Gary Wright, Spooky Tooth Leader and ‘Dream Weaver’ Hitmaker, Dead at 80

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Singer-songwriter and keyboardist Gary Wright, best known as leader of the U.K.-based band Spooky Tooth and the back-to-back 1976 solo hits “Dream Weaver” and “Love is Alive,” died today (Sept. 4, 2023). Wright died at his home in Palos Verdes Estates, Calif., following a long battle with Parkinson’s and dementia. He was 80.

Wright’s death was conformed by his son Justin Wright for TMZ.

Wright, who helped to popularize the synthesizer in the mid-1970s, was born in the New York City suburb of Cresskill, N.J., on April 26, 1943. He worked as a child actor on Broadway and attended several U.S. universities when he decided to try his luck with rock in London. He joined an existing band that changed its name to Spooky Tooth and signed with Island Records, which released the band’s debut album, It’s All About, in 1968.

Spooky Two followed in 1969 (released on A&M in the United States), which marked the end of the original lineup. Wright’s last LP with the band was Ceremony, a 1969 collaboration with electronic composer Pierre Henry, and their billing subsequently changed to Spooky Tooth featuring Mike Harrison.

Related: Spooky Tooth singer Mike Harrison died in 2018

Wright had already established a solo career concurrent with his involvement with Spooky Tooth, and released solo albums for A&M Records including 1970’s Extraction, with musicians that included bassist Klaus Voormann and drummer Alan White (later of Yes).

Voormann introduced Wright to George Harrison, who was about to record his debut solo album, All Things Must Pass. The two 27-year-olds hit it off and Wright subsequently played piano on much of the triple-LP opus, alongside the members of Derek and the Dominos (Eric Clapton, Carl Radle, Jim Gordon and fellow keyboardist Bobby Whitlock), and dozens of other top-notch musicians.

Listen to the jam session, “Out of the Blue,” from All Things Must Pass

The relationship with Harrison blossomed and Wright continued to perform on the former Beatle’s solo albums. Wright also played piano on many other classic rock hits, including Harry Nilsson’s #1 single, “Without You,” and Ringo Starr’s “It Don’t Come Easy” and “Back Off Boogaloo.” (Years later, he became a member of Ringo’s All-Starr Band.)

Wright’s own planned follow-up solo album, Ring of Changes, was cut with his band Wonderwheel, which also featured future Foreigner guitarist Mick Jones. Harrison makes a guest appearance on slide guitar. The album was produced by Wright and was one of the first albums to be recorded at the newly opened Apple Studios on Savile Row. But it went unreleased.

Related: Which other music notables have passed away in 2023?

“I hadn’t listened to it in 40 years, but when I put it on, I thought to myself, ‘I can’t believe this was never released,'” said Wright in 2016, when Ring of Changes was finally issued. “It was more of a rock album than what I had done, but I think it stands up alongside anything that you might hear being played on classic rock radio around the world. I hope that people will be surprised by the material. I’m proud of it and I’m glad it’s finally coming out so everyone can hear what we did all those years ago.”

Listen to the title track, “Ring of Changes”

Watch this clip of Gary Wright and his band Wonderwheel with special guest George Harrison on The Dick Cavett Show

Following a brief Spooky Tooth reunion from 1972-74 with Mike Harrison, Wright signed a solo deal with Warner Bros. and returned to the U.S. The result was 1975’s The Dream Weaver, featuring what Wright describes as “the first-ever all keyboard/synthesizer band.” (The only guitar on the album is by Ronnie Montrose, on one song.)

The album was issued on June 15, 1975, and its first single, “Love is Alive,” flopped initially. The spiritual follow-up, “Dream Weaver,” became an enormous hit, reaching #2 on the Hot 100 in 1976.

“Love is Alive” was reissued and also reached #2, paving the way for The Dream Weaver to reach #7 on the sales chart, and helping to lead the way to popularize the synthesizer.

Watch Wright perform “Love is Alive” on The Midnight Special in 1976

Among those paying tribute to Wright was singer Stephen Bishop.

One day later, Wright was mourned by Peter Frampton. “Unfortunately, we have all lost a dear friend, great performer, musician, singer and songwriter, the wonderfully talented Gary Wright,” he wrote. “I have known Gary since Spooky Tooth and we toured incessantly together in 1976/77 on my original Comes Alive Tour. We became one big touring family and so many good times were had together. A kind and gentle man I already miss. My thoughts are with his family right now. Love you Gary. RIP.”

Dave Mason also posted a tribute. “Gary Wright and I go way back. He was in Spooky Tooth, I was in Traffic,” he wrote. “There’s a certain (and sure) brotherhood from those days…during that incredible era of Rock and Roll. Gary was always ready with a good joke and was so easy to be friends with. We talked about forming a band in the 80’s with Leon Russell but nothing came about and we all kept doing our solo work. We ran into each other on the tour circuit, always stayed friendly, and I always respected him and his music. He leaves us all with great songs and was one of the good guys in this business. I’ll miss this lifetime friend. Blessings, Dream Weaver.”

Related: Listings for 100s of classic rock tours

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  1. muddywatersmann
    #1 muddywatersmann 5 September, 2023, 00:34

    Sad News! Loved GARY, SPOOKY TOOTH, esp SPOOKY TWO, whole album, my 1st intro to band, purchased due to look of band/name, album cover, costing me all of $2.69..1st track & whole album blew me away!!! Still listen to it and LAST PUFF and THE MIRROR, and his solo albums Extraction and DREAM WEAVER! My condolences to his family, fans and friends!

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  2. Shifty
    #2 Shifty 5 September, 2023, 07:35

    Your article fails to mention that after releasing the 2 solo albums on A&M, Wright rejoined Spooky Tooth, bringing guitarist Mick Jones along with him. “You Broke My Heart, So I Busted Your Jaw” and “Witness” continued to feature vocalist Mike Harrison. Spooky Tooth’s final album “The Mirror” featured vocalist Mike Patto.

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