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Rick Wright

Rick Wright, keyboard player, composer and founder member of rock band Pink Floyd, died on 15 September 2008. He was 65.

He was a modest, private man, as The Independent notes:

Although Rick Wright played keyboards for Pink Floyd, he never played the star. With his melancholy looks and gaunt features, Wright would be lost in a crowd, and he was happy that way. Making music as creatively as possible was what mattered to him and there are few moments more sublime than his measured playing on “Us And Them”, his composition on The Dark Side Of The Moon (1973).

The Times, The Independent and the Daily Telegraph all mention his early love for music, The Independent stating that

he studied music determinedly, playing piano, trumpet and trombone as well as the guitar at home. He developed an interest in jazz and as soon as he was old enough, he frequented London clubs.

The Times notes that early attempts to achieve musical success with Syd Barrett, Nick Mason and Roger Waters only really got off the ground when the quartet found a “proto-psychedelic sound” in late 1965:

The band’s timing was perfect. The London “underground” scene was just emerging and Pink Floyd became its house band. With Barrett starting to write his own songs, Pink Floyd became a fixture at such counterculture venues as the UFO club and at benefits for such radical causes as the London Free School.

After early success with their debut album, Piper At The Gates Of Dawn, Pink Floyd’s line-up changed with the descent of leading songwriter Syd Barrett into mental illness and his replacement by Dave Gilmour. Wright’s composing abilities started to come to the fore, according to The Guardian:

The Floyd’s music began to move away from conventional pop-song structure towards extended instrumental pieces, with Wright co-composing the 12-minute title track of their second album, A Saucerful of Secrets (1968), as well as chipping in a couple of other songs. “Everyone assumed we were doing drugs, but that wasn’t the case,” Wright observed. “It’s a mistake thinking that drugs supplied Pink Floyd with the inspiration. The ones who took drugs were the ones who came to see the shows.”

Wright had a major part to play in the composing and performing of both The Dark Side Of The Moon (the Telegraph quotes the statistic that one in four British households is said to own a copy) and Wish You Were Here. But increasingly acrimonious disputes with bassist Roger Waters – who had come to dominate the band after Barrett’s departure – led to him being unceremoniously dumped as a full band member in 1979 while work on The Wall was progressing. Here’s what The Times has to say:

By then Wright had a heavy cocaine addiction and when he refused to return early from his summer holiday to finish the album, it was the final straw. Waters claimed there was no alternative but to dismiss him from the group, although Gilmour and Mason later claimed they had opposed his sacking. Wright finished the album and continued to perform live with the band [for the The Wall tour] as a hired hand on a fixed wage.

The Guardian, The Independent and the Daily Telegraph all point out a delicious irony in this: here’s the Telegraph version:

Ironically, Wright became the only member of Pink Floyd to profit from these hugely spectacular but ruinously expensive gigs, since they resulted in a net financial loss that had to be borne by the three remaining members of the band.

He left altogether in 1981, rejoining only in 1987 after Waters’s departure.

Wright also embarked on a couple of solo projects, the 1978 album Wet Dream and the 1996 Broken China on the theme of clinical depression. Neither sold particularly well, although Broken China received a good reception from the critics. The Telegraph carries the following wry quotation from Wright himself:

“There are a few million people out there who’ll go out and buy the next Pink Floyd record without hearing a note,” Wright observed. “There may be a few diehards who’ll buy my solo records, but not many.”

The last word comes courtesy of the Daily Telegraph‘s website, which reports the tribute paid to Wright from Pink Floyd guitarist Dave Gilmour. Wright had been touring with Gilmour on the latter’s On An Island (2006) and on the promotional tour:

Speaking shortly after his death was announced, Pink Floyd guitarist Dave Gilmour said his musical partner and friend was “gentle, unassuming and private”.

He added: “His soulful voice and playing were vital, magical components of our most recognised Pink Floyd sound.

“Like Rick, I don’t find it easy to express my feelings in words, but I loved him and will miss him enormously.

“I have never played with anyone quite like him.”

(Richard William Wright, born 28 July 1943 in Pinner, Middlesex, died 15 September 2008)