Written by: Matt Wardlaw
Life is full of happy accidents -- I was in the midst of setting up an interview with Gary Wright via his publicist and mentioned to him that former Mr. Mister vocalist Richard Page (Wright's current tour mate) had a new solo album out.
Wright relayed to his publicist that Richard was willing to speak with me if I had interest in talking to him. Interest? You'd better believe that I was interested.
As the lead vocalist/bassist for '80s pop/rock quartet Mr. Mister, Page found incredible (although short-lived) success when the band released their second album Welcome To The Real World, an album that went straight to number one, lodging two number one singles, “Broken Wings” and “Kyrie” in its wake. Go On..., the follow-up to Real World, failed to match the success of their previous album, and the band's follow-up release Pull was shelved and never officially released (although we've got some news on that one that will make you smile).
After a period of recording silence, Page made his return in 1994 as the vocalist for producer Patrick Leonard's Third Matinee project, an excellent yet sadly ignored follow-up to Leonard's previous Toy Matinee release. Page made his official solo debut two years later with the release of Shelter Me, an album that showcased the continued lyrical growth that had been previously displayed on the Third Matinee album Meanwhile (and musically, his solo releases have evolved from the sound that many were familiar with on the Mr. Mister albums, embracing a more jazzy/adult contemporary vibe). Another recording break would follow, with Page focusing in on songwriting and enjoying life with his family.more
Written by: Matt Wardlaw
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.
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 activitiesmore
Written by: Matt Wardlaw
Having my own music blog has really magnified one of the things that I love most about life - the musical journeys that you take, and are introduced to, by friends.
A couple of weeks ago, I was catching up on the massive stack of blogs in my Google Reader.....which really makes me think about how hard it is to believe that I used to be satisfied with my Rolling Stone subscription every two weeks, plus visits to the library to read Billboard, Spin, Creem, Musician, Stereo Review, Consumer Reports, and a few other magazines.
My insanely artistically talented Reese's Pieces and music lovin' friend Rachael had a post on her blog about The Last Waltz, Martin Scorcese's legendary concert film about The Band.
Below is the trailer for The Last Waltz. If you haven't seen it, rent it, buy it, borrow it (from me or elsewhere) I don't care. Just watch it! The most star-studded stage evvver.
I was embarrassed to admit that I hadn't ever seen The Last Waltz. One look at the trailer, and at the guest list, and I knew that I had to acquire a copy immediately.
I went out to the record store and snagged a used DVD of the 2002 special edition, and after watching it, I immediately wanted to own the 4-CD box set (purchase) issued by Warner/Rhino in conjunction with the 2002 DVD reissue. One of the reasons that I hadn't ever seen The Last Waltz, was because I wasn't a fan of The Band. The Band were just a little bit before my time, and though I've learned quite a bit through the years about the members individually, my knowledge about the collective group was still limited.
Levon Helm might not be the biggest fan of The Last Waltz, but there's no reason that he shouldn't be proud of it. Watching the DVD (and you've GOT to start with the DVD,) I was instantly converted to full-fan status, and I imagine that I'll be taking a similar musical trip like Rachael, to pick up additional albums from the catalog.
I don't want to spoil your own personal viewing experience with The Last Waltz, but I will share with you one of the tracks that had the most impact with me personally, The Last Waltz version of "It Makes No Difference."
As I dug around for more info on The Last Waltz, I was interested to see that some fans swear by the original soundboard tapes of the performance. Personally, I really enjoyed the Scorsese view of the performance - the video quality of the footage from 1976 is stunning, as is the soundtrack.
The Band - It Makes No Difference (original soundboard recording)
If you're lame like me, and haven't seen The Last Waltz, check it out - I'm guessing that you'll be similarly blown away like I was.
As a film, The Last Waltz was a triumph -- one of the first (and still one of the few) rock concert documentaries that was directed by a filmmaker who understood both the look and the sound of rock & roll, and executed with enough technical craft to capture all the nooks and crannies of a great live show. But as an album, The Last Waltz soundtrack had to compete with the Band's earlier live album, Rock of Ages, with which it bears a certain superficial resemblance -- both found the group trying to create something grander than the standard-issue live double, and both featured the group beefed up by additional musicians. While Rock of Ages found the Band swinging along with the help of a horn section arranged by Allen Toussaint, The Last Waltz boasts a horn section (using Toussaint's earlier arrangements on a few cuts) and more than a baker's dozen guest stars, ranging from old cohorts Ronnie Hawkins and Bob Dylan to contemporaries Joni Mitchell, Neil Young, and Van Morrison. The Band are in fine if not exceptional form here; on most cuts, they don't sound quite as fiery as they did on Rock of Ages, though their performances are never less than expert, and the high points are dazzling, especially an impassioned version of "It Makes No Difference" and blazing readings of "Up on Cripple Creek" and "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down" (Levon Helm has made no secret that he felt breaking up the Band was a bad idea, and here it sounds if he was determined to prove how much they still had to offer). Ultimately, it's the Band's "special guests" who really make this set stand out -- Muddy Waters' ferocious version of "Mannish Boy" would have been a wonder from a man half his age, Van Morrison sounds positively joyous on "Caravan," Neil Young and Joni Mitchell do well for their Canadian brethren, and Bob Dylan's closing set finds him in admirably loose and rollicking form. (One question remains -- what exactly is Neil Diamond doing here?) And while the closing studio-recorded "Last Waltz Suite" sounds like padding, the contributions from Emmylou Harris and the Staple Singers are beautiful indeed. It could be argued that you're better off watching The Last Waltz on video than listening to it on CD, but either way it's a show well worth checking out.
Purchase The Last Waltz box set (remastered/expanded 4-CD set) - CDmore