Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Gary Wright - Evolution Of A Dream Weaver

Picture yourself as the host of a quirky, low budget, public access cable television show, in the Illinois district of Aurora. You’re chilling at a popular local night club, the Gasworks. You strut across the dance floor, heading for the bar, and doffing your baseball cap to patrons who may recognise you from your exploits as a late night television host. You turn and look at the band on stage, an up and coming hard rock outfit called Crucial Taunt, featuring the wailing vocals of the exotically beautiful Cassandra. Cue soft focus, slow motion as you gaze in awe - cue Gary Wright’s atmospheric synth-laden soft rock ballad ‘Dream Weaver’, to accompany you in your moment of mesmerization. You are Mike Myers’ cult comedy character Wayne Campbell - and this is yet another memorable moment from ‘Wayne’s World’ - it’s party time, it’s excellent, woowoowoowoo!

I tend to be referring to memorable moments in cinema a lot recently, but the medium is inexorably linked to popular music, and the two strands of popular culture compliment one another well. The Cassandra-Wayne ‘Dream Weaver’ moment wasn’t the only stand out sequence from ‘Wayne’s World’ to utilise a classic hit - think ‘Foxy Lady’ from Jimi Hendrix, ‘Radar Love’ from Golden Earring, and of course the (in)famous in car sequence featuring Wayne, Garth and crew lip synching to Queen’s ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ - party on dudes! I have a soft spot for the ‘Dream Weaver’ sequence, as first time I saw ‘Wayne’s World’ at the cinema, I rediscovered a song, long lost in the murky mists of my memory. The re-recorded version of Gary Wright’s classic ‘Dream Weaver’ was one of the reasons I purchased the soundtrack CD from the film, though I already had most of the tracks featured (actually I did quite like the Tia Carrere take on Sweet’s ‘Ballroom Blitz’). Myers had already used ‘Dream Weaver’ in an earlier ‘Wayne’s World’ fantasy sequence, featured on a ‘Saturday Night Live’ segment in 1990. Wayne pictured himself beating ice hockey legend Wayne Gretzky and winning the hand of Gretzky’s wife Janet Jones, whilst ‘Dream Weaver’ played in the background.

By the time Gary Wright’s original 1976 version of ‘Dream Weaver’ hit #2 on the U.S. charts, Wright had already been a professional entertainer for more than twenty five years. New Jersey born Wright started out as a child actor (a bit like Phil Collins), and made his professional debut in 1950, aged seven, in the New York TV show ‘Captain Video and His Video Rangers’. Whilst still at school, he took regular work as an actor in local radio and television commercials, and later scored a support role in the Broadway production of ‘Fanny’. But all the while Wright’s love of music was growing, and soon he undertook formal studies in piano and organ. By the late fifties Wright was in high school, completely smitten with rock and roll, and consequently turned his creative energies toward playing in local rock bands. But, unlike many of his generation, Wright didn’t just drop out of high school to follow his rock and roll dream. Instead he followed the very non-rock and roll convention of studying psychology at a New York college, before completing his degree at Frei University in West Berlin during the mid 60s.

Wright elected to stay on in Europe, but rather than opening a practice as a psychologist, he once again pursued his love of popular music. By 1967, he was fronting an outfit called the New York Times, who scored the support slot for Steve Winwood’s ‘supergroup’ Traffic. Traffic were signed up to Island Records, and that brought the talents of Gary Wright to the attention of Island supremo Chris Blackwell. Blackwell introduced Wright to the members of London based band Art. Art were the prog-rock come psychedelic-rock offspring of another soul-R&B infused rock outfit called the V.I.P.’s. Vocalist and keyboardist Mike Harrison (a one time office clerk), was the driving force behind Art, who had just completed the album ‘Supernatural Fairy Tales’ for Island. Blackwell felt Gary Wright would be a good fit for the band, and as it turned out he was just that. Art renamed themselves Spooky Tooth, and in 1968 recorded their debut album ‘It’s All About’ (released in the U.S. as ‘Tobacco Road’ in 1970-#152), with the original line-up of Harrison, Wright, Luther Grosvenor (guitar - see recent Stealers Wheel post), Greg Ridley (bass), and Mike Kellie (drums). The band played a relentless touring schedule at home, and soon built up a loyal fan base for their hard edged prog-rock material, though their albums consistently racked up greater sales in the U.S. market, aided no doubt by support slots with Jimi Hendrix and the Rolling Stones on tour. Following 1969’s ‘Spooky Two’ album (US#44), Spooky Tooth experienced the first of, what would be a turbulent sequence, of personnel changes, when bassist Ridley decided a slice of Humble Pie sounded appealing, and was replaced by Andy Leigh.

After the released of the ‘Ceremony’ album (US#92) in late ‘69, on which Gary Wright introduced the work of French electronic-music pioneer Pierre Henry to the mix, he left the band to pursue solo interests in 1970. In the year following, the Spooky Tooth band roster underwent a series of extractions and attempted bridgework, but following the release of the appropriately titled album ‘The Last Puff’ (US#84), Harrison called a halt to the dental procedures, er…the band - at least temporarily. The band’s members all went on to pursue other projects in the interim - guitarist Henry McCullough joined Paul McCartney’s Wings, Grosvenor to Stealers Wheel (then on to Mott The Hoople), and Harrison recorded a solo album, titled ‘Smokestack Lightning’. Meanwhile, after a stint as producer for Liverpool folk band Arrival, Gary Wright signed to A&M Records, and released his debut solo album, the appropriately titled, ‘Extraction’ in late 1970, which was much in the style of Spooky Tooth. That same year he contributed keyboards for a number of tracks on Beatle George’s triple album masterpiece ‘All Things Must Pass’. The collaboration was the starting point for a long term friendship, and creative alliance, between George Harrison and Gary Wright, one that would be play a major part in shaping many of the themes, lyrical and stylistic, behind Wright’s future solo work. It was during this period (well 1972 to be exact) that Harrison invited Wright to accompany him on one of his many sojourns to India, and Wright became an avid student of Hinduism ,and Indian literature and culture. Wright recorded a second album of solo material in 1971, titled ‘Foot Print’, which boasted the slide guitar of one George O’Hara, better known as Harrison, and in November ’71 Harrison played with Wright’s backing band for a live performance of the track ’Two-Faced Man’ on the Dick Cavett Show. Wright quickly followed that up with 1972’s ‘Ring Of Changes’, credited to Gary Wright with Wonderwheel. Gary Wright and George Harrison continued to work together throughout the 70s on their respective solo album projects.

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