Gary Wright is an American pop star best known for his phenomenally successful 1976 album The Dream Weaver. His musical career, however, began much earlier, as a child star and singer on Broadway, in 1954.
But his career as a rock star took off in 1967 in Europe, when he joined the groundbreaking rock band Spooky Tooth, as their second keyboardist. His vocal and keyboard talents were well known in England and utilized by such rock legends as George Harrison.
In the past several years, the pop star has been extremely busy, touring with the last two versions of Ringo Starr’s All Starr Band, releasing a new album in 2010, Connected, and touring as part of the 2011 Hippiefest.
The fest will make a stop at the Greek Theatre in Los Angeles on Thursday, and will feature guitarists Mark Farner (Grand Funk Railroad), Dave Mason and Rick Derringer, as well as Wright and singer Felix Cavaliere’s Rascals.
I had a chance to chat with Wright recently while he was driving near his Palos Verdes home.
Paul Mann: Your show business career began as quite a successful child actor on Broadway. How old were you then? Do you have any vivid memories of that period?
Gary Wright: I actually started in radio when I was 11, but in 1954 I appeared in the Broadway production of Fanny alongside Florence Henderson (who later became famous for the television show The Brady Bunch). It was hugely successful, and we performed more than 800 times and appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show together. I quit show business for a while to go to high school and do normal teenager things like play baseball.
PM: You made your first music recording in 1959. Do you have any memories of that?
GW: Yes, I made a recording with Billy Markle. Our duo was called Gary and Billy, but nothing much came of it.
PM: You went off to college in England in the 1960s. This is where your musical career began to explode. Many people think of you as part of the British pop scene, even though you were actually from New Jersey. How did you end up in one of the period’s greatest keyboard bands, Spooky Tooth, and become part of the British Invasion?
GW: Yes, I went to Berlin to study psychology but decided that I was more interested in music and started an R&B band. I caught the ear of the producer of the band Traffic, who had worked earlier in the Spencer Davis group, one of the earliest English rock R&B bands. This led to my involvement with Spooky Tooth beginning in 1967, one of the first rock groups with two lead vocalists and keyboard players. The band produced some great music, and the other players went on to play in other successful groups, such as Greg Ridley, who joined Humble Pie. But there was a lot of turmoil in the band and it was a tumultuous time, and ultimately we broke up in 1974.
PM: Your solo career followed with the release of The Dream Weaver in 1974? Did you have any idea how successful that album would be? What was that period of your career like?
GW: I had no idea The Dream Weaver would be so successful. Everything just fell into place with that album. I pioneered a number of ideas with that album and subsequent tour. The all-keyboard approach with no guitars was a new one, and I was one of the first to use a drum machine in concert. It was an amazing time.
PM: I saw the original Dream Weaver tour as a teenager in Florida. You were wearing silver winged tipped boots, the image of which has somehow stayed in my memory all of these years. Was there a story or meaning attached to your unusual footwear, or was it merely a fashion statement of the time?
GW: Yes, I had those specially made to go along with the theme of the album. You can actually see them on the original album cover.
PM: You have been playing on the most recent Ringo Starr All-Starr tours. What is that experience like? Anything that makes it unique and interesting?
GW: This has been a great experience primarily because Ringo is such a talented musician and interesting and witty person. I have participated in the last two versions of his all All-Starr Band since 2008. We have done 28 dates in Europe so far this year, and it is always a great time.
PM: You released a new album last year with an impressive guest list contributing music to the endeavor. Could you share some thoughts on this project?
GW: Yes, I am really happy with the way the Connected album turned out. I began writing songs with an acoustic guitar while on the road with Ringo. I played him one of the songs and he really liked it, and he ended up co-writing one of the songs for the album and playing on it. Then Joe Walsh expressed interest in helping me with it, and he became part of the project as well. Jeff Baxter also contributed to the album.
PM: How did you get involved with the Hippiefest tour? How does this tour compare to your tour with Ringo? Are there any collaboration plans or surprises planned on this tour?
GW: This is a great tour. I was asked to get involved because of my work with Ringo’s band. All the performers will play individual sets, backed by a great band. Mark Farner, Dave Mason, Rick Derringer and Felix Cavalieres are all excellent performers. Then at the end we will mix it up, mingling together for some surprises. We are doing 25 dates and possibly adding five more later. It has been a great year for me. I have 11 more dates with Ringo’s band in Latin America after this.
PM: Are there any plans for a Spooky Tooth reunion in your future?
GW: No, we tried that a few times in the past and Greg Ridley is gone now, so my Spooky Tooth days are over.
PM: Do you have anything you would like to say to your longtime fans looking forward to seeing you play?
GW: Yes, be sure to check out our merchandise booth at the festival. We have some special items available, including some vintage T-shirts and a USB drive with never-before-released material, including collaborations I have done in the past. I also have a new single, “Get Your Hands Up,” available for download. I hope to see you all at the show.