Tell me about the remake of “My Love is Alive” with your son Dorian on The Light of A Million Suns–what inspired that?
I had always liked the song, and there was this producer that I knew …he had done more real pop, kind of hip-hop things, and he was crazy about the song and so he actually put a lot of the track together for me. I thought his take on it was really cool.
My son Dorian’s got a great voice, and I wanted to do something with him, so I decided to do a duet. I think it really turned out good. Eric Clapton did something like that with “Layla” when he did a remix. Sometimes songs are good but they just need a dusting off and they need a new kind of look. Sometimes it doesn’t happen, and people don’t like it, and other times, you know, it’s good. So I just took that chance.
What was the feel you were striving for? A Michael Jackson/Justin Timberlake/new jack swing kind of thing?
Yeah, yeah, exactly.
Tell me about your new record, Waiting to Catch The Light. How would you describe the sound and style of music?
That was actually done quite a while back–10 years ago or something. I had always wanted to make a kind of spacey, meditation-inducing kind of an album, and a lot of the New Age stuff I heard was, like, people that weren’t even musicians. They’d buy an instrument and they’d just hold the note down and, you know… And I thought, because my background was really in synthesizers — I was sponsored by Moog and was really the first artist to ever get involved with technically cutting a Mini Moog down and then wearing that thing around my neck when I was performing.
I worked quite closely with them and with another company called Oberheim. So I had this background, and I had all these synthesizers that these people had given to me, so I decided to do something like that, and make it very spacious. It’s almost like when you see Chinese art and they’ll say the space is just as important as what you put on the piece of paper; it’s not like filling everything up.
And music kind of is like that as well; sometimes, less is more. That was my impetus for really wanting to do that, so I just got all of my synthesizers together and one day I put a little thing in. I’d write a track all around this thing, this theme, and then another day I’d pull up another sound and say, “Oh, this reminds me of this,” and so I put the whole thing together, and I just sat on it, because I didn’t know what to do with it, and then I thought, you know, I have this record deal for my label on ADA, which is a Warner Music Group company.
I released my albums through that and I thought, I’m going to release this digitally, because it’s something that I’ll get out to everybody just instantly and I won’t have to worry about getting–I did have to do artwork, but it wasn’t as time-consuming as when you release physical product. So I did that, and the reaction so far has been really good. Now Amazon has a deal they do with CDs where you can–it’s called Disc on Demand where they print it up. Somebody calls up saying “I want to buy a CD,” they say “You got it in two weeks,” and they just print them up for you. It’s not like you have to order a thousand or ten thousand things, let them sit in a warehouse and worry being shipped or sold and all that, returned. So that’s the story, basically, behind it.
Do I hear vintage keyboards in that like old Rhodes and the ping-pong vibrato or is that all computer programmed stuff?
Yes, it was an old Rhodes; that’s exactly right.
What is the value to old vintage keyboards like Rhodes and Wurlitzers and B3 organs…you sort of grew up on them, but do they have relevance to rock keyboard players in this age of the Mac laptop?
Well, funnily enough, in the pop music world, yes, you’re right, people like to use the new flavor on the block, whatever the new quirky little synth is, but for rock groups, they love the old vintage B3s, Rhodes, Wurlitzers, all that stuff. There’s a huge resurgence of that kind of stuff–you know, analog tape machines. A friend of mine who’s a bass player in Stone Temple Pilots, he collects all that kind of stuff. They’re all into that, the new groups as well, they love that kind of stuff.
I think it’s because they go back to what music they grew up on — I mean, in the rock world, they’re going to play Led Zeppelin and the Who and those bands that used those kinds of instruments. It’s just kind of…they go, “Yeah, I want that old sound, that really old kind of sound; don’t give me that sampled stuff, I don’t want that.”
With the Web the way it is now, where music is ubiquitous, you can look up anything and it’s not like, “Sorry, that’s been deleted from the catalog; we don’t have it.” In most instances now, most of that stuff is available, and they can check all that stuff out. That’s why a lot of kids are getting re-introduced to the Beatles, you know, little kids. So it’s kind of a cool thing, because music was really good in the ’70s. I’m not saying that music is awful now, but a lot of it really isn’t great. I think a lot of kids, for that reason, are going back and turning themselves on and re-educating themselves to that old music and the sounds that came from that time.
What is The Light of A Million Suns? A promo EP to sort of raise the awareness of the other record, or how would you describe that?
I knew that the meditation album was definitely going to be a niche market, that not everybody was going to be into that. So I thought they really wouldn’t be competing with each other.
I thought I’d release them just before Christmas at the same time, just to keep fresh product out there on me, that people would know what I’m doing. Plus, I had just come back from doing Ringo’s tour, Ringo Starr and His All-Starr Band, last summer, and I performed “Love Is Alive” with that new arrangement. People really liked it a lot, so I thought it would be good timing to put it out just a couple of months after the tour was over.
My co-worker Jack Feerick asks: Do you listen to modern electronica, and if so, what do you think of it?
You know, some of that stuff I quite enjoy, and I actually had a huge success with it. I’ve been sampled a lot by a lot of artists over the years. The last thing, funnily enough, a DJ who’s very well-known on Fatboy Slim’s label [Skint] took one of my tracks from an album I did on Warner called The Right Place and the track was called “Coming Apart.”
He took the whole track, sped it up, put a dance loop underneath it, and that was the whole thing. You know, he was filtering the track, and it was fast, with a cool kind of dance beat, and it sold 10 million copies in Europe and all over the world. So I do like that; I mean, not all of it, but it’s kind of cool, some of that stuff. I think it’s kind of really trippy, and I do listen to it every now and then. I couldn’t tell you that I wake up at 7:30 in the morning and turn that on.
Do you feel any kinship with electronica?
Yeah, yeah, I would say so. For sure.
So what’s Gary Wright been up to the last few years? I know you’ve toured with Ringo Starr’s All-Starrs…what else have you been doing?
Since I got back from the Ringo tour in August, I’ve been really working on my new album–my next Gary Wright solo album of all new material. I’ve got about six tracks down now, and I’m really happy with it. It’s kind of funky, and it’s got really nice spacy kind of ballads. It really has a good feel, and I really like the writing.
It’s really more in the direction of the Dream Weaver album in so much as the simplicity of it and the funkiness of it. It’ll probably [be released in the] summer/fall kind of timeframe. I’m working on that. I’ve got a couple of concerts out here; I’ve got one this weekend in L.A. and then I’ve got one two weeks later in San Juan Capistrano.
Then my old band, Spooky Tooth, was invited to play at Island Records’ 50th anniversary in London at the end of May, so that’s going to be a big event. There’s going to be a whole bunch of bands that are on Island–including U2 and the Wailers–just a whole bunch of different artists, and we’ll be performing. And then we’ve got four concerts in Germany, and then I’m going away on a little holiday, and then coming back and working on my album, finishing it up. And I might actually go out on tour this summer; there’s a couple of projects brewing I’m just not sure which ones I’ll take.
Jon Cummings asks: What is a Ringo All Starrs tour like? Ten different planes, 10 different buses? All pile into one Volkswagen Beetle together?
It’s luxury, and it’s wonderful because Ringo is one of the most generous, most loving persons that I’ve met. He’s a dream to work with. He’s just great. Everybody’s taken care of totally. It’s all private jet and as comfortable as possibly you could have it.
We didn’t have to travel around hardly at all; we just had three locations that we fly in and out of every night: New York, Chicago, and L.A., and we did gigs all around those areas. It was great, and he’s just great. I’ve known Ringo for a long time because I met him when I played on George Harrison’s first solo album, All Things Must Pass, because Ringo played drums along with Jim Keltner and Jim Gordon. So we met, and then George produced his first singles, “It Don’t Come Easy” and “Back Off Boogaloo,” and I played piano on both those tracks. So we have a relationship that goes back quite a ways; we just had kind of lost touch for the last 10 years or so, and we just kind of rekindled that relationship. It was so great to be out with him; he’s a gem of a person.
Dw. Dunphy asks: What’s Ringo like? His lovable reputation took a few hits last year with music fans online when he posted a video on YouTube telling fans not to send him anything more to sign.
I can certainly sympathize; a lot of people are saying, “Well, you should do that; you’re in that business,” but it’s changed so much from the time 10, 15 years ago with signing things, because now with eBay — I remember a specific incident where we were in New York on our way to Radio City Music Hall and there were these guys chasing the band.
“Ringo, Ringo, sign this, sign this,” and this security guard says, “Can you name one of the tracks on that album?”
They went, “Uh, uh, uh — no.” It’s like 150 bucks an autograph to some other guy and then he turns around and sells it on eBay. so it’s a business, and Ringo says you know, I’m not to sign this just so you’ve got this business and you can sell it, so that’s where all that came from. It so happens that the day that was recorded, there was some extraneous noise in the background, and he was having to shout to be heard, and it made him look like he was angry, but he really wasn’t, I don’t think.
Tell me how you fell in with George Harrison and how that relationship grew over the years.
Well, I was living in London at the time, and I had just finished my first solo album, Extraction. One of the people that played on my album was Klaus Voormann, who had known the Beatles when he was living in Hamburg. He was actually, I think, living with George, and he’d known John Lennon; he was in the Plastic Ono Band. He called me when I was in the studio producing an artist and asked me if I would be into playing on a track on George’s album, and I said “Absolutely.”
So I went over to the studio and there was Phil Spector producing Eric Clapton, and Ringo, and Leon Russell and Billy Preston. I said, “Wow, this is, like, amazing!” And so I played on this song called “Isn’t It a Pity.”
George and I immediately hit it off and became really good friends and he asked me to come back and play on the rest of the album which I did and we started hanging out together we shared a mutual interest in Eastern philosophy, and our relationship really blossomed into something really special. A unique relationship like I’ve had with no other person. We went to India together, and did a lot of traveling together, and wrote songs together, and he produced some tracks on my album. I consider him as one of the most important people in my life.
Did you interact with him much in his later years?
Yeah, I always saw him on and off. When I moved to L.A. in the mid-’70s I saw him a little less, but I’d go over to England and see him, or he’d come here and we’d see one another.
Our resident David Foster junkie, Terje Fjelde, feels your synth bass lines are quite wonderful and very much at the heart of your music. His question is, how does a keyboard player becomes such a great bass player–do you have a special love for the bass?
I do, I absolutely do, and I must have been a bass player in my last life, or something. To me, the bass and the drums are the foundation of the track and when they’re right, then everything else kind of weaves around them. So the bass is extremely important. In all my songs that I write, I try to have the music kind of go over a bass line that will be the backbone of the track.
I never had a chance to do that before when I was playing with bass players; I had ideas, and they couldn’t execute them exactly the way I heard them in my head. So when I did “Dream Weaver” and I decided to use keyboard bass, I kind of went crazy and thought wow, this is fantastic, I get to play my own bass on this. and I’ve done it ever since then.
As a matter of fact, I did go out for a short period of time and use a regular bass player, and I decided to go back to synth bass because it didn’t sound the same, just different in tonality. Keyboard bass just sounds a lot different; it’s got a lot more low, low bottom end on it. They’re both just kind of instruments, and you can play licks on a keyboard bass that a bass player couldn’t really play and vice versa, but I think with my music I like keyboard bass the best.
Here’s one from Ed Murray: Your Spooky Tooth song “Better By You, Better Than Me” was covered by Judas Priest, whose version became the subject of a ‘subliminal message’ lawsuit (1990-ish)…What was your reaction to having your work caught up in that whole ugly situation?
I even went to a deposition on that thing. It was one of those nuisance lawsuits that the family of the kids who committed suicide were trying to blame Judas Priest and saying it was their fault, when the kids were screwed up, you know? How can you blame somebody that wrote a song that had nothing to do with suicide, on this?
It was so absolutely out there, you know? And I think it was just thrown out of court. There is a generation, when I do that [song], they say, “Why do you play a Judas Priest song?” They didn’t know that this was a Spooky Tooth song.
Was having “Dream Weaver” featured in the movie Wayne’s World a big career boost for you, or was it kind of embarrassing? The movie was pretty silly but it was very popular at the time!
It was a huge career boost, and I saw the movie before–I saw excerpts–and I thought those guys were really funny. Because they’d done it on Saturday Night Live and used my song.
I really liked them; I think they’re great. So I didn’t see it as selling out or a harmful thing for my career. I actually thought it was a good thing; it went to #1, it was a smash success, and it turned a whole new generation of people onto my song.
What’s it like having a website-building program (Macromedia DreamWeaver, now owned by Adobe Systems, Inc.) named after your biggest hit song? I hope they are paying you good money for that!
Here’s what happened. To answer your question, no, because the copyright laws and the patent laws are such that you can’t say, “OK, I wrote this song “Dream Weaver,” so nobody can ever use that name because I own it for everything.”
In the field of music, I would have a very strong case because that was my song. In the field of computers I would have had to take out the name and be actively involved in a business to prevent them from doing it. So they were totally legally able to use that name.
They did, however, do one little thing which they shouldn’t have done, and that was they used my song to to advertise their product without even asking me, so there was a small settlement. In answer to your question, unfortunately, so many people have used “dream weaver” over the years–dream weaver this, dream weaver that, dream weaver this–and there’s nothing I can do. It’s actually, in a way, good, because it’s good publicity.
This next question comes from Michael Fortes, who has read that you and the band were disappointed over the way the Spooky Tooth Ceremony album turned out, and that led to your leaving the band; does that about sum it up or is that a wrong perception kicking around out there in the interwebs?
No, that’s the truth. It wasn’t our album; it was Pierre Henry’s album; we were just asked to play on it like musicians, and we did, but it was never, ever discussed that this was going to be the next Spooky Tooth album.
Then all of a sudden the label said, “Oh, it sounds great, let’s put it out.” And we said, no, no, that’s not our record, because we had just done Spooky Two, which was a very successful album. And we were really upset with the label and the band split up.
Has that disappointment faded over time–do you like the record more with hindsight?
I’m not bitter at all about that; it was just a bad decision made by the label. I’m not bitter, but if people say, “Do you love that work?” I’ll say, “No,” because it really wasn’t our work. It was this French electronic music composer’s thing. And the way, technically, he did it was kind of really lame. He took our two-track mix and then he just dubbed all his sounds over it. It wasn’t even done on a multi-track machine, so it sounded like the mixes were all kind of crazy.
What the chances are of you working with Mike Harrison, Luke Grosvenor, and Mike Kellie again in another go-around with Spooky Tooth?
It’s going to be just two of the original members, the original singers, myself and Mike Harrison. We did a reunion concert back in 2004 from which a DVD and an album were released called Nomad Poets. That was recorded live in Germany, and that was with myself, Mike Harrison, and the drummer, Mike Kellie, and two other musicians. But then we toured last year in Germany with some really great players–Steve Farris, the guitarist from Mister Mister, and Shem Schroeck, who was with Kenny Loggins’ band, and Rod Stewart, a really, really good bass player and singer. We’re not going to use Mike Kellie–he’s got other commitments for this particular thing we’re doing in May. It sounds great–the band sounds really, really good.
It went down really well; we sold out all the shows we played last year, and I’m sure it will do well this year, too. I don’t know about the United States; Spooky Tooth were actually a bigger band in Europe than they were here, but who knows? That might change. As of now, we’ve had really good response in Germany, Austria, Holland, those countries, and now that we’re playing in the U.K., that should open that up too. We’ve had, really, a great response in Europe.
Looking back over your career, what accomplishment or gig or song are you most proud of?
I would have to say it was probably when “Dream Weaver” was top of the charts and I was playing with Peter Frampton and Yes and Fleetwood Mac in the summer of ’76 at these huge events like RFK Stadium for 125,000 people.
It was such an incredible feeling of power, but not used in a malicious way, but a good feeling of power, that knowing that you had written a song that had been so successful, that people really responded to. And that whole thing then just stayed around over the years, and I get these beautiful emails from fans who tell me that they went through really bad times in their life or sometimes even thought of committing suicide, and after hearing “Dream Weaver” that they changed, it really helped them heal.
That, to me, was the whole purpose of being an artist, more than the gold records or the platinum records or huge concerts. It was that I know that I touched somebody’s life in a positive way which made me really feel that I’d done something great. I don’t mean great for me and my ego, but something that helped others.