Addicted To Vinyl Musical thoughts from the open road, with headphones on

11Aug/108

Getting Connected: The ATV Interview with Gary Wright

As a younger guy in my mid-30s (unlike my Jurassic ol' pal Bear), it's always a bit of a rock and roll history lesson any time that I get the opportunity to talk to a classic artist like Gary Wright. The rock and roll resume of Wright is mind numbing to read and even more awe-inspiring to hear about in person from Wright himself. I spoke with Gary on the night before Ringo Starr's annual All-Starr Band tour played in Cleveland at Nautica Stage. The artists on the Ringo tour enjoy quite a posh experience, touring with a former Beatle, flying from gig to gig on his private plane.

The idea of the Ringo tour itself is quite genius – Ringo gets a band of seasoned professionals, each with their own successful singles, and the mix of Beatles, Ringo and classic rock material congeals into an evening of music that is good clean fun (along with plenty of peace and love, of course). Wright recently released Connected, his first pop music album in 20 years, just in time for the Ringo tour. Now that the tour has come to a close, Wright will be in Chicago this weekend for the 34th annual BeatleFest, and he'll use the occasion to perform “To Discover Yourself” (a digital bonus track on Connected co-written with longtime friend George Harrison) for the first time. I spent a good amount of time talking with Wright about that Harrison connection, the new album and his impressive career.

What did you end up doing with your day off?

I went to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

What did you think?

It was good. It seemed like when they edited everything together, it was done so fast that it was almost distracting. I would have liked to have seen a little bit more of the meat of some of the great artists, you know, Sly and the Family Stone and all that. They just had such tiny little tidbits in the films that they showed. It was well done, but I would have liked to see a little bit more of the performances of those people.

As an artist, how long has it been since you've been in Cleveland?

You know, I'm not sure. I know I played here a lot in the '70s with Spooky Tooth and my Dream Weaver album and touring with Yes, Frampton and Fleetwood Mac. As of late, I'm not sure – maybe around 2005?

I know you did a solo show back in April in NYC – Have you been doing a lot of shows in the past few years, playing your own material?

Uh, a fair amount, yeah. I've been doing some things with other artists. I went out with Christopher Cross, Al Stewart, Ambrosia and Edgar Winter. I've done several package shows like that. Last April, I did about 9 shows on the east coast and I'll do more of those in October and November.

The new album is being billed as your first pop album in 20 years. What brought you back to the idea of doing another album in that genre?

Just my desire to make a pop album and do it in the spirit of simplicity with simple production and not having too many things play on it. That's my roots – my roots are R&B and I've always felt that that's the way my music should be. It's a combination of R&B and ethereal space music.

It's timeless – it sounds like a Gary Wright album.

Oh, thank you!

You produced this album – did you record it at home?

Yes, I did.

This is your second go-around with Ringo's band, and as I understand it, this album started coming together before the last tour in 2008.

That's right. I started writing it before the tour.

Listening to "No One Does It Better" – that's a track that has quite a bit going on. How long does it take you to put together a track like that.

I wrote that in the studio, all of the music anyway. I finished the lyrics up when I went on a holiday to Colorado. All in all, maybe three weeks to a month. If you add up all of the time that I spent writing the lyrics, the production and the vocals.

You've got some cool special guests on this new album – you've got Ringo and Joe Walsh on the first single “Satisfied.” You've got some history with Ringo.

Yeah – I had worked with Ringo before on George Harrison's earlier albums and I also played keyboards on [Ringo's] “Back Off Boogaloo” and “It Don't Come Easy.” I had written a song with him on his new album Y Not called “Peace Train.” During the session I said “I've got a song that I want to play for you, Ringo.” I played him “Satisfied” and he liked it and I said “do you want to play drums on it,” and he said “sure.” I did the session at his studio and he put electronic drums on it that he played. Then, I asked Joe if he would want to play a solo and he agreed and I went up to his studio and he he laid his solo down. And then Skunk Baxter also came over to my place and put a rhythm guitar part down.

Where do you start with the writing process these days – do you start on guitar, or where does it start for you.

A lot of times I'll just write a song on an acoustic guitar and then I'll take it into the studio and I'll put it together in the context of all of my keyboards and the rhythms that I come up with. Other times I'll get a drum groove going and get a thing happening and that will inspire me to write a song. It's different every time. It's never the same.

I was surprised to hear that you wrote "Dream Weaver" on an acoustic guitar. Back then, how did it get to the point where the guitars exited the mix? It was unique for the time period to have an album that was all keyboards without a guitar prominently in the mix.

That's true, and I hadn't planned it that way but actually when I started writing the songs, I started to fill in the spaces with a Clavinet or a Rhodes and the other keyboards that I have. And then I thought “this sounds really cool just as it is, I'm not going to add any guitars to it.” So I did it, and it worked to my advantage because radio jumped all over it saying “this has no guitars on it,” so it was kind of cool.

Back when you were touring heavily in the '70s and '80s, what was your keyboard rig like?

Well, I had four Mini-Moogs, a Poly-Moog and an Oberheim polyphonic synthesizer. The other two keyboard players – there was a keyboard bass player, Steve Porcaro, he played keyboard bass on a Moog. I had another keyboard player who had a Hammond organ, a Fender Rhodes and another Oberheim. And then drums and two background vocalists.

I think that Ringo's concept for the All-Starr tour is brilliant, taking out people that are great musicians, but they also come armed with hit records. And I think that this year's lineup is particularly great.

Yeah, it is and it really works well – they're a great band. It's actually a very entertaining show, it's really well done, I think.

Watching some of the Youtube stuff from this tour, it seems like you all really spent a lot of time making sure that you have the proper sounds and samples to make each song sound faithful to the original. How long did you have to spend rounding stuff up on your end?

It took a while. I definitely wanted to zero in on getting the stuff to sound exactly like it did on the record.

If you buy the digital edition of this new album, there are a couple of George Harrison-related bonus tracks. George obviously was a longtime friend of yours. What's the history on these two tracks?

“To Discover Yourself” was written by George and I back in 1971. “Never Give Up,” he came over to my house and played a solo around '88 or '89 in that time period. They are available on the website on the digital edition. I'm coming out with another thing that's really cool – it's the new album on a USB drive which is encased in a little pendant with the Ohm symbol written on it. It's an Ohm necklace and you pull it apart and it's a little flash drive that comes out. It's got the entire album including all of the bonus material. It has video interviews of me talking about George Harrison, the All-Starr band, the making of Dream Weaver and Connected. It has extra photos, a video of George and I together – he sang on one of the songs that I did, “Don't Try To Own Me.” And it has the original "Dream Weaver" demo on acoustic guitar plus five other tracks. The URL of the website is www.thedreamweaver.com.

Your archives must be pretty well organized to be able to dig out a song that was written in 1971.

Well, I had all of the lyrics and I remembered the song quite well. I never forget songs that I write. I actually recorded that on the day that George passed away.

How did you come to know George originally?

I was invited to play on his first session for All Things Must Pass, which was “Isn't It A Pity.” Klaus Voorman called me up – Klaus was a friend of George's and played bass on most of the album. He asked me if I wanted to come and play keyboards, [because] George needed another keyboard player. I went to the sessions and I met George and we immediately hit it off. I wound up playing on the rest of the album and I played on his subsequent albums and we wrote songs together. We became really good friends.

The first time that I ever heard “Love Is Alive” came via Joe Cocker's version on his Night Calls album.

[laughs] Here's something funny – as we arrived today at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, that's what was playing. I don't think they planned it, and in fact, I asked the guy when we walked in if they had done that on purpose. [laughs]

This far into your career, what keeps you engaged in making new material. What's your goal?

Well, my goal is to get it out to as many people all over the world as I can, to promote it by doing tours and interviews like I'm doing now, and get more fans. I think it's important.

When you're not recording and touring, what are you up to generally? Do you still do any session work?

Not really. Occasionally, I'll do some stuff like that if it's for Ringo or other friends of mine. Sometimes I will write with other people on certain projects. I actually was supposed to get together and write with someone from the Black Eyed Peas, but then the Ringo tour came up and I ran out of time. So I will do those kind of projects from time to time. I'm going to write a book next year, so I think that's going to take a bunch of my time.

That's one reason that I was interested to talk to you, because of all of the really cool things you've done over the years. I'm sure you have no shortage of stories for that book.

[laughs] No, I don't!

I look at "Dream Weaver" as the gift that keeps on giving. Obviously it was in Wayne's World, and now this year, it's in Toy Story 3.

That's right, and it was in The People vs. Larry Flynt. It just keeps reinventing itself.

Were you familiar with Wayne's World at the time Warner Brothers approached you?

I had seen it a couple of times on TV, the version that they did when Madonna was there. I thought they were funny, and then when I saw the film, I thought it was hilarious. I like those guys.

SNL Short Wayne's World & Madonna - Justify My Love from His Dudeness on Vimeo.

I can imagine that certain artists that were not familiar with the film might not have been so keen on having their music included in the movie, because they wouldn't want to risk being a punchline. For those that bought in, it was obviously a great move.

Yeah, I think so too.

Prior to your musical career, you studied psychology – was that plan B in case the music thing didn't work out?

No, no. I actually hadn't even considered doing music. At that time, I wanted to go be a doctor. I studied a year of medicine and then I did some post-graduate work in psychology in Germany. And then I decided I really didn't want to be an academic or a doctor. That's when I really got back into music. I'd always played music when I was in college and in high school on the weekends with various bands, because I loved music so much that I enjoyed playing it.

What instrument did you start out with?

Keyboards, piano and then organ.

Was Spooky Tooth your first involvement with a band?

Yes, it was.

It's really amazing the number of projects that spawned from that group.

That's right – Foreigner, Humble Pie, Mott The Hoople, my own career...

What's next for you after the Ringo tour wraps up?

I'll probably start another album in the next year or so, and I'll be touring a lot, so I have plenty on my plate.

Visit Gary Wright's official website for more information about Connected and his upcoming activities

  • Loop44134

    Hey Matt, great interview with a classic artist. The album on a USB drive with many extras is interesting.

  • Belinda

    Everones been asking since november '75, “When is he gonna write a book about the recording of The Dream Weaver album?”. We have been listening to that album since '75 and it's unreal. Each song…and 'Made To Love You' and the creepy and spine chilling singing effects at the end of 'Blind Feeling'. Listen to it and you'll see what I mean.

  • Matt

    Sounds like you'll get your wish for a book….should be one hell of a read!

  • zenia

    kami ng aking mga gf's ay mahal si Gary nuong panahon '75-'76 lahat kami ay napapaiyak sa aming dormitoryo nuong kami ay nasa kolohiyo. nuong panahon na ang 'Dream Weaver' ay nangunguna #1 sa mga radyo sa buong pilipinas s'ya din ang pinaka gwapo. para Faye na ngayon sya'y na ninirahan sa paramus. at ang aking 'bf' ay nakamayan na sila*

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