The Fearless Four,Wolf subsequently produced the work in collaboration with the Munich Symphony.

by Gloria Cooksey

Peter Wolf's Career

Member of Gypsy Love and Objective Truth Orchestra, early 1970s; club and session work, 1975-77; member of Mothers of Invention, 1977-80; record production, arrangement, 1980--.

Peter Wolf's Awards

First Prize, European Jazz Festival, age 16.

Famous Works

Further Reading



Visitor Comments Add a comment…

over 15 years ago

On the LP it's Charly Ratzer, Jano Stojka and the band is spelled "Gipsy Love"

over 15 years ago

Re Peter Wolf Here is a correction: The name of Peter Wolf's Mentor and leader of "Gypsy Love" is nor Carl Reitzer but Karl Ratzer.