Richard William Wright (b.July 28, 1943 – d. September 15, 2008) was an English pianist, keyboardist and songwriter, best known for his career with Pink Floyd. Wright’s richly textured keyboard layers were a vital ingredient and a distinctive characteristic of Pink Floyd’s sound. Wright frequently sang background and occasionally lead vocals on stage and in the studio with Pink Floyd (most notably on the songs “Time”, “Echoes”, “Wearing the Inside Out”, “Astronomy Domine” and “Matilda Mother”).
Though not as prolific a songwriter as his bandmates Roger Waters and David Gilmour, he wrote significant parts of the music for classic albums such as Meddle, The Dark Side of the Moon and Wish You Were Here, as well as for Pink Floyd’s final studio album The Division Bell.
Wright is ranked #5 on Digital Dreamdoor’s list of “100 Greatest Rock Keyboardists of All Time” and #8 on MusicRadar’s top 27.
Early Life and Career
Wright, whose father was head biochemist at Unigate Dairies, grew up in Hatch End, North London and was educated at the Haberdashers’ Aske’s School.
Wright taught himself to play guitar at age 12, as well as play trumpet and piano, and took private lessons in musical theory and composition at the Eric Gilder School of Music. Uncertain about his future, he enrolled at Regent Street Polytechnic in 1962. There he met fellow band members Roger Waters and Nick Mason, was a founding member of The Pink Floyd Sound (as they were then called) in 1965, and also participated in its previous incarnations, Sigma 6 and The (Screaming) Abdabs. 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.
In the early days of Pink Floyd, Wright was a prominent musical force in the group (although not as much as Syd Barrett, the band’s chief songwriter and front man at the time) and he wrote and sang several songs of his own during 1967–1968. While not credited as a singer on The Piper at the Gates of Dawn, he sang co-lead on Barrett-penned songs like “Astronomy Domine” and “Matilda Mother”, as well as notable harmonies on “The Scarecrow” and “Chapter 24″. Examples of his early compositions include “Remember a Day”, “See-Saw”, “Paint Box” and “It Would Be So Nice”. As the sound and the goals of the band evolved, Wright became less interested in songwriting and focused primarily on contributing his distinctive style to extended instrumental compositions such as “Cirrus Minor”, “Interstellar Overdrive”, “Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun”, “Careful with That Axe, Eugene”, “One of These Days”, “Dogs” and to musical themes for film scores (More, Zabriskie Point and Obscured by Clouds). He also made essential 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”. His most commercially popular compositions are “The Great Gig in the Sky” and “Us and Them” from 1973′s The Dark Side of the Moon. He also contributed significantly to other mid-period Floyd classics like “Breathe” and “Time”, singing lead vocals on alternate verses of the latter with David Gilmour.
Wright recorded his first solo project, Wet Dream, and released it in September 1978 with minimal commercial success. Battling both personal problems and an increasingly rocky relationship with Roger Waters, he was forced to resign from Pink Floyd during The Wall sessions by Waters, who threatened to pull the plug on the album’s tapes if Wright did not leave the band. However, he was retained as a salaried session musician during the subsequent live concerts to promote that album in 1980 and 1981. Wright became the only member of Pink Floyd to profit from those shows, since the net financial loss had to be borne by the three remaining “full-time” members. He was the only member of the band not to attend the 1982 premiere of the film version of Pink Floyd—The Wall. In 1983, Pink Floyd released The Final Cut, the only album on which Wright does not appear.
Later Life and Career
During 1984, Wright formed a new musical duo with Dave Harris (from the band Fashion) called Zee. They signed a record deal with EMI Records and released only one album, Identity, which was a commercial and critical flop. Wright worked as a salaried musician alongside Pink Floyd, following Waters’ departure. Because of legal and contractual issues from this “hired gun” status during The Wall world tour, his photo was not included in the 1987 album A Momentary Lapse of Reason and his name was listed in smaller letters than Mason and Gilmour. In 1994, by which time his reinstatement in the band had become official, 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 recording provided material for the double live album and video release Pulse in 1995. Wright, like Nick Mason, performed on every Pink Floyd tour.
“Rick asked to be a part of “A Momentary Lapse of Reason,” and we talked and argued and negotiated again, and this time [The Division Bell] he’s on a percentage of everything, not just the record. Last time Nick and myself had put up all the money and taken all the risks on everything, including the lawsuits with Roger. If you take all the risks, you expect to get more of the profits, quite simply. This is a wonderful artistic endeavor we’ve spent all our adult lives working on, but reality comes into it as well.” — David Gilmour.
In 1996, inspired by his successful input into The Division Bell, Wright released his second solo album, Broken China, including contributions from Sinéad O’Connor on vocals, Pino Palladino on bass, Manu Katché on drums, Dominic Miller (known from his guitar work with Sting) and Tim Renwick, another Pink Floyd associate, on electric guitar. Broken China marked a new phase in Richard Wright’s artistic development and playing style, with extensive use of computer-based recording and production techniques, assisted by Anthony Moore with whom he co-wrote the album’s lyrics.
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 would be the final time that all four (post-Barrett) Pink Floyd members performed together. Wright underwent eye surgery for cataracts in November 2005, preventing him from attending Pink Floyd’s induction into the UK Music Hall of Fame.
Wright contributed keyboards and background vocals to David Gilmour’s solo album, On an Island, and performed with Gilmour’s touring band for over two dozen shows in Europe and North America in 2006. On stage with Gilmour he performed on Hammond organ, piano, electric piano, Kurzweil K2600 workstation, and even his long-inactive Farfisa organ, which was used for performing “Echoes” and two of Pink Floyd’s and Syd Barrett’s older songs that Gilmour chose to revisit in his recent concerts. He also provided backing vocals and lead vocals (notably on “Echoes”, “Time”, “Comfortably Numb”, “Wearing the Inside Out” “Astronomy Domine” and “Arnold Layne” – the latter released as a live single). He declined an offer to join Roger Waters and Nick Mason on Waters’ The Dark Side of the Moon Live tour in order to spend more time working on a solo project.
On 4 July 2006, Wright joined Gilmour and Mason for the official screening of the P•U•L•S•E DVD. Inevitably, Live 8 surfaced as a subject in an interview. When asked about performing again, Wright replied he would be happy on stage anywhere. He explained that his plan was to “meander” along and said about playing live:
“…and whenever Dave wants me to play with him, I’m really happy to play with him. And [to Gilmour] you’ll play with me, right?”
Wright’s final vocal performance took place at “The Madcaps Last Laugh” a tribute concert at The Barbican in London on 10 May 2007. It was organised by Joe Boyd in the memory of Syd Barrett who had died the previous July. Boyd rounded up many musical guests all paying their tributes to Syd including Captain Sensible, Chrissie Hynde, Damon Albarn, Kevin Ayers, Kate McGarrigle with Martha Wainwright and Lily Lankin, Mike Heron, Nick Laird Clowes, Vashti Bunyan, Robyn Hitchcock and performing solo, Roger Waters.
Pink Floyd featuring David Gilmour, Nick Mason and Richard appeared at the end of the show as surprise guests where they performed the song that had started it all, “Arnold Layne” with Wright on lead vocals.
Wright’s final live performance was as part of David Gilmour’s band at the premiere of Gilmour’s concert DVD Remember That Night. It took place on 6 September 2007 at the Odeon Leicester Square, London. After an edited version of the film had been shown, the band took to the stage to jam and Wright played keyboards.
He married his first wife, Juliette Gale, in 1965. They had two children, Gala and Jamie, and divorced in 1982. He married his second wife Franka in 1984. They divorced in 1990. Wright married his third wife Mildred “Millie” Hobbs (to whom he dedicated his second solo album Broken China) in 1995, with whom he had a son, Ben. Their marriage ended in 2007. In 1996, Wright’s daughter Gala married Guy Pratt, a session musician who has played bass for Pink Floyd and bandmate David Gilmour since Roger Waters’ exit. In his later years, Wright lived in France and spent time on a yacht he owned in the Virgin Islands.
Wright died of an undisclosed form of cancer in his home in the UK on 15 September 2008 at age 65. At the time of his death, he had been working on a new solo album, which was thought to comprise a series of instrumental pieces, that has still failed to see the light of day.
His death occurred one week before the release of David Gilmour’s Live in Gda?sk CD, on which he appeared. The album is the final Pink Floyd-related project to include Wright.
Bandmate David Gilmour said:
“No one can replace Richard Wright. He was my musical partner and my friend. In the welter of arguments about who or what was Pink Floyd, Rick’s enormous input was frequently forgotten. He was gentle, unassuming and private but his soulful voice and playing were vital, magical components of our most recognised Pink Floyd sound. I have never played with anyone quite like him. The blend of his and my voices and our musical telepathy reached their first major flowering in 1971 on ‘Echoes’. In my view all the greatest PF moments are the ones where he is in full flow. After all, without ‘Us and Them’ and ‘The Great Gig in the Sky’, both of which he wrote, what would ‘The Dark Side of the Moon’ have been? Without his quiet touch the album ‘Wish You Were Here’ would not quite have worked. In our middle years, for many reasons he lost his way for a while, but in the early Nineties, with ‘The Division Bell’, his vitality, spark and humour returned to him and then the audience reaction to his appearances on my tour in 2006 was hugely uplifting and it’s a mark of his modesty that those standing ovations came as a huge surprise to him (though not to the rest of us). Like Rick, I don’t find it easy to express my feelings in words, but I loved him and will miss him enormously.”
Pink Floyd drummer Nick Mason told Entertainment Weekly:
“Like any band, you can never quite quantify who does what. But Pink Floyd wouldn’t have been Pink Floyd if [we] hadn’t had Rick. I think there’s a feeling now – particularly after all the warfare that went on with Roger and David trying to make clear what their contribution was – that perhaps Rick rather got pushed into the background. Because the sound of Pink Floyd is more than the guitar, bass, and drum thing. Rick was the sound that knitted it all together… He was by far the quietest of the band, right from day one. And, I think, probably harder to get to know than the rest of us… It’s almost that George Harrison thing. You sort of forget that they did a lot more than perhaps they’re given credit for.”
Former bandmate Roger Waters’ website was replaced with a photograph of an array of candles and poppies against a black background; one of the screen images used for the song “Wish You Were Here” in his “Dark Side of the Moon Live” Tour.
Roger Waters also issued a statement:
“I was very sad to hear of Rick’s premature death, I knew he had been ill, but the end came suddenly and shockingly. My thoughts are with his family, particularly [his children] Jamie and Gala and their mum Juliet, who I knew very well in the old days, and always liked very much and greatly admired. As for the man and his work, it is hard to overstate the importance of his musical voice in the Pink Floyd of the ’60s and ’70s. The intriguing, jazz influenced, modulations and voicings so familiar in ‘Us and Them’ and ‘Great Gig in the Sky,’ which lent those compositions both their extraordinary humanity and their majesty, are omnipresent in all the collaborative work the four of us did in those times. Rick’s ear for harmonic progression was our bedrock. I am very grateful for the opportunity that Live 8 afforded me to engage with him and David [Gilmour] and Nick [Mason] that one last time. I wish there had been more.”
On 23 September 2008, David Gilmour performed “Remember a Day”, a Wright composition from Pink Floyd’s second album, A Saucerful of Secrets (1968), on a live broadcast of Later… with Jools Holland on BBC Two as a tribute to Wright. In an interview later on in the show, Gilmour had said that Wright had intended to perform with him that day, but had sent Gilmour an SMS message a couple of weeks before his death to advise him that he would not be well enough to attend. This was the first live performance of the song by any member of the band.
On 15 September 2008, Elton John, while playing a concert in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan dedicated the song “Believe” to Wright who had died earlier that day.
Wright’s style fused jazz, neoclassical and experimental music influences, which complemented the simple harmonic structures of the more blues and folk-based songs of Roger Waters and David Gilmour. As a keyboardist, he was more interested in complementing each piece with organ or synthesizer layers and tasteful piano or electric piano passages. Unlike his contemporaries Rick Wakeman, Tony Banks or Keith Emerson, he opted for solo playing only occasionally, notably in “Atom Heart Mother”, “Echoes”, “Any Colour You Like”, “Shine On You Crazy Diamond” Parts 1–5 and 6–9, “Welcome to the Machine”, “Dogs”, “Run Like Hell” and “Keep Talking”. Wright was known for his ghostly, atmospheric textures such as the Leslie piano arpeggios at the beginning of “Echoes”, the echoed Farfisa Organ in the live versions of “Careful with That Axe, Eugene” and “Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun”, the distinctive Minimoog solos in “Any Colour You Like” and, more famously, “Shine On You Crazy Diamond” and the Wurlitzer passages in “Money”, “Time” and “Sheep”. In “A Saucerful of Secrets” and “Sysyphus” he experimented with ‘treated piano’. “Sysyphus” also made extensive use of Mellotron sounds, something of a rarity in the Pink Floyd canon. Wright also used modal scales in “Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun” and “Matilda Mother”.
In the early days of the band, Wright dabbled with brass before settling on the Farfisa organ as his main instrument onstage (in addition to piano and Hammond Organ in the studio). For a brief period in 1969, Wright played vibraphone on several of the band’s songs and in some live shows, and he even played trombone on “Biding My Time” (also dating from this experimental period). During the formative years of Pink Floyd with Syd Barrett, Wright relied heavily on his Farfisa organ, fed through a Binson Echorec platter echo, to achieve distinctive sounds that helped the band gain their “psychedelic rock” edge. He used a Mellotron on “See-Saw “, “Atom Heart Mother”, and “Sysyphus” on Ummagumma. He started using a Hammond organ regularly on stage thereafter, and a grand piano later became part of his usual live concert setup when “Echoes” was added to Pink Floyd’s regular set-list. For tours in the 1970s based around The Dark Side of the Moon, Wish You Were Here, Animals and The Wall, the Farfisa was dropped (although it was brought back when Wright toured with David Gilmour on his On An Island tour), and an array of other instruments were added to the lineup, such as: Fender Rhodes, Wurlitzer and Hohner electric pianos, VCS 3, Minimoog, ARP String Ensemble and Prophet 5 synthesizers. From 1987 Wright favoured Kurzweil digital synthesizers for reproducing his analogue synthesizer sounds, even though he still used his favourite Hammond C-3 organ. The one that he used with Pink Floyd at Live 8 and with David Gilmour, however, was a “portablized” version (stripped of unnecessary weight and put into a more compact casing by Keyboard Products of Los Angeles, Ca.). Throughout his career, Wright was also a proficient multi-instrumentalist. He also played violin, cello, bass, guitar, saxophone, and drums, amongst others.