Richard Wright, keyboard player and sometime vocalist and songwriter with Pink Floyd, died Sept. 14, 2008. He was 65.
A spokesman for the band, Doug Wright (no relation), said Wright passed away following a short struggle with cancer.
Wright’s family did not offer further details about his death.
The London-born son of a bio-chemist, Wright first joined forces with bassist Roger Waters and drummer Nick Mason in 1964 while studying at the Regent Street Polytechnic in London. Their first band together underwent several name changes, including Sigma 6 and the Architectural Ab-dabs (all three were studying architecture at the time), before the arrival of guitarist Syd Barrett the following year saw the quartet form Pink Floyd.
Over the next two years, Pink Floyd became the guiding light of the slowly expanding London psychedelic scene, specializing in lengthy instrumental freak-outs shot through with Barrett’s idiosyncratic lyricism; and, despite Wright’s insistence that “we were playing music which the record companies could not understand,” the group signed to EMI in late 1966 and soon was recording at Abbey Road at the same time as The Beatles cut Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.
Floyd’s first two singles, 1967’s “Arnold Layne” and “See Emily Play,” were U.K. hits, while their debut album, Piper At The Gates Of Dawn, remains one of the archetypal souvenirs of the Summer of Love.
Barrett departed, to be replaced by guitarist David Gilmour, during the sessions for Floyd’s second album, A Saucerful of Secrets, and many observers believed Wright was poised to take his place as the group’s principal songwriter. Sharing a similar sense of English whimsy to that which inspired Barrett, early classics “Paintbox,” “Remember A Day” and “See Saw” were all Wright compositions.
Roger Waters took the helm, but Wright’s contributions to the ongoing saga of Pink Floyd remain crucial.
His keyboard talents were instrumental in driving Floyd’s music toward the peaks it ultimately hit. Atmospheric, thoughtful and wholly unimpressed by the flash and pizzazz with which other period organists plied their trade, Wright was often regarded as the very quietest of an already all-but-silent group of musicians. But it was his musical abilities that brought reality to so many of Waters’ musical notions, and he who supplied the glue that held together the band’s first attempts at long-form compositions “Atom Heart Mother” and “Echoes.” When the four Floyd members chose to contribute one solo work apiece to the Ummagumma album, Wright’s “Sysyphus” was the only one that really bore repeated listening.
“Summer 68” from Atom Heart Mother remains another favorite Wright composition, although his best-known piece is surely “The Great Gig In The Sky,” that most evocative of instrumentals from The Dark Side of the Moon. He also cowrote (with Waters) that album’s “Us And Them,” although opportunities for further such collaborations sadly fell away as Waters strengthened his grip on the group’s creative output, a stranglehold that sparked tension with his bandmates. By the time of 1979’s landmark The Wall, Wright effectively had been forced out of the band he helped form, then rehired as a session musician. “There was this big personality clash between me and Roger, and at the end of the day I realized that I couldn’t work with this person anyway, so I left,” Wright recalled.
Despite launching a solo career in 1978 with the release of the oddly underrated Wet Dream album, Wright chose to form a new band, Zee, with ex-Fashion mainstay Dave Harri