Thursday, February 19, 2009

Gary Wright - Dream Weaving Becomes Reality

By 1973, Harrison (of the Mike variety) and Wright, neither of whom had enjoyed much commercial return on their solo work, decided to give the Spooky Tooth venture another burl. They recruited guitarist Mick Jones (future Foreigner), bassist Chris Stewart, and drummer Bryson Graham, and recorded an album of new material, titled ‘You Broke My Heart So I Busted Your Jaw’ (OZ#55/US#84). The album ‘Witness’ (US#99) quickly followed, but soon after Mike Harrison split to once more pursue a solo career. Gary Wright was left at the helm of Spooky Tooth, and recruited vocalist/keyboardist Mike Patto to fill the gap left my Harrison. But with a hit single still eluding them, and modest sales for the 1974 album ‘The Mirror’ (US#130), Spooky Tooth finally called it a day soon after.

Gary Wright then embarked on his second, and by far most successful, foray into solo artist territory. In June 1974 he signed to Warner Bros. resulting in the 1975 album ‘The Dream Weaver’, one of the first albums to be recorded almost exclusively via synthesizer technology (and produced by Wright himself), and establishing Wright as a true pioneer in the synth-rock field. The mellow synth-laden set was a beautifully crafted work, and the title track ‘Dream Weaver’ soon propelled the name Gary Wright to near the top of the charts. The single debuted on the Billboard Hot 100 during January ‘76, and soared to #2 (OZ#24), becoming a signature song of the era. Wright was inspired to pen the song, via his interest in Hinduism. Though the original version is brilliant, I actually prefer Wright’s 1992 re-recorded take on ‘Dream Weaver’, which features added mystical synthesizer sounds in the intro/outro. By most standards, an album would be considered a success if it yielded just one top five hit, but the platinum selling ‘The Dream Weaver’ (US#7/OZ#31) set produced yet another U.S.#2 hit, with the follow up single ‘Love Is Alive’ (OZ#71) (it also spawned the US#79 hit ‘Made To Love You’). During the next year, Gary Wright was a regular support act for the likes of Peter Frampton and Yes.

Gary Wright’s brand of mellow soft-rock was soon a staple on FM radio across the U.S., but his follow up album ‘The Light Of Smiles’ (US#23/OZ#75), which featured support players Jim Keltner and David Foster, didn’t light up the charts to the same degree as its predecessor. Lyrically, much of Wright’s work was incorporating his interest and dedication to Eastern mysticism, and proto-New Age views (as evidenced on tracks like ‘I Am The Sky (Paramahansa Yogananda)’), but musically at least, he stuck to the same middle-of-the-road, soft rock territory. ‘The Light Of Smiles’ yielded just one minor hit in ‘Phantom Writer’ (US#43). In 1978 Gary Wright made a guest appearance alongside The Bee Gees and Peter Frampton in the Beatles’ tribute film ‘Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band’, but that aside, it was a relatively headline free year for him. The 1978 album ‘Touch And Gone’ (#117) was a commercial flop, and Wright ventured into the singles chart just once more in the 70s with the title track ‘Touch And Gone’ (US#73). 1979’s ‘Headin’ Home’ (US#147) saw Wright’s slide into pop-rock obscurity gain momentum, arguably another victim of disco’s dominance at that time. But in 1981, Gary Wright re-emerged with the finely crafted album ‘The Right Place’ (US#79), and with disco in its death throws, his music once more got a look in on commercial radio. The single ‘Really Wanna Know You’, co-written by Ali Thomson (see future post), must have proved at least a partial inspiration for Foreigner’s 1985 #1 ‘I Wanna Know What Love Is’. It became Wright’s last major incursion into the charts (US#16/OZ#49), followed by the minor hit ‘Heartbeat’ (US#107), which was later sampled on a 2007 dance hit for Topmodelz. The album track ‘Comin’ Apart’ was also sampled in 2004 by Armand van Helden on the club hit ‘My My My’, proving Wright’s work of that period had longevity, at least in terms of providing pre-fabricated melodies for dance acts.

With his Warner Bros. contract expired, Gary Wright turned his attention to composing film scores. He collaborated with producer Shep Gordon to write the score for the 1982 Allen Rudolph directed thriller ‘Endangered Species’, but his most commercially, and critically, well received film score, was 1985’s ‘Fire And Ice’, which spent months inside the German top five. In 1987 Gary Wright teamed up once more with old friend George Harrison, on Harrison’s mega-selling comeback album ‘Cloud Nine’, contributing piano to several tracks. Harrison returned the favour, as one of an all-star cast of guest players on Wright’s own comeback album, 1988’s ‘Who I Am’, which also boasted performances by Indian classical music greats Lakshmi Shankar and L. Subramanium. Not surprisingly, given his profile via ‘Fire And Ice’, the album was very well received in Germany.

Following his re-recording of ‘Dream Weaver’ for the ‘Wayne’s World’ soundtrack, Gary Wright spent the next few years focussing on writing material for his next project, and it was during this period that he commenced a songwriting partnership with Bobby Hart (of Boyce & Hart fame). Wright’s 1995 album ‘First Signs Of Life’ was firmly planted in the realm of ‘world music’, incorporating rhythms and percussion from Brazil and Nigeria. Once again George Harrison dropped by to play on a track or two, as did ex-Zappa/Missing Persons drummer Terry Bozzio. E.L.O. guru (and Traveling Wilbury) Jeff Lynne guested on Wright’s most recent album offering, 1999’s ‘Human Love’, released on his newly established record label Larkio Music. Over the ensuing years Gary Wright has continued to work with artists (including his sons) signed to his label, and contributed to more soundtracks. Following the death of Spooky Tooth bassist Greg Ridley in 2004, Gary Wright joined with Mike Harrison and Mike Kellie, to perform two special Spooky Tooth reunion/tribute shows in Germany. Most recently Wright has been a featured player in Ringo Starr’s All-Starr Band, touring throughout 2008.

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