May 24, 2024

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Interview with Rusty and Laurie Wright: The album unfolds with the songs almost following a story line: Video, new CD cover, Photos

Interview with Blues guitarists and vocalists Rusty and Laurie Wright. An interview by email in writing. 

JazzBluesNews.com: – First, let’s start out with where you grew up, and what got you interested in music. How exactly did your adventure take off? When did you realize that this was a passion you could make a living out of?

 When did you realize that this was a passion you could make a living out of? 

Rusty: – We both grew up in the suburbs surrounding Flint, Michigan. I began playing guitar in my mother’s touring Southern gospel band at age 13. I’d grown up on southern gospel and blues music, later moving on to rock and other forms of music as a studio musician. In high school, as I worked to become more proficient on my instrument I became a big fan of prog rock bands like Rush and other bands whose music tested and stretched my abilities as a guitarist. I suppose there is still a small kernel of that affinity that creeps into some of my arrangements. I love inserting what I call “left turns” into songs, whether it be a tempo or key change, a unique bridge section or a complete mood transition.

Laurie: – I can’t say I remember with any certainty when I decided I wanted to play music. I began learning to play guitar when I was 10 because I liked singing and wanted to be able to accompany myself. I always had a passion for music and for performing. In high school I was always the girl with the guitar, always singing. Eventually I moved to Northern Michigan but when the small town I lived in offered too few performance opportunities I booked a solo tour which turned into performing 6 nights a week at resort hotels for a number of years. Rusty and I performed in many of the same cities in the late 1980s but our paths didn’t cross until we both took breaks from living/performing on the road  and we both found our way back to the Flint area in the mid-90s. We both have made a living from music on and off since we were teenagers. We came together musically because of our shared love of blues music but when we first began playing music together in 1998 we played ‘money gigs’ for the first few years – gigs that paid well but felt like our souls were being sucked right out of us. In 2004, totally frustrated, we decided it was time to either devote ourselves to the music we both felt passionately about, or quit playing altogether. Quitting wasn’t an option so The Rusty Wright Band came into being. Rusty had been writing blues songs for a while by then. We put the band together and our second show was opening for Lynyrd Skynyrd and our reputation just kept growing from there. We were still working day jobs so we stayed a regional act until the economic downturn of 2008-2009. We both left our day jobs in 2009 and have made our living entirely from our musical endeavors ever since.

JBN: – How has your sound evolved over time? What have you been doing to find and develop your own sound?

Rusty: – I listen to a wide variety of music genres so the inspiration for songs comes from a variety of places. On this latest record I was inspired by some early Django Rhinehart and we had a lot of fun incorporating a little gypsy jazz into a swing rock type song while staying within a bluesy framework.

JBN: – What routine practices or exercises have you developed to maintain and improve your current musical proficiency, in terms of both rhythm and harmony? 

Rusty: – I  just play every day. In the morning my routine is to make coffee, then play guitar. Sometimes it’s just a warm up and sometimes it turns into a marathon recording session. I do a wide variety of session work on the side for recording artists all over the world – sometimes complete arrangements, sometimes just guitar or vocal tracks, or mixing and mastering. It’s always a different routine every day with no set formula and I enjoy that. One thing we both do that I think is beneficial is we often play or practice to preset percussion rhythms which really makes a musician’s timing and sense of meter much stronger.

JBN: – Have you changed through the years? Any charges or overall evolution? And if so why?

Rusty: – We started as a guitar-centric band and later incorporated keyboards and Hammond B3 into the act. We had horns for a while also and although we enjoyed the added tonal colors  those instruments added, touring with a bigger group was a challenge. We just kept coming back to a more streamlined four-piece act which I feel most comfortable with. I think our biggest change is a stronger focus on featuring three-part vocal harmonies in more of the songs.

JBN: – How do you prepare for your recordings and performances to help you maintain both spiritual and musical stamina?

Laurie: – We rehearse quite heavily before starting any new project. When it comes to the band, Rusty has never been one to “wing it” with arrangements, recording sessions or important concerts. He can improv with the best of them but he wants his backing band to pay attention and be tight, to lay down a strong musical foundation so he can build the rest of the house. There are often sections of a song where he improvises extensively but he uses signature guitar licks that signal that he’s ready to transition into the next section of the song. He also knows and can play all of our parts and he hears every mistake we make. On rare occasions you’ll see him flash a quick five-finger signal at whichever of us has hit a clunker note – something band leaders of the past would do, docking five bucks (or more) from a musician’s pay for each mistake. Rusty never docks anyone’s pay and we kind of joke around about it but it’s surprisingly effective in helping us remember to play it correctly next time. We all understand that we’ll enjoy our performances more and will be better equipped to deal with any technical issues or distractions that might arise during a show if we have a deep understanding of the arrangements. We’re in a really good place right now as drummer Vail Hayes has been with the band for more than two years and bassist Billy Agner has been in the band for a year. We’ve developed a chemistry, both onstage and off.

JBN: – What do you love most about your new album 2022: The Rusty Wright Band – Hangin’ at the DeVille Lounge, how it was formed and what you are working on today.

Rusty: – We love the way the album unfolds with the songs almost following a story line. I think we could do a theatrical blues music revue with the songs and the way they develop across the album. It starts out soft and eerie and works its way through multiple styles of blues until it reaches a crescendo at the end with a subtle moral of the story as it fades out to the end.

Laurie: – Hangin’ at the DeVille Lounge, the title for the album, was inspired by a dive bar in our hometown. The DeVille Lounge and the church up the road used their lighted marquee signs to engage in a bit of a battle of words. When the church sign boasted “Sinners Welcome!” the bar changed their sign to read “Sinners Welcome… and we have beer!” It made us laugh when we saw it driving home from a gig late one night and it inspired Rusty to begin writing (mostly) tongue-in-cheek songs that fit within that age-old sinners and saints framework.

New CD – 2022 – Buy from here

The Rusty Wright Band – Hangin' at the DeVille Lounge | Album Review – Blues Blast Magazine

JBN: – How did you select the musicians who play on the album?

Rusty: – I determine who will play in the band or studio through a three-song audition process. I can play all of the instruments and since I wrote them, I know every facet of the songs so it’s easy for me to instantly assess a musician’s competence and whether they put sweat equity into rehearsing. I decide who I will use from that alone.

JBN: – In your opinion, what’s the balance in music between intellect and soul?

Rusty: – For me, I’d say it’s an equal balance, 50/50. Knowledge of your instrument, musical knowledge and an understanding of different playing techniques are crucial. Musical knowledge allows you to communicate effectively with other musicians. Knowing your instrument and understanding different playing techniques allows you to express your soulful side to maximum effect. It’s much easier to float when you have confidence in your abilities.

JBN: – There’s a two-way relationship between audience and artist; are you okay with delivering people the emotion they long for?

Rusty: – Of course. Music IS emotion expressed with sound. It reaches inside and if done well, it causes an emotional reaction.

Laurie: – When done right, there is an exchange of energy and emotion between a performer and their audience that is more seductive than just about anything. You could be playing for ten people or ten thousand. It doesn’t matter. Tapping into that bubble of shared energy is as close to a spiritual experience as I’ve ever had.

JBN: – Can you share any memories from gigs, jams, open acts and studio sessions over the years?

Rusty: – After years of being a side man in other acts Laurie and I finally put together the Rusty Wright Band. Out of the blue I got a call from an agent friend who asked us to open the show for Lynyrd Skynyrd at an outdoor amphitheater. We had just played our first gig with the new band the night before so this was a huge opportunity for us. I knew I had to step up my guitar work for this show because the guitar players in Skynyrd are excellent musicians. We had less than a week to prepare. I threw down with everything I had and as I’m played in front of that sold out crowd I looked over and saw all three guitar players from Lynyrd Skynyrd standing side stage, arms folded, watching. It was a bit unnerving but we focused instead on the crowd and we finished our set to a standing ovation. We came off on the far side of the stage and the three guitarists went to the trouble of tracking us down backstage. Rickey Medlocke stepped up and shook my hand, saying “DUDE, where the hell did you come from?” We tried to go out front to watch their set but got mobbed by the crowd so security yanked us back behind the fence and we watched from the side of the stage and hung out for a bit afterward.

Laurie: – Over the course of 18 years there are a lot of stand out moments. Great moments, horrid experiences, sweet moments, bad monitor mixes, stalkers, stolen equipment, close calls while driving – you name it, we’ve been through it. Standing on the stage of a beautiful 2000 seat theater hearing our hometown crowd cheer for us was magical. Being 700 miles from home and having a festival promoter threaten to withhold our pay unless we got on her rickety stage and performed despite the severe lightning storm that raged all around us (Yes, I’m looking at you, Kentucky). That was a really bad day in show biz. During a performance at a performing arts center in Florida I joked with the audience that our faces were better suited for radio than TV. Everyone chuckled but after a moment a gentle voice floated up to us out of the dark “But we find you beautiful.” The simple kindness of it just touched me deeply. We were almost electrocuted on stage in South Korea during an Armed Forces Entertainment concert when a member of the event staff flipped the wrong switch on the power distro sending 220 volts up the 110 leg our keyboard and our amps were plugged into. Fortunately we had just stepped away from our instruments so none of us got shocked but the keyboard and amps smoked and then burst into flames. In 2014 our instruments were stolen from the cargo trailer in our driveway as we slept less than 20 feet away. In response, a fan of the band very generously tried to give Rusty his guitar. Rusty ended up borrowing the instrument for our next tour run until he had time to find a replacement. Good, bad, funny, sad and sweet. We’ve experienced it all.

One of the most perfect evenings of music that Rusty and I experienced happened in Italy, playing the Liri Blues Festival with the great Michael Burks a year before he passed. It was an outdoor event on a huge stage set up in the town square between two colorful apartment buildings. At least 10,000 people crowded into the square for the music and Italian grandmothers watched from their apartment windows where they had front row seats. Everything about that night was perfect and after the concert was done both bands hung out, sitting on the edge of the stage talking until 4 am.

The recording session for our first record ‘Ain’t No Good Life’ definitely stood out for me. Former Godsmack drummer Tommy Stewart, a longtime friend of Rusty’s, had flown in to lay down the drum tracks for us. Rusty was going to record the bass tracks at the same time. We were recording in the White Room, a well known studio in downtown Detroit. Tommy and Rusty ran through the songs one time before the session and then proceeded to cut 15 songs in one take – two takes at most. They’d played music together for years as kids. You could just feel there was some serious mojo going on in that studio that day and the hair on my arms still stands up when I think of it. Cutting two tracks simultaneously and getting it right in one take (after just one rehearsal) is unheard of.

JBN: – How can we get young people interested in blues when most of the standard tunes are half a century old?

Rusty: – Don’t lock it in a glass case and treat it like a museum piece. Mold the music into something new and take it farther down the road. I feel you can still honor the blues tradition while giving it a contemporary feel. There’s room for different forms of expression. Listener’s ears are now accustomed to a much more sophisticated sound than in the past. To capture young ears we have to create music those ears are willing to hear. A lot of artists are now applying modern modes to standard blues music. I’m experimenting with a seven-string guitar and incorporating blues chordal progressions with a deeper tone. We’ve got to experiment and stir the pot in new ways or else the music will stagnate and be forgotten.

Laurie: – I’ve always said we’re kind of a gateway to the blues. A lot of our songs fall solidly into the blues category but we’re enough of a hybrid that we appeal to people who think they don’t like blues music. If we’re being truthful, most of us blues fans who are within the average age demographic for the genre came to discover and love the blues by listening to other styles of music that incorporated blues scales and the raw spirit and passion of blues. That’s not going to change anytime soon. We simply have to continue creating music that makes younger generations want to explore a wider spectrum of blues. If we do our job right they’ll eventually find their way to those earlier musical influences and will appreciate them.

JBN: – John Coltrane once said that music was his spirit. How do you perceive the spirit and the meaning of life?

Rusty: – I’m no philosopher but as for a meaning in life, I believe music is the only real magic left in the world and what better way to spend your life than being the best magician/musician you can possibly be?

Laurie: – I haven’t a clue about the meaning of life. I just try my best to not suck as a human being. I’m a work in progress and always will be.

JBN: – If you could change one single thing in the musical world and that would become reality, what would that be?

Rusty: – GO BACK TO ANALOG recording and listening. Digital signal algorithms are bad. Period.

Laurie: – I would wipe out music streaming services that take unfair advantage of recording artists and go back to regular music sales. It has become almost impossible for emerging acts or indie acts to even recoup the cost of recording and marketing a record, let alone make a profit that will allow them to continue creating music. Something’s got to give, eventually.

JBN: – Whom do you find yourself listening to these days?

Rusty: – I keep track of what my friends and fellow musicians are doing but I like inventive music with lots of drama. I like listening to the film scores behind movies and television. They’re often very dramatic and interesting.

Laurie: – It’s kind of embarrassing to admit this but for the past few years I’ve listened to very little recorded music. I developed tinnitus and long covid when I got sick at the beginning of the pandemic. I still have tinnitus but I’m finally beginning to enjoy listening to music again. When I do, my tastes tend to lean toward female artists. Bonnie Raitt was a huge influence and I continue to listen to everything she records. I recently pulled Pat Benetar’s 1991 blues album True Love out of my archive and started listening to it again. Great record. Larkin Poe, Joanna Connor, Janiva Magness all have excellent records that I enjoy. Jennifer Marriott in Oklahoma is an underrated singer songwriter I’ve enjoyed for years. I have a lot of catching up to do!

JBN: – What is the message you choose to bring through your music?

Rusty: – The message changes from song to song. I never sit down and pick a subject and try to write about it. The music comes to me and I try to stay out of its way while it shows me what it wants to be.

JBN: – Let’s take a trip with a time machine: where and why would you really want to go?

Rusty: – 1966 because the music was in a state of flux from the pop melodies of the past to a time of mad expression and exploration. Musicians were taking new technology and new ideas and pushing the boundaries in a way never heard before and the best part of it all was that the public actually cared to listen. Music was at the height of its magical power unlike today, where it’s being marginalized and ignored by many.

JBN: – Do You like our questions? So far, it’s been me asking you questions, now may I have a question from yourself…

Rusty: – What makes you want to write about music?

JBN: – Jazz and Blues musics are my life!!!

JBN: – Have you ever given a free concert during your entire concert career? At the bottom line, what are your expectations from our interview?

Rusty: – Yes, we’ve done plenty of free concerts – only rarely for charitable organizations but for we’ve participated in many grassroots fundraisers for people in need. We try to balance how many we do as there are still expenses involved. Too many and it starts to hurt financially.

I always say I’d be glad to play for free and give all my music away as soon as the banker man gives me my house, the grocery man gives me my food, and the gas man gives me my gas for free, As soon as that happens I will gladly give all my talent away for free too!

Rusty: – I hope the interview helps raise awareness of our music with people who read your publication.

Laurie: – I hope people will be intrigued enough to listen to our new album with an open heart. Ordering a CD, vinyl album or an album download would be a super bonus!

Interview by Simon Sargsyan

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