By Ray Shasho
Gary Wright is a celestial keyboard virtuoso, idyllic songwriter, and vocalist with powerful soulful pipes. Wright is an innovator of the synthesizer and over the years has managed to condense his many synthesized melodies into a single keyboard strapped around his neck.
Although born and raised in Cresskill, New Jersey, Wright founded the British rock group Spooky Tooth in 1967. Wright would later become most recognized for his two solo hit singles “Dream Weaver” in 1975 and “Love Is Alive” in 1976.
Gary Wright will be joining the ‘Sail Rock 2013’ tour along with Christopher Cross, Orleans, Firefall, John Ford Coley, Robbie Dupree and Player beginning August 5th in West Allis, Wisconsin. Visit Pollstar.com for all the latest concert dates.
Gary Wright will also be performing a solo concert at the Largo Cultural Center on Friday October4th at 8p.m. To purchase tickets contact the Largo Cultural Center at www.largo.com or call the box office at 727-587-6793.
SPOOKY TOOTH: Gary Wright joined the band 'Art' in 1967. The ‘V.I.P.’S’ morphed into 'Art' after several lineup changes since its inception in 1963. The British R&B music ensemble had featured various distinguished musicians including Mike Harrison, Greg Ridley, Jimmy Henshaw, Keith Emerson, Luther Grosvenor, Walter Johnstone and Mike Kellie.
Keith Emerson (The Nice, ELP) left in 1967 when the name was changed to Art. The band eventually turned into Spooky Tooth with a lineup of Wright (organ, keyboards and vocals), Harrison (vocals, keyboards) Ridley (bassist), Grosvenor (guitar, vocals) and Kellie (drums).
In 1968, Spooky Tooth released their debut album entitled … It’s All About. The album featured covers by Janis Ian and Bob Dylan. Most of the other tracks were either written or co-written by Gary Wright.
The bands next release Spooky Two (1969) released on Island Records was hailed by critics as one of their finest recordings. The album featured many of the bands standards including “Evil Woman” and “Better by You, Better Than Me” a tune written by Wright and eventually covered by Judas Priest in 1978.
Spooky Tooth quickly became a highly sought concert attraction and a mainstay on progressive rock radio. The band shared the stage with such legendary music acts as Jimi Hendrix and The Rolling Stones.
Bassist Greg Ridley left in 1969 to join Humble Pie, Andy Leigh replaced him.
Also in 1969, the group released Ceremony (Spooky Tooth and Pierre Henry album) a progressive collaboration with the French electronic composer.
Session musician: Wright left Spooky Tooth briefly to produce albums for Traffic and Rolling Stones producer Jimmy Miller and his production company. Gary Wright became an esteemed session musician and was asked to play on George Harrison’s triple- album set All Things Must Pass (1970).
Wright and Harrison began a long lasting friendship and musical collaboration that included Wright playing or sharing songwriting tasks on several of Harrison’s subsequent albums including … Living in the Material World (1973), Dark Horse (1974), Extra Texture (Read All About It)(1975), Thirty Three & 1/3(1976), George Harrison(1979), Cloud Nine (1987).
The Last Puff album (1970) primarily featured Mike Harrison while Wright focused on other projects. The release featured an incredible cover version of The Beatles, “I Am The Walrus.” Joe Cocker Grease Band members Henry McCullough, Chris Stainton and Alan Spenner were brought into the studio to work on the album.
In 1971, Gary Wright performed “Two Faced Man” with George Harrison on the Dick Cavett Show. He also played piano on Harry Nilsson’s #1 hit, a Badfinger cover tune entitled, “Without You.”
In 1972, Gary Wright and Mike Harrison reformed Spooky Tooth with a different lineup. The new lineup featured future Foreigner founder and guitarist Mick Jones.
Subsequent Spooky Tooth albums … (You Broke My Heart So I Busted Your Jaw (1973), Witness (1973), The Mirror (1974) and Cross Purpose (1999) (Reunion album without Wright, Greg Ridley returned).
Spooky Tooth disbanded in 1974.
Gary Wright and George Harrison visited India in 1974 as a guest of Ravi Shankar. Wright developed a longtime relationship with Shankar after the visit.
SOLO CAREER: Gary Wright released two critically-acclaimed solo albums on A&M Records … Extraction in 1971 and Footprint in 1972.
Wright signed a record deal with Warner Brothers Records in 1974 and achieved his biggest commercial success with the release of The Dream Weaver album (1975). The single “Dream Weaver” reached #2 on Billboard’s Hot 100 singles chart and #1 on the Cash Box charts. The album also spawned the hit “Love is Alive” (1976) reaching #2 on Billboard’s singles chart. The album peaked at #7 on Billboard’s Hot 100 albums chart.
The song “Dream Weaver” has been spotlighted on numerous television shows and motion pictures.
“Love is Alive” was covered by several legendary artists including … Chaka Khan, Joe Cocker and Richie Havens.
The Dream Weaver album featured guest musicians …guitarist Ronnie Montrose, drummers Jim Keltner and Andy Newmark, Hammond organist David Foster and Bobby Lyle on additional synthesizers.
In 1981, Gary Wright scored again commercially with “Really Wanna Know You” (#16 Billboard Singles Hit).
Gary Wright Solo albums … Extraction (1971), Footprint (1972), The Dream Weaver (1975), The Light of Smiles(1977), Touch and Gone (1978), Headin’Home (1979), The Right Place (1981), Who I Am (1988), First Signs of Life (1995), Human Love (1999), Waiting to Catch the Light (2008), The Light of a Million Suns (EP) (2008), Connected (2010).
In 2004, Wright, Harrison and Kellie reunited Spooky Tooth for several concerts in Germany. As a result of their triumphant return they released the Nomad Poets DVD in 2007.
The same lineup played a series of European dates in 2008.
Most recently: Gary Wright toured with Ringo Starr and His All-Star Band in 2008.
In 2010, Wright released his latest studio album entitled Connected and features guest artists … Ringo Starr, Joe Walsh and Jeff “Skunk” Baxter.
Gary Wright is currently writing his 'memoir' for the Penguin Group and should be available sometime near the end of 2014.
I had the great pleasure of chatting with Gary Wright recently about ‘Sail Rock 2013,’ Spooky Tooth, George Harrison, the music business, metaphysics and much-much more.
Here’s my interview with legendary singer, songwriter, keyboardist, music pioneer, Spooky Tooth founder, the original ‘Dream Weaver’ and soon to be published author … GARY WRIGHT.
Ray Shasho: How’s it going Gary, are you in California?
Gary Wright: “Very good Ray, no I’m looking at the ocean in Maui.”
Ray Shasho: Gary, we’ve actually got two different concerts to promote… first, the ‘Sail Rock 2013’ tour and then a solo show that you’ll be doing on October 4th at the Largo Cultural Center in Tampa Bay, Florida.
Gary Wright: “We’ve already done one ‘Sail Rock’ show in New York and then did a couple of shows without me because I’m on holiday now, but I’ll join them on the 5th of August in West Allis, Wisconsin just outside of Milwaukee.”
“I’ve always liked playing in Florida, so I’m also looking forward to performing in Tampa Bay.”
Ray Shasho: Your most recent album is entitled Connected. The album features Ringo Starr, Joe Walsh and Jeff “Skunk” Baxter as guest artists. It’s an exceptional album. My favorite tracks are… “Satisfied” and “Can’t Find No Mercy” and your voice is superlative, much like it sounded in the 70’s.
Gary Wright: “I enjoyed making that album it was a lot of fun. “Can’t Find No Mercy” is my favorite track. My voice hasn’t changed really very much I still do all my songs when I perform live and still do them in the original keys. I’ve been blessed with that ability to retain that. Connected was a labor of love. I took my time doing it and trying to record it real simple, kind of like the way I recorded The Dream Weaver.”
“I have a new project that I’m working on right now … I’m writing a book and it’s coming out October of 2014. It’s my memoirs and my relationship with George Harrison and Ringo Starr and just basically my life story. The E-book version of the book, there will be new songs that will be on it, video sets, bonus material and all kinds of things that have never been released. It’s been a lot of fun; I’m about two thirds of the way through it. The Penguin Group is really excited about it and it’s been a fun experience.”
Ray Shasho: Gary, I’ve had several metaphysical conversations here of late with Mike Love (The Beach Boys), and Dave Davies (The Kinks). What sorts of techniques do you practice for spiritual awareness and physical and mental well being?
Gary Wright: “I’ve been meditating for thirty five years. I practice the teachings of Paramhansa Yogananda which George Harrison introduced me to. What I found in Yogananda’s teachings was that they were amazingly advanced and really gave you the ability to reach a deeper state of consciousness. He just gives techniques, when you find the teachers or gurus from India, most of them tell you the rules of life to follow, the dos and the don’ts, and what you need to live a good life, but they don’t really show you the techniques to meditate deeply . So through the years I kept practicing it and do it regularly and it really has changed me dramatically. It’s a big part of my life.”
“Music is an extremely powerful force if used properly to uplift people. I believe music should be uplifting and not downgrading … it’s a very-very powerful tool.”
Ray Shasho: It used to be a powerful tool, not so sure about the stuff on mainstream radio though.
Gary Wright: “Unfortunately music devolved instead of evolved. The music business got into the hands of lawyers and accountants rather than the entrepreneurial creative people and that’s when the beginning of the end started. It’s all based on money instead of art and creativity.
Ray Shasho: Mainstream radio won’t promote anything new by legendary music artists … just the oldies. I’m always reviewing new music from the artists that I grew up with and they’re actually sounding better with age.
Gary Wright: “Most of them are turning to do just live performances and not releasing a lot of new material. Somebody told me the other day that Billy Joel wasn’t going to record any new albums, that he had no interest. Some people are saying … why make a new album if isn’t going to be heard. I have heard some new artists that are quite good but it’s just so hard for them, if they get one hit that’s great and very-very lucky if they get two. But it’s not a sustaining type of situation anymore, a career building industry like it used to be.”
Ray Shasho: Gary do you think there’s life out there beyond earth?
Gary Wright: “Oh yea, by the law of averages there has to be life elsewhere. The universe is so huge and I don’t think God would have created this whole big huge cosmos and just say there’s only going to be life on earth and that’s it. I believe in … and this is part of Indian philosophy as well, that there’s life in other solar systems, other planets, some more advanced, some not as advanced as we are, it’s all relative … all these things definitely exist. We’re all use to the paradigm that we’re oxygen breathing human beings, there might be life breathing ammonia gas or some other type of gas we don’t even know about. I don’t think God can be pinned down to any specific kind of thing, his ingenuity is incredibly great.”
Ray Shasho: How did you and George Harrison become really good friends?
Gary Wright: “I played on his album All Things Must Pass and we became friends. He invited me to play on future albums and played guitar and produced one of the tracks on my album Footprint. He also played slide guitar on another track. So we were good friends, he was my spiritual mentor.”
Ray Shasho: I watched the Martin Scorsese documentary on HBO entitled Living in the Material World (2011) which was an excellent film about the life of George Harrison. I was fascinated about a clip that revealed Harrison’s dissatisfaction with life as we know it on this planet and an eagerness to embark towards the afterlife.
Gary Wright: “He was referring to the astral world … that’s true. The astral world or heavenly realms are like a passage from earthy existence. This is a school that we’re in right now, learning to get rid of our flaws and all that, and go to the astral world which doesn’t have any disease or the vermin that we have in the world today …a universe made of light.”
“George did a lot of good for the planet with his music and was just a wonderful human being. I’m sure he’s being rewarded with some heavenly realms somewhere in the astral heavens.”
Ray Shasho: Two of my favorite Spooky Tooth albums were You Broke My Heart So … I Busted Your Jaw (1973) and Witness (1973) and I was very fortunate to see the band perform in concert that same year those albums were released.
Gary Wright: “Actually Eminem recorded “Self Seeking Man” and rewrote part of the lyrics to one of his songs entitled “Spend Some Time.” I wrote “Self Seeking Man” from the You Broke My Heart So … I Busted Your Jaw album and he changed the title.”
Ray Shasho: I watched a sort of recent Spooky Tooth reunion video on You Tube that featured classics like “Evil Woman” and “Waitin’ For The Wind.” You guys sounded incredible!
Gary Wright: “Thank you very much, probably from the Nomad Poets DVD in 2004. It was myself, Mike Harrison, Mike Kellie and some other musicians.”
Ray Shasho: Do you still talk with Mike Harrison?
Gary Wright: “I communicate with Mike Harrison and every now and then with Mike Kellie. We just had a song of ours sampled by Jay-Z and Kanye West from their last huge album.”
Ray Shasho: It’s obvious that you were influenced by rhythm and blues but added a cosmic element to many of your songs, who are some of the R&B artists that inspired you?
Gary Wright: “Ray Charles, James Brown especially, Bobby Blue Bland, Aretha Franklin and some of the earlier artists like Little Richard. Those were the main ones that initially inspired me.”
Ray Shasho: Gary, here’s a question that I ask everyone that I interview, If you had a “Field of Dreams” wish, like the movie, to play or collaborate with anyone from the past or present, who would that be?
Gary Wright: “Probably George Harrison, he was such a creative person and a great friend.”
Ray Shasho: Gary, thank you for being on the call today, but more importantly for all the great music you’ve given to us and continue to bring. We’ll see you on the ‘Sail Rock 2013’ tour and at your solo performance in Largo, Florida on October 4th.
Gary Wright: “Thanks so much Ray.”
The ‘Sail Rock 2013’ tour stars Christopher Cross, Orleans, Gary Wright, Firefall, John Ford Coley, Robbie Dupree and Player. Visit Pollstar.com for all the latest concert dates.
Gary Wright will also be performing a solo concert at the Largo Cultural Center on Friday October 4th at 8p.m. To purchase tickets contact the Largo Cultural Center at www.largo.com or call the box office at 727-587-6793.
Purchase Gary Wright's latest release Connected at amazon.com
Gary Wright official website at www.thedreamweaver.com
Gary Wright on Facebook
Gary Wright on Twitter
Gary Wright on Myspace
Very special thanks to Jeff Albright of The Albright Entertainment Group
Coming up NEXT … my recent interviews with Melanie and Roy Rogers
Contact classic rock music journalist Ray Shasho at firstname.lastname@example.org
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