Gary Wright was born on April 26, 1943 in Cresskill, New Jersey, to Ann (nee Belvedere) and Louis Wright. His father was a construction engineer, and his mother was a singer, as were his two sisters. His older sister, Beverly, enjoyed some success as a pop and folk singer in the 60s, while his younger sister, Lorna, released the album Circle of Love (1978) and several singles.
His mother encouraged Gary to take an interest in music and acting. He appeared in the TV sci-fi series Captain Video and His Video Rangers, and when he was 12 he was hired as an understudy for a Broadway musical, Fanny. This resulted in him going on stage in the role of Cesario, son of the titular Fanny, played by Florence Henderson, and in 1955, appearing with Henderson on The Ed Sullivan Show.
His enthusiasm subsequently switched to music, and while at Tenafly high school in New Jersey, he played in several rock’n’roll groups. He would cite the R&B artists Ray Charles, Aretha Franklin and James Brown among his musical idols, along with Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis and the Beatles.
Having attended William & Mary College in Virginia and then focused on medicine at New York University, Wright was studying psychology at the Free University of Germany in West Berlin when he abandoned his academic plans and formed a group called the New York Times. They supported Steve Winwood’s Traffic at a gig in Oslo, Norway, where he met the Island Records boss Chris Blackwell. Blackwell introduced Wright to four of the five members of the now-defunct band Art, and Spooky Tooth was formed. Traffic’s producer Jimmy Miller worked on their first two albums, It’s All About and Spooky Two (1969).
Distinguished by the standout tracks Evil Woman and Better By You, Better Than Me, the latter was widely regarded as the band’s finest hour. It cracked the American Top 50, but this was the highest Spooky Tooth ever climbed, though they made four subsequent visits to the bottom end of the US Top 100. They pulled enthusiastic audiences, not least on sold-out US tours with Jimi Hendrix and the Rolling Stones, delivered some powerful and inventive music, and garnered generous accolades from the press, but somehow the stars never aligned in their favor.
Wright identified their third album, Ceremony (subtitled An Electronic Mass and also released in 1969), as the moment where it all went wrong. It was a collaboration with the French electronic composer Pierre Henry, and, as Wright described it, was supposed to be a Henry album rather than being billed as the latest Spooky Tooth offering. “We said … ‘it will ruin our career’, and that’s exactly what happened.”
So at that time in the early 1970’s Wright took a hiatus from Spooky Tooth to produce records for Traffic and Rolling Stones producer Jimmy Miller’s production company. He quickly became a part of London’s elite session musicians, playing keyboards on George Harrison’s classic “All Things Must Pass,” which also featured Eric Clapton, Ringo Starr, Phil Collins and other greats. Thus began a continuing musical relationship with Harrison that embraced playing keyboards, as well as, co-writing several songs on George’s subsequent albums.
To the outside world I was strange that Gary Wright was allowed toput out solo albums? This was nearly unfathomable, a guy from a stiff group gets to put out his own music? We saw his 1970 album “Extraction,” with its pencil drawing cover, and thinking it was almost amateurish, like they didn’t have the money for color. As for the follow-up, 1971’s “Footprint”… It’s like it almost didn’t come out, that one many shops didn’t even stock.
Although Wright had left the band, in 1972 he got back together with another original member, Mike Harrison, and rebuilt it with a new lineup with the help of Mick Jones, who later joined Foreigner.. They recorded You Broke My Heart So … I Busted Your Jaw (1973), Witness (1973) and The Mirror (1974), but lack of commercial success prompted Wright to quit to pursue a solo career.
Gary then signed a solo deal with Warner Bros. Records in 1974. His ground-breaking 1975 release “The Dream Weaver” streatched the pop music envelope by featuring the first-ever all keyboard/synthesizer band, and by pioneering technologies in cut down versions of synthesizers and drum machines that revolutionized the musical instrument business and changed the sound of pop, rock and r&b forever. It initially sold over 2 million and 2 million singles in the USA. The title track reached on 2 in America and no 24 in Australia. It was later used in the movie Wayne’s World. Wright also had a second hit off the record in the USA with ‘Love Is Alive’ (also no 2, USA, 1976).
But it didn’t work out for Gary Wright. There were numerous TV appearances, with a keyboard around his neck, a novelty at the time. He capitalized on his success, he wrung out every note. And then it was done. Two years later Gary put out another album, but the world had changed, synthesizer driven tracks were no longer a novelty, rock was becoming corporate, he never had another hit.
But for that one moment in time, that year of ’75, Gary Wright was as big as anybody on the radio, anybody in rock.
In a business where even the biggest success is often written in the wind, the popular appeal of Wright’s songwriting genius has endured. In 1991, Warner Bros. Records asked Gary to remake “Dream Weaver” for the “Wayne’s World” movie soundtrack — which went on to become Billboard’s #1 soundtrack album, selling over 2 million copies, “Dream Weaver” was also featured in the Golden Globe winner “The people vs Larry Flynt.”
The year 2001 brought 2 new versions of “Love is Alive” — one by Anastacia, whose International sales topped 3.5 million — the other by Joan Osborne whose version became the first single for the Michael Douglas/Matt Dylan film, “One Night at McCools.” In addition, “Dream Weaver” and “Love is Alive” were featured in the films “Daddy Day Care” and “Coyote Ugly” respectively. Eminem recorded one of Gary’s songs and re-titled it “Spend some Time” on his “Encore” album, and DJ Armand Van Helden sampled “Comin’ Apary” from “The Right Place” album and renamed it “mymymy.” The track became a huge hit in Europe and Asia selling over 4 million copies.
Gary Wright’s creative output was also extended to film scoring, with music for the Alan Rudolph thriller “Endangered Species,” the Sylvester Stallone-directed “Stayin’ Alive,” the Oscar-winning German film “Fire and Ice” and the 2000 Imax release “Ski to the Max” — both directed by Willie Bogner. It included Gary’s 1995 world music album, “First Signs of Life,” which incorporated music and percussion from Brazil and Nigeria, and featured guest appearances by George Harrison and Terry Bozzio. It continued with his solo effort “Human Love,” a studio album on which Gary is joined by guest artists Jeff Lynne, L. Shankar and Steve Farris.
The year 2007 marked the 40th anniversary of Spooky Tooth and ushered in the release of Nomad Poets live DVD featuring Gary and original members Mike Harrison and Mike Kellie. The band followed it up with sold out European tours in 2008 and 2009. During this stretch, Spooky Tooth was invited by Chris Blackwell, the founder of Island Records, to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of Island, by performing at a concert in London in May 2009 along such artists as U2, Grace Jones, Amy Winehouse, Keane, Sly and Robbie and Yusuf Islam (Cat Stevens).
In 2008, Gary became the newest touring member of Ringo Starr’s All Starr Band before releasing an instrumental album of ambient music called Waiting To Catch the Light and an EP called The Light of a Million Suns that featured a duet with his son, Dorian, on a re-record of his hit song “Love is Alive.”
As Gary Wright began another new decade as a musical pioneer, this one was immediately highlighted by the June 8, 2010 release of Connected, his first pop-rock album in over twenty years and a brilliant culmination of Wright’s vast life experiences, songwriting ability and production know-how. Connected also continued a life-long tradition of embracing esteemed musical camaradarie as the album’s first single “Satisfied” includes performances by Ringo Starr on drums, along with Joe Walsh and Jeff ‘Skunk’ Baxter on guitar.
In addition to shows throughout 2010 with his own band to support his new album, Gary once again traversed the U.S. during that summer, touring as a member of Ringo’s band, as well as, doing a European and South American tour in 2011 with Ringo. “Dream Weaver” was also prominently featured in Disney’s Toy Story 3 movie, as well as, in an episode of “Glee” and the series of “Once Upon a Time.”
Gary also appeared in Martin Scorcese’s highly-anticipated George Harrison biopic “Living in the Material World,” and Jay Z and Kanye West recently used a sample from Gary’s first release with Spooky Toothy, “Sunshine Help Me” on their latest album. The track, “No Church in the Wild also appears in the new Denzyl Washington film “Safe House” as well as in “The Great Gatsby.” Gary was writing a new book titled “The Dream Weaver” which is his autobiography. The book contains stories of the years he spent with George Harrison and their spiritual journey together. It will also be released as an E book with rare photos and unreleased music.
Gary Wright was diagnosed with Lewy body dementia in 2018. He died on 4 September, 2023.
So I was sitting in my living room last night and my wife comes in and says: “Gary Wright is dead”. I already had received the message earlier, but It was still a dagger to my heart. Not as much as the news about Jimmy Buffett, who I had known personally or David Crosby, who was my all time shining hero singer/songwriter. But still, I remember 1975/1976. Vietnam was finally over; the first oil crisis was freshly in our hindsight (and future), the Club of Rome had just predicted a devastating climate crisis and we kept ignoring it. The generational cohesiveness of the late 1960s was slowly fading into corporate greed, Music was still peaking until way after the arrival of MTV, and Gary Wright was there telling us about Weaving Dreams. It just wasn’t music, it was life.
I have to admit that it sometimes makes me crazy when people younger than baby boomers say it’s the same as it ever was, that every generation has its own popular music, and it’s just as good. It’s not. That’s patently untrue. Rock Music was Michelangelo, The Sistine Chapel, The Mona Lisa. Music was mostly peaks, and sometimes valleys, but it was everything, it rode shotgun, it drove the culture, and Gary Wright was right there, even if it was only for a short flash in 1975.