Roger Waters and David Gilmour are seen as the twin pillars of Pink Floyd. Despite warring over the decades, the duo cultivated a band that not only challenged rock music as we know it but architected a brand new scope of pop culture while doing so. Of course, none of that would have been possible without Syd Barrett, the man Gilmour was drafted in to replace after he succumbed to his mental health issues, the band’s founder and artistic director.
Equally, Nick Mason is often revered as one of the band’s notable propellants towards greatness. But, as is so often the way, the member whose creativity, arrangements and vision arguably pushed the group over the edge is most often forgotten — Richard Wright. A quiet man and a superb musician, Wright’s influence over the band was phenomenal.
If you had the idea that Pink Floyd was a rock band built on the foundations of deeply methodical musical notions and iron-clad foundations, then you’d be pretty on the money. While Roger Waters would become the band’s oratorical narrator and David Gilmour would be the textured painter of the group, adding flourishes where needed, keyboardist Rick Wright ensured that Pink Floyd had solid ground to build their atmospheres from.
“It is hard to overstate the importance of his musical voice in the Pink Floyd of the sixties and seventies,” Waters said of Wright in a statement following his sad death. “He was my musical partner and my friend,” Gilmour said at a similar time. “In the welter of arguments about who or what was Pink Floyd, Rick’s enormous input was frequently forgotten.”
Pink Floyd have often been labelled as a bit of a nerdy rock band—a group more focused on making their music diverse and dense rather than danceable. Perhaps adding weight to that notion is their conception. The band’s prog-rock style was founded on supreme musicianship and a determination to create and evolve; much of that intellectual drive came out of the creatively bursting Regent Street Polytechnic. It was there that drummer Mason, Waters and Wright all met and founded the band, which became Pink Floyd.
While the former rhythm section of the band may have already had their eyes trained towards the glory of rock and the infamy of changing its stance, Wright was still concerned with jazz. “When I was first in The Floyd, I wasn’t into pop music at all — I was listening to jazz, and when The Beatles released ‘Please, Please Me’, I didn’t like it at all. In fact, I thought it was utterly puerile. There wasn’t much around at the time that excited me,” he was noted as saying.
Still, perhaps persuaded by Waters and Mason, Wright began his time with the band as a straightforward singer-songwriter but soon moved on to a different role within the group—the composer. In this role, he became an integral member of the group, and, in turn, the band became integral to the public.
To be in a band alongside musicians like Barrett, Gilmour, Waters, and Mason means you’re likely to be overlooked or overshadowed quite a lot in your career. Since his death, however, musos have been pawing over Wright’s contribution to the seminal group, and his overarching influence cannot be underestimated. His vocals on ‘Time’ and ‘Remember a Day’ are impeccable, but it was the jazz inspiration and compositional composure that set him apart from the others.
Songs like ‘The Great Gig in the Sky’, ‘Summer ’68’ and ‘Echoes’ can ll be traced back to his genius vision for creating rock songs that were not only flecked with jazz but with every other musical genre too. Across the band’s myriad of albums, Wright’s influence can be heard on every record.
It was this exciting ability not only to see but enact a meandering pathway of musical discovery that made Wright so vital to Pink Floyd’s success. It was missing the moment he departed after The Wall and it arrived back as soon as he signed on to work with David Gilmour again.
Wright would sadly pass away in 2008 and all but confirm the demise of Pink Floyd in the process as one of the last remaining bridges of friendship between Waters and Gilmour. His presence within the band and in pop culture at large will never be forgotten.
In truth, though Pink Floyd would have likely succeeded with another keyboardist in their midst, there can be no doubt that the searing musical knowledge of Richard Wright helped them break out of the confines of rock and roll. It was Wright, not LSD, that opened Pink Floyd’s eyes to the undulating possibilities that were previously just beyond their reach. With Wright’s knowledge, vision and ability, he could break down those barriers and allow Pink Floyd to become the heroes they were destined to be.