Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Richard Wright

Longtime Pink Floyd keyboardist Richard Wright passed away Monday at age 65. For over four decades, Wright's keyboard stylings were an integral part of Pink Floyd's signature sound.

A self-taught keyboards player, Wright first met bandmates Roger Waters and Nick Mason when they were students at Regent Street Polytechnic College in London. The three began playing together in various R&B/blues-based combos, as was the fashion in London in those days, but distinguished themselves from the pack with the addition of eccentric guitarist/songwriter Syd Barrett to the mix. Wright in particular thrived as a result of Barrett's unorthodox approach to rock songwriting, as it enabled him to experiment with various psychedelic and jazz styles. His keyboards became an important part of the sound of the early Floyd classic LP The Piper At The Gates Of Dawn, and he also contributed occasional vocals such as on "Astronomy Domine".

Syd Barrett eventually unraveled due to heavy LSD use, and was replaced by David Gilmour. With Gilmour in the lineup, Pink Floyd shifted away from eccentric pop/rock towards a more improvisational style often resulting in extended suites. Wright mostly left the songwriting duties to Waters and Gilmour, concentrating on developing a unique keyboard style involving elements of jazz, classical, and free-form music. Wright's style particularly came to the fore on mid-period Floyd LP's such as Ummagumma and Atom Heart Mother. He made significant contributions to the landmark Dark Side Of The Moon, both on keyboards and through composing "The Great Gig In The Sky" and "Us And Them".

Wright's influence in Pink Floyd declined as the group came to be dominated more and more by the dictatorial Roger Waters. Tensions between Waters and Wright came to a head during recording of The Wall, with Waters finally threatening not to release the album's master tapes unless Wright resigned from the band. Wright did so, but was retained by the group as a session musician on salary for the band's upcoming tour to support the LP. Ironically, that worked to Wright's benefit, as he was able to collect his salary while the remaining full-time members of Pink Floyd actually lost money on the tour due to the astronomical expense involved in transporting the grandiose Wall set around the world.

With tensions still high between Waters and the rest of the band, Wright doesn't appear on the followup Floyd LP The Final Cut. But after Waters' departure from the group, remaining members David Gilmour and Nick Mason invited Wright back, and he appears on all subsequent Floyd releases. Wright played a significant role on 1994's The Division Bell, co-writing five songs and singing lead on "Wearing The Inside Out".

Wright also released a number of side projects during his Floyd career; his 1978 solo album Wet Dream is of particular note for Floyd fans. He participated in the Live 8 concert in London in 2005, the first time that Wright, Waters, Gilmour and Mason had appeared on stage together since The Wall tour. Also, he contributed to Gilmour's solo disc On An Island in 2006, and joined the guitarist on his subsequent tour. At the time of his death, he was working on another solo album, said to be composed of a series of instrumental pieces.

"One Of These Days", a succinct example of Pink Floyd's classic sound. Richard Wright sets it up, and David Gilmour drives it home.

David Gilmour: "In my view, all the greatest Pink Floyd moments are the ones where he is in full flow. No-one can replace Richard Wright - he was my musical partner and my friend."