He was an institution and a far-reaching presence in Las Vegas music. He could grab any instrument—drums, guitar, keys—and play it flawlessly. He performed and recorded with the best bands in town, never allowing for a dull measure or moment. Plus, he was awesome.
How awesome? Let’s say that, if you’d just jettisoned your drummer, Gary Wright could pull your ass out of the fire by learning the drum parts to your band’s entire album in an hour, then jump in a van with you for a tour stretching to New York and back, eager to slug it out in obscure clubs across the country. That’s how awesome. Cancer-stricken, Wright passed away in his sleep at 42 Tuesday, leaving behind a sonic imprint in the lives of friends and bandmates.
Wright was born in Las Vegas to a family of working musicians. After doing time in the punk scene, he turned heads as the drummer for 12 Volt Sex, an alt-rock band that signed with RCA in the late ’90s only to be cut loose after an executive shuffle at the label. Wright went on to play for many homegrown groups—the Nines, the Fremonts, FFI, the Black Jetts, Black Camaro, Devilcar and more.
Seemingly ego-less, he was incapable of sour grapes. Moreover, he wasn’t above jamming with poets like local author Dayvid Figler.
“Gary was the sweetest guy ever,” says Figler. “He showed up with a good attitude and those fat, sexy beats. When I was invited to sit in with the Nines, it was so gracious for Gary and the others to allow a spoken-word musician onstage. When you went out to see a band with Gary in it, you knew the band would be excellent.”
Matt Gucu, Wright’s 12 Volt bandmate, feels the loss deeply. He and Wright endured the same music-industry scars, emerging with their love of music intact.
“Gary was one of those musicians who lived for the music—and really nothing else,” says Gucu. “He was such a humble person, didn’t gossip. He always brought things back to the music, back to sharing what was beautiful. Beyond [being a] musician, Gary was a teacher who showed me how to be cool. It wouldn’t matter if he made it into fame’s spotlight or not, because he’ll always be a legend in my heart.”
“Gary was the voice of reason,” said Wright’s ex-wife Brandy Provenzano, a talentscout and indie booking agent, who’d known him since the two were teens. “He put a smile on his face even when things were at their worst.”
Black Jetts singer Gabe Stiff recalls a moment during the band’s tour for 2004 album Right On Sound, for which Wright played drums, piano and organ.
“En route to Philly, [guitarist] Roy [Page] had brought a friend along named Ritchie, who was so out of it he opened the door while our car’s going 80 miles an hour down the highway. Gary was sitting next to the guy, grabbed his belt and yanked him back inside, saving his life.”
Never a dull a moment, indeed. Listening to all the songs Gary recorded over the years, the one I like best is the Jetts’ charging rave-up “Thrill City.” Or maybe it’s the crisp power-pop pummeling in 12 Volt Sex’s “Hook It Up.”
Or maybe I’ll just spend the next several days listening to Gary’s recorded output and try to reach consensus in my mind, something I suspect he’d appreciate.