Remembering Richard Wright Of Pink Floyd
It is with deep sadness that I write about the death of one of my favorite musicians. I was totally shocked to hear the unexpected news of his passing. Richard Wright, keyboardist, vocalist, composer and founding member of Pink Floyd, died yesterday, Monday September 15, 2008. Rick was 65 years old. He died from cancer. His family did not reveal the type of cancer and wished to mourn in private. This news was a complete shock as no one was aware that Richard was sick.
Richard was my favorite member of Pink Floyd. To me, he was the underdog of the band. He was the unassuming, quiet member of Pink Floyd. Despite this, his playing was an absolutely critical piece of Pink Floyd’s sound. I would go as far to say his sound was possibly the most important aspect of what Pink Floyd was musically all about. The atmospheric qualities, the sonics, of Pink Floyd were equal parts Richard Wright’s keyboards and David Gilmour’s guitar. Add to that the words and vision of Roger Waters and the one-of-a-kind percussion of Nick Mason. Then there’s the smooth as silk vocals of David Gilmour that occasionally blended beautifully with Rick’s accompaniment. Let’s not forget Roger Waters’ manic singing and screaching and, of course, you can’t overlook the live shows and the visuals.
Rick’s technique relied more on textures, moods and harmonics rather than solos. He was more interested in complementing each piece of music with his trademark organ and other synthesizers and pianos. He was a fan of jazz and classical first and he brought that sort of approach to Pink Floyd. That gave Pink Floyd a dynamic other bands didn’t have.
Richard William Wright was born on July 28, 1943 in Hatch End, London. At Regent Street Polytechnic College of Architecture, Rick met Roger Waters and Nick Mason and they were playing together in a band as early 1963. This band would be identified by numerous names - Sigma 6, the Abdabs, the Screaming Abdabs, the Architectural Abdabs and, by 1965, the Pink Floyd Sound. With Syd Barrett on board, Pink Floyd began developing a following in London, which led to a recording contact in 1967. The band debuted with the single “Arnold Layne”, composed by Syd Barrett, who, as the lead singer, guitarist and primary songwriter, was recognized as the face of the Pink Floyd. At this early stage, Richard Wright was the second vocalist, behind Barrett. A second single, “See Emily Play” followed and then the ground breaking debut album, The Piper At The Gates Of Dawn in August 1967 (an altered version of the album, known simply as Pink Floyd, was how it was released here in the U.S.). Richard’s first solo songwriting credit came in late 1967 with the song “Paint Box”, which graced the b-side of Pink Floyd’s third stand alone single, “Apples And Oranges”. By early 1968, Syd Barrett’s well documented mental breakdown led to his departure and the addition of new lead vocalist and guitarist, David Gilmour. As the 1960s ended and the ‘70s arrived, Pink Floyd was at the forefront of the progressive rock movement, creating challenging, innovative music all while searching for a direction that the band felt was where they wanted to be. During this time, the band member’s roles saw David Gilmour as the primary vocalist with Richard Wright and Roger Waters taking the occasional lead. It was usually Rick who sang the harmonies with Dave. Also during this time, Roger was slowly emerging as the primary songwriter, but all of the members were still making important contributions. In 1973, Pink Floyd released their eighth album - the album that would become their defining work, The Dark Side Of The Moon. Rick’s contribution’s were significant. His song “The Great Gig In The Sky”, which featured the wordless vocals of Clare Torry, along with “Us And Them”, are considered Rick’s crowning achievements. Several years later, Pink Floyd virtually duplicated their accomplishments with another landmark album, Wish You Were Here. The centerpiece of Wish You Were Here was “Shine On You Crazy Diamond”, a nine part ode to their lost friend, Syd Barrett. Again, Rick Wright had a hand at composing the piece and played a major role in it’s execution. Unfortunatley, “Shine On You Crazy Diamond” would be Richard’s last significant contribution to Pink Floyd. By the 1979 sessions for The Wall, Rick was no longer contributing anything to the band. This was due to a variety of personal and professional issues. The relationship between Rick and Roger Waters, who, by this time, had taken over artistic control of the band, had deteriorated to the point where Roger dismissed Rick from Pink Floyd. The circumstances of Rick’s firing suggested that he remain an “official” member of the band in the eyes of the public, but he would only be paid as a sideman during the live perfomances of The Wall, Pink Floyd’s other high watermark. Upon the completion of these live shows, Rick Wright would be dismissed. Rick’s departure would ultimately come in 1981, after Pink Floyd’s live perfomances of The Wall in 1980 and ‘81. But this would not be the last we’d hear from Rick regarding Pink Floyd.
In 1985, Roger Waters left Pink Floyd, feeling that the band achieved all it could achieve and was finished. He assumed that with his departure, Pink Floyd was no more. Much to his dismay and disbelief, David Gilmour and Nick Mason decided to continue as Pink Floyd. During the final stages of the recording of the band’s first album without Roger Waters, Rick Wright returned to the band, albeit in a part time role. He contributed a couple of very minor overdubs to the 1987 album A Momentary Lapse Of Reason. He went out on the road with the band on a trial basis, as Pink Floyd embarked on their first full blown tour in ten years. During this tour, which lasted well into 1988, Richard Wright was reinstated as a full time member of Pink Floyd! Their 1998 live album Delicate Sound Of Thunder proudly declared that Pink Floyd was now David Gilmour, Nick Mason and Richard Wright.
Rick was back to playing a major role in the band for their second Roger-less album, The Division Bell, released in 1994. The album featured the first significant contributions from Rick since Wish You Were Here nineteen years earlier. Rick co-wrote about half of the songs on the album, including his “baby” - “Wearing The Inside Out” - which he sang lead vocal, his first lead since The Dark Side Of The Moon in 1973. Richard Wright was back to playing a major role again in Pink Floyd. After Pink Floyd completed their 1994 tour, which was documented by the 1995 live album Pulse, the band went into a period of inactivity. As time passed, it started to become apparent that the end for Pink Floyd may very well have come.
Bob Geldof’s second massive benefit concert, Live 8, ended up accomplishing something that no one thought was possible. Somehow, Bob, who played Pink, the main character in the 1982 movie “Pink Floyd The Wall”, managed to get David Gilmour and Roger Waters to agree to put all their differences aside and participate in Live 8. All parties agreed to bury the hatchet and put years of bad blood behind them. The cause was of the utmost importance and would serve as a great way to make peace. Hell, if Roger Waters and Pink Floyd could make nice, then anything was possible. On July 2, 2005, Pink Floyd - David Gilmour, Nick Mason and Richard Wright - took to the stage for the first time in eleven years, and joining them would be Roger Waters, twenty years after he declared Pink Floyd a spent creative force and left the band. They performed “Speak To Me”, “Breathe”, “Money”, “Wish You Were Here” and “Comfortably Numb”. Now, with Richard’s passing, that performance has become the final one for Pink Floyd.
Pink Floyd, early 1968. Top, from the left: Nick Mason, Syd Barrett (just before his departure), Roger Waters, Richard Wright. Bottom: newcomer David Gilmour.
The last time for the four man Pink Floyd...at Live 8, July 2, 2005. Roger Waters returns after leaving the band twenty years earlier. From the left: David Gilmour, Roger Waters, Nick Mason, Richard Wright.
In addition to his work with Pink Floyd, Richard recorded two solo albums. In 1978, in between the Pink Floyd albums Animals and The Wall, Richard released Wet Dream. The album was a gentle, laid back, collection of songs, both vocal and instrumental. Light, breezy, jazzy progressive rock songs that mirrored the unassuming personality of it’s creator. Then in 1996, Rick released his second solo effort, Broken China. Broken China was a much more intense listen than the laid back Wet Dream. Rick was clearly inspired by being a full time member of Pink Floyd again and making significant contributions to their music (see The Division Bell). His renewed confidence and inspiration drove him to produce an album as complex as a typical Pink Floyd album. Broken China dealt with one of Roger Waters’ favorite subjects - mental illness. Inspired by his wife’s bout with depression, Broken China is a dense, challenging work that proved Rick Wright was capable of standing on his own.
Following his dismissal from Pink Floyd in 1981, Richard teamed up with Dave Harris, formerly of the British new wave band Fashion, to form the electronic duo Zee. The lone album by Zee was called Identity and was released in 1984. (To my knowledge, Identity has never been officially released in the U.S.)
Rick’s final performances:
Pink Floyd guitarist David Gilmour asked Richard to play keyboards on a new solo album he was planning to record. The resulting album was On An Island, David’s third solo album, released on his 60th birthday in early 2006. Richard played on several songs on the album. When it came time to support On An Island with a tour, David recruited Rick to play keyboards. Rick played a very prominant role in the band and on the tour. He had the spotlight to himself as lead vocalist on several Pink Floyd songs - “Arnold Layne”, “Wearing The Inside Out” and parts of “Comfortably Numb” as well as backing vocals and harmonies on other songs. That tour has since been been documented twice - on the DVD “Remember That Night Live At The Royal Albert Hall” and David Gilmour’s brand new live album Live In Gdansk (to be released next week on September 23). Rick reportedly was working on a new solo project, potentially an instrumental album, at the time of his death. He declined an invitation to play in Roger Waters’ live band (alongside Nick Mason) during Roger’s recent tour featuring The Dark Side Of The Moon performed live in it’s entirety. Rick’s last live performance was with the Roger Waters-less Pink Floyd lineup (with Gilmour and Mason) on May 10, 2007 at a Syd Barrett tribute concert. Roger Waters also performed at the concert, but he performed solo.