15 September 2008 – Richard William “Rick” Wright (Pink Floyd) was born on 28 July 1943 in Hatch End, London.
He taught himself to play guitar, trumpet and piano at age 12 after he was recuperating from breaking a leg. His mother helped and encouraged him to play the piano. He took private lessons in musical theory and composition at the Eric Gilder School of Music and became influenced by the traditional jazz revival, learning the trombone and saxophone as well as the piano. Uncertain about his future, he enrolled in 1962 at the Regent Street Polytechnic which was later incorporated into the University of Westminster. There he met fellow musicians Roger Waters and Nick Mason, and all three joined a band formed by classmate Clive Metcalf called Sigma 6.
Wright’s position in the band was tenuous to begin with, as he did not choose a definitive instrument, playing piano if a pub had one, otherwise settling on the trombone or rhythm guitar. Wright moved in with Waters and Mason to a house in Stanhope Gardens, Highgate, and began serious rehearsals in order to become a professional group. Although Mason and Waters were competent students, Wright found architecture of little interest and after only a year of study moved to the London College of Music.
He then took a break from studies and travelled to Greece for a sabbatical. Their landlord, Mike Leonard, purchased a Farfisa organ, and briefly replaced Wright in the band. However, the organ ultimately became Wright’s main instrument. Through a friend, he arranged the fledgling group’s first recording session in a West Hampstead studio, just before Christmas 1964. Guitarists Bob Klose and Syd Barrett joined the band, which became Pink Floyd.
Pink Floyd had stabilized around Barrett, Waters, Mason and Wright by mid-1965, and after frequent gigging that year became regulars on the Underground live circuit in London. While Barrett was the most profiled member, writing most material, singing most lead vocals and playing lead guitar, Wright played a supportive role, playing keyboards and singing, with occasional lead, and writing his own material. As the most qualified musician, Wright was responsible for tuning guitars, and would often tune Waters’ bass for him in concert. Later on, he had a Strobotuner to tune guitars silently during gigs. In the band’s early days, before acquiring a full-time road crew, Wright was responsible for unloading the gear at the end of each gig.
While not credited for vocals on The Piper at the Gates of Dawn, he sang lead on Barrett-penned songs like “Astronomy Domine” and “Matilda Mother”. Examples of his early compositions include “Remember a Day”, “See-Saw”, “Paint Box” and “It Would Be So Nice”. Wright was close friends with Barrett, and at one point the pair shared a flat in Richmond. After Barrett left the group in 1968 due to mental health issues, Wright considered leaving and forming a group with Barrett, but realized it would not have led to anything constructive.
Following Barrett’s departure and replacement by David Gilmour, Wright took over writing duties with Waters but gradually became less involved as a singer and songwriter as the band’s career progressed. His organ playing remained an important part of the band’s live set, including “Interstellar Overdrive”, “Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun” and “Careful with That Axe, Eugene” and he contributed musical themes for film scores (More, Zabriskie Point and Obscured by Clouds). He made significant contributions to Pink Floyd’s long, epic compositions such as “Atom Heart Mother”, “Echoes” (on which he harmonized with Gilmour for the lead vocals) and “Shine On You Crazy Diamond”. On 1973’s The Dark Side of the Moon he composed the music for “The Great Gig in the Sky” and “Us and Them”. He also contributed to other album tracks such as “Breathe” and “Time”, singing the lead vocals on the latter’s chorus.
Wright’s contributions to the band diminished in the late 1970s as Waters began to write more material, with Animals being the first album that he did not receive any songwriter credits. By the time the group was recording The Wall in 1979, Waters had become frustrated that Wright was not contributing enough yet still claiming an equal share of production royalties. Wright refused to catch up on the recording backlog as his first marriage had deteriorated and he had not seen enough of his children, deciding family was more important. Waters considered suing Wright, but ultimately decided an easier thing to do would be for Wright to leave the band at the end of the project. As the band was in financial trouble at the time, Wright agreed to these terms. Several other musicians, including Waters, Gilmour, producer Bob Ezrin, composer Michael Kamen and session player Fred Mandel played keyboards on The Wall. Wright was retained as a salaried session musician during the live concerts to promote that album in 1980–81, but ironically he became the only member of Pink Floyd to profit from the initial run of the costly Wall shows, since the net financial loss had to be borne by the three remaining “full-time” members. Wright did not attend the 1982 premiere of the film version of Pink Floyd—The Wall. In 1983, Pink Floyd released The Final Cut, the only album from the band on which Wright does not appear. His absence from the credits was the first time fans realized he had left the group, which was officially confirmed some years later.
After Waters’ departure in 1985, Wright began to contribute to Pink Floyd again, beginning with sessions for the album A Momentary Lapse of Reason. However, he did not legally rejoin as an equal to Gilmour and Mason, and was a salaried musician for the resulting tour, as his contract said he could not rejoin as a full member. On the album credits, his name was listed after Mason and Gilmour and his photo did not appear on the cover.
By 1994 however, he had rejoined the group full-time as an equal partner with Gilmour and Mason. He co-wrote five songs and sang lead vocals on one song (“Wearing the Inside Out”) for the next Pink Floyd album, The Division Bell. This was followed by the double live album and video release Pulse in 1995. Wright, like Mason, performed on every Pink Floyd tour.
On 2 July 2005, Wright, Gilmour and Mason were joined by Waters on stage for the first time since the Wall concerts for a short set at the Live 8 concert in London. This was the last time that all four (post-Barrett) Pink Floyd members performed together. Later the year Wright underwent eye surgery for cataracts, preventing him from attending Pink Floyd’s induction into the UK Music Hall of Fame.
Sessions with Wright during this period were later released on the album The Endless River. Away from the Floyd, Wright recorded two solo albums, including a collaboration with Anthony Moore on Broken China, and briefly formed the duo Zee. After rejoining Waters, Mason and Gilmour as Pink Floyd for Live 8 in 2005, he became part of Gilmour’s regular solo touring band, singing occasional lead on songs such as “Arnold Layne”, before his death in September 2008.
Overshadowed during his musical career by band mates Barrett, Waters and Gilmour and being the quietest and most reserved member of Pink Floyd, Wright’s contributions have been overlooked, but his death brought a reappraisal and recognition of his talents. His jazz and improvisation influences and keyboard performances were an important part of the Pink Floyd sound; being a prominent player of the Farfisa and Hammond organs and the Kurzweil synthesizer. Wright sang regularly in the band, and occasionally took the lead vocal on Pink Floyd songs such as “Time”, “Remember a Day” and “Wearing the Inside Out”.
Wright died on September 15, 2008 of an undisclosed form of cancer in his home in the UK at age 65.
One of my truly favorite albums is his solo effort “Broken China” in which he was supported by members of Peter Gabriel’s early “Genesis” members and showcases that just because he was the quiet one in Pink Floyd, he had a giant influence on the band’s success both as a keyboardist/songwriter and arranger.
One famous quote from Rick was: “Pink Floyd is like a marriage that’s on a permanent trial separation.”