Interviewed by Menno von Brucken Fock
(note this interview was undertaken earlier this year, so some future events are now passed)
Gary Wright, born in April 1943, made fame in the late sixties as the keyboardist and vocalist of Spooky Tooth, by many regarded as one of the first ‘progressive’ bands. With this band Gary produced seven albums before embarking on a solo career in the mid seventies and scoring a huge hit with Dream Weaver. After a number of rather successful solo albums he concentrated on raising his children, producing only a handful of albums from the nineties to the new millennium until the Spooky Tooth reunion in 2004 came. In recent years he released an EP (The Light Of A Million Suns) and a new age album Waiting To Catch The Light. Having toured in Europe with the reformed Spooky Tooth, a few years later, in 2010, Gary surprised us with his first solo pop-album in twenty years. On this latest effort there are ten compositions of which he wrote six and co-wrote the other four. Based on the same principles as in the mid-seventies (lots of synthesizers, vocals, only drums and this time an occasional guitar), Gary used his tremendous experience as a musician, composer and producer to come up with a really stunning album.
Menno: Hi Gary, we met in Zoetermeer where I had the pleasure to do a face to face interview with you back in 2008. Now we find ourselves in 2011. How are you and how are your sons?
Gary: Very good thank you! Dorian, he’s 38 years old now, lives in Hawaii and he’s doing really well and my other son Justin is doing great too. They’re both into music among other things but they enjoy what they do. The music business has become much harder than it used to be and it’s much more difficult for artists these days! In my younger days with Spooky Tooth the record companies gave artists enough money to live on and people like me could develop their music with little or no worries and unfortunately that doesn’t happen anymore. You know record companies like EMI and Warner Brothers are for sale now!
Menno: You don’t consider buying either one of them are you (grinning)?
Gary: (laughs out loud); oh no, no way I’m gonna buy one of them, that would be like buying a battle ship while there are so many more modern models available. I think the days of the big record companies ruling the music industry, are definitely over. In my opinion more and more artists sell their music directly to the fans and they learn how to market themselves through Facebook and all other websites. I’ve been fortunate that I already made a name for myself and I kept touring regularly so there’s no need for me to get into the whole process of marketing.
Menno: In 2008 you told me you were planning to go out on the road again with your own band and solo material, is this going to happen?
Gary: Well in fact I have been doing that, but not in Europe; I will tour Europe in the summer, doing several festivals, 27 gigs altogether, with Ringo’s All Starr Band among others at Bospop (MvB: Weert, Netherlands). Rick Derringer and Edgar Winter will play in this band too. We will perform Ringo’s songs but also songs from the different members of the band. It’s different than playing with your own band, but it’s was a lot of fun! I am planning to come to Europe again in the fall with my own band, doing my solo stuff. Do you know the concept behind Ringo’s All Starr band?
Menno: to be honest no, I don’t.
Gary: Well, it’s quite simple. It’s an ever changing group of musicians joining Ringo Starr but everyone in the band must have had at least two big hits. Rick Derringer had Rock’n’Roll Hoochie Koo and Hang On Sloopy, Edgar Winter had Frankenstein and Free Ride, Richard Page, the former lead singer for Mr. Mister had Broking Wings and Kyrie; then there’s Wally Palmar of The Romantics with Talking In Your Sleep and What I Like About You and whenever Ringo’s on stage, the drummer is Greg Bissonette.
Menno: That’s quite a group of musicians! Talking about Connected, when did you decide it was time to make a ‘pop’ album again and why?
Gary: I had been touring with the All Starr Band in 2008 and 2010 and I decided I was going to tour at least in the States with my own band, so I wanted to have a solo album out before that second tour with Ringo would kick off. I had this idea of the same minimalistic approach as for Dream Weaver: not a whole lot of instruments, not the world type of music I had been doing but more like a funky kind of an album.
Menno: It seems you temporarily forgot about all your influences from India and all other places in the world you visited, in other words the World music you just mentioned?
Gary: I think I had enough of that. I wanted to move on and I’ve found there is limited audience for that kind of music so I felt I had to do something else.
Menno: How long did it take you to conceive and record Connected?
Gary: From the moment I started to write the first song till finish I guess about 18 months. Not that I have been working full time on that album, but an average of 6 hours per day, five days a week during the recordings. The recordings were already finished back in February 2010. Looking back all and all it might have been a little less than 18 months (grinning).
Menno: Can you tell us something about the choice of your guests, how you got in touch with them and how you incorporated/recorded their contributions?
Gary: Ringo drummed on the track Satisfied. I’ve worked with Ringo before on It Don’t Come Easy and Back Off Bugaloo and we worked together of the Harry Nilsson sessions and B.B. King we worked on together too. I was composing Peace Dream, a song on his last album Y Not with Gary Nicholson, another writer and Ringo. While we working in the studio I said to Ringo “I want to play you a song” and he said “sure go ahead” and I played him Satisfied, the whole track but just with machine drums on it and I asked him if he wanted to play drums on it and he said “sure, off course!” Jeff “Skunk” Baxter played on one of my earlier albums (Headin’ Home) and when I called him and asked him to play he agreed immediately. Same thing happened with Joe Walsh; I just called him and asked him if he wanted to play. We hung out together in the past and I also know him through Ringo because he’s his brother in law. Ringo married Barbara Bach in 1981and Joe got married to Barbara’s sister Marjorie!
Menno: what about Will Kennedy?
Gary: I know Will through a friend of mine, Jimmy Haslip from The Yellowjackets whom I called for a recommendation for a drummer. He suggested Will and I saw a concert with him and I loved his style and I knew he would be the perfect drummer for this album. I already recorded all drums parts with machine drums but I wanted to have a live performance and that’s what he did.
Menno: Were all the recordings done in the High Wave Studio, which I presume is your own studio at your house? What about Valerie Pinkston and Lisa Vaughn?
Gary: Yes, the studio is part of our house and everyone came to my studio except Ringo, who recorded his parts in his own studio. Valerie and Lisa have worked with me before live and I knew they were great singers. I asked them to work with me on the Connected album and I am very satisfied with their performances.
Menno: Some of the songs in my opinion have a distinctive sixties feel, others definitely in the vein of the Dream Weaver tradition (Under Your Spell). With Kirra Layne the source of inspiration seems an obvious one, how did you get your inspiration for all the other tunes?
Gary: For instance Satisfied was written in the mid-nineties together with Bobby Hart, a gifted writer who produced The Monkees among others and he wrote the song Hurt So Bad. Anyway I didn’t do anything with that song until 2009, when I tried to change the feel of the song by using the synthesizers and it worked out beautifully. Life’s Not A Battlefield was co-written with Joe Beck from Nashville, who was recommended to me by another friend of mine, Gary Nicholson a well known singer/songwriter, also from Nashville. We got together and he got this idea for a song, we worked on the lyrics and I went home and finished it and I must confess, it’s one of my favorite songs on the album!
Menno: Yeah, mine too! Is there any other song on Connected with a particular story?
Gary: Lemme think… well you know Rose, my wife, is always an ongoing source of inspiration for me. One time we were driving through the beautiful scenery of Colorado and you know, the title of the song No One Does It Better sort of describes our relationship. I was playing the track and suddenly it was there: I asked her to write down what I was thinking and the lyrics were finished before we were home.
Menno: So this actually is a road song?
Gary (laughing): Yes I guess it is! You know we go to Italy quite often to the island Sardinia, and one of the songs I wrote
there was You Make Me Feel Better. It’s a beautiful place and we go there at least once a year. Coming to think of it: before I hope to embark on a tour with my own band in October or November, I will tour the states with “Hippiefest 2011”, a number of dates throughout the States with Rick Derringer, Mark Farner, Dave Mason and Felix Cavaliere. This tour will start in August. I will be performing two Spooky Tooth songs and two of myself.
Menno: Rick Derringer appears with the All Starr Band as well as in the band for Hippiefest; does this mean he’s on top of the game again? I had the impression Derringer, like many artists in the sixties, had his fair share of “bad substances”. Didn’t he play with Edgar Winter’s White Trash?
Gary: Oh yes, he’s a great guitar player, he’s reliable and he’s totally clean for years as far as I know. Indeed he used to play with Edgar Winter but he also produced Edgar’s big hits Frankenstein and Free Ride.
Menno: To get back to Connected: in my opinion the album is a gem, production wise. Did you do it all by yourself? How did you learn this ‘trade’ because you were already producing starting in the seventies?
Gary: I learned everything from Jimmy Miller who was producing Spooky Tooth in the late sixties; I already knew him from the States before he went over to the U.K. to produce Spencer Davies in the mid sixties. He worked for Chris Blackwell (Island Records) and produced Traffic before he did Spooky Tooth. He is also known for his work with the Rolling Stones for a number of years.
Menno: Weren’t you afraid of getting accused of ‘too much backtracking’ with Connected?
Gary: No, not at all. Although I used the same minimalistic approach with hardly any guitars and most instruments played by myself, I think the songwriting on Connected is much better and profound than on Dream Weaver. Also the production is far more refined, of course we are 35 years further now. You know, of course you are right that the album reminds of the pop albums I did in the seventies, but I guess Clapton still sounds like Clapton and Elton John still sounds like Elton John. My trademark is to work with a lot of synthesizers and I was probably the first musician using a synth bass on a pop record.
Menno; Do you use software synths or the older generic analogue ones? I really like the bass synth sounds on this album: superb!
Gary: Well thank you! I know there are a lot of fine digital synths and sounds you just put in your computer and play them on a keyboard, but I must admit I still use the older analogue ones because I’m fond of their sound. I worked with a great engineer on Connected namely Rob Calhoun and he did a tremendous job on what I think was his first pop record to engineer! I also had some help from the bass player of the Stone Temple Pilots, Robert DeLeo, a good friend of mine, who allowed me to use some of his really, really good vintage pre-amps which, added to my synthesizers, provided this full and warm bass sounds.
Menno: So that’s were those rich sounds came from! How did you keep up with the ever changing technology in producing records?
Gary: I have always been interested in new technology and through the years I have been called regularly whenever there was something new. Also I have stayed in touch with several keyboard companies; I especially liked to work with Korg (I endorsed their products!). At present I have a Pro Tools studio and at first I was overwhelmed but slowly I watched and watched and picked it up and now I like to work with the software although when I’m composing I don’t like to edit or produce at the same time.
Menno: Why did you choose Larkio Records as your record label?
Gary: Well, Larkio is my record label since the nineties and I didn’t want to work with any of the major record labels because they own your recordings. I’d rather own the recordings myself and pay people to market my albums and do the commerce. It’s my company but I hire people to do the press, the marketing, the internet stuff and so on. I’m working with Peter Holmstedt from Sweden on this project. I use ADA (Alternative Distribution Alliance) to make sure my records are in the shops and my albums are available in iTunes. They recommended Peter to me because he has his own label (HemiFrån) on ADA and he also works with Jackson Browne.
Menno: What’s the status of Spooky Tooth at the moment? Will there be another reunion tour?
Gary: None at present. I was involved in the tour and the live album, but it’s not something I would like to be involved in again because I’m too much into my own career at the moment. I’d love to play a few Spooky Tooth songs but not a whole tour with the band. I’m too busy with the All Starr Band and touring with my own band. In my opinion another Spooky Tooth reunion, a tour or an album are unlikely.
Menno: Do you happen to know why the original drummer Mike Kellie for Spooky Tooth was replaced, or did he retire?
Gary: Mike was too busy with another band he’s in: The Only Ones and the timing of the tour schedule of these two bands just wasn’t right.
Menno: If you go out on the road, what would be the biggest difference between the US and Europe?
Gary: In general I would say the audiences in Europe are more culturally oriented than in the States. Everyone likes good music but the Europeans are more into the artistic side than the average American. My career started in Europe, I lived in London for seven years, worked with George Harrison, Ringo Starr, so that’s where my orientation for music really is. Originally I’m from New Jersey. In 1966 I was studying psychiatry at the Free University of Berlin. I was touring once with an American band when Chris Blackwell saw me perform and asked me to stay in Europe; this was back in 1967 and so I joined the VIP’s later named Spooky Tooth.
Menno: At present it’s quite common to have a band consisting of musicians from different countries or even continents, but in the sixties it was highly unusual wasn’t it?
Gary: Absolutely. I did most of the songwriting in Spooky Tooth and I think the other members of the band respected that and I think I added something that was different from what they had and the chemistry worked out really well. We were one of the first two lead vocal-bands and the kind of Righteous Brothers bluesy flavored music was unique! Unfortunately problems with drugs prevented the band from becoming as big as it could have been. It was a combination of things that happened that shouldn’t have happened, bad decisions and so on; ultimately it was too frustrating for me so I left the band.
Menno: A more personal question, but surely one belonging to the brighter side of life: how long are you Rose married now?
Gary: (laughing) Last year it was 25 years and if this is nearly half of my life together with Rose, I surely want to be a hundred years old so then it will be become at least 3/4 of my life (laughing). It’s a real blessing when you find the right mate, a soul mate in your life and you grow together and it’s beautiful! Marriage can be beautiful, but it can be hell too: I was lucky to get it right!
Menno: Can you share the most precious, most hilarious and most musically challenging moments of the past years with us?
Gary: Definitely the most precious moment was when I wrote the song Kirra Layne for my granddaughter and I played it for her mom and dad; they started to cry and it was just a very beautiful moment. She’s such a lovely girl and I love her a lot and it’s just a very special song to me. It’s wonderful when you can do that if you have the connection. One of the most hilarious moments was in the seventies. I was performing once and there was this girl who was making my stage costumes somewhere between the extravagant outfits worn by Elvis and Sly (of Sly & the Family Stone) At that one time I jumped in the air and I heard this large rip and I realized the whole back of my pants ripped open! I had to get off the stage walking sideways… (laughs). Fortunately there was some underwear underneath and I quickly changed. Musically challenging: I’d say that was when I had to learn the song Pick Up The Pieces when I played with the All Starr Band in 2008 for the first time. The bass player at the time was from the Average White Band, Hamish Stuart, and I had to play the saxophone part on my synthesizer because Edgar Winter played one part (sings the tune out loud) but I had to play the other and I had to practice it over and over, thinking I would never get it right, but when I finally did I was so pleased!
Menno: What are your future plans?
Gary: There’s the tour with Ringo’s All Starr band, than the Hippiefest tour and I will be touring with my own band in the fall. The other thing I’m working on is, I’m writing a book on my memoirs, about my life, my experiences. Furthermore I’m working on a Martin Scorsese biopic on George Harrison that should be released somewhere in the fall. Probably I will start working on my next album when I will have finished my book...
Official website: http://www.thedreamweaver.com/
Up-Coming Tour Dates
Tue November 1 – Mexico City, Mexico – Auditorio Nacional
Fri November 4 – Santiago, Chile – Movistar Arena
Mon November 7 – Buenos Aires, Argentina – Luna Park
Thu November 10 – Porto Alegre, Brazil – Gigantinho
Sat November 12 – Sao Paulo, Brazil – Credicard Hall
Sun November 13 – Sao Paulo, Brazil – Credicard Hall
Tue November 15 – Rio De Janeiro, Brazil – Citibank Hall Rio
Wed November 16 – Belo Horizonte, Brazil – Chevrolet Hall
Fri November 18 – Brasilia, Brazil – Convention Center
Sun November 20 – Recife, Brazil – Chevrolet Hall