Here are a few things I didn’t know about longtime local musician Gary Wright: the extent to which his family played music (all five siblings and his father, Dick Wright, a Strip musician and composer/arranger), his age when he first got behind a drum kit (4) and that he once played the violin.
I also didn’t know that the multi-instrumentalist was battling lung cancer. That information was limited to his inner circle—and knowing Gary as well as one outside his inner circle could, that's not a surprise. Unlike most musicians I’ve encountered, dude was not one to blab much, especially about himself. But when the conversation involved music, it would flow with ease.
Sadly, there won’t be any more chats with Gary, who died peacefully at his home early this morning while sleeping. He was only 42 but had been in enough local bands to cover three lifetimes. Vegas punk veterans remember him from Scrubs and Constant Moving Party. The Double Down faithful no doubt saw him during the last decade or so playing in groups like The Nines, FFI (which he joined in 2001) and The Fremonts—none of which sounded alike, by the way, which is a testament to Gary’s versatility.
He also toured with Black Camaro in 2004. And his most-recently assembled bands included the now-disbanded Devilcar, World Record (which he fronted) and Big Like Texas.
The band for which Gary may be most known is 12 Volt Sex, the 1990s/2000s power-pop quartet once signed to RCA Records that managed to land both radio airplay and huge gigs. They might as well have been the house band for the Huntridge Theatre, which hosted 12 Volt’s farewell show in 2002. (The group reunited for one show at Beauty Bar in 2011.)
With all of Gary’s punk-rock bonafides, he wasn’t the most obvious candidate to be in a pop-minded alternative band, let alone one signed to a major label. But you could tell he loved his bandmates, and he never publicly sneered at the prospect of hitting it big. Whether he was performing at a sparsely attended dive bar or a crowded showcase at South by Southwest in Austin, Texas (twice), Gary kept his focus on the music. And that partially explains why he was so damn good at playing it.
Naturally, his untimely death has struck the local scene particularly hard, especially because today marks the two-year anniversary of the passing of another beloved Vegas musician: Doug Frye, with whom Gary occasionally played.
“The only thing I can say that is good from this is he and Doug are jamming again,” says Rob Ruckus, who played in multiple bands with Gary, and has had to offer way too many memorials about his friends in the local music scene.
Some players from that very scene offered their thoughts and memories of Gary, which we’ve published below. Rest in peace, Gary. You hit it big with every beat, riff and keystroke. (Services will be held Monday, January 13 at 2 p.m. at All Saints Episcopal Church, 4201 W. Washington Ave. At 6 p.m. that same day, a celebration of Gary's life and music will be held at Backstage Bar and Billiards, 601 E. Fremont St. Additional reporting by Max Plenke.)
Mike Stratton, former bandmate of Gary’s (12 Volt Sex) and manager of the new Bunkhouse: “We'd gone to Europe twice together. We had opportunities to work with some of our heroes on records. Gary was one of the only people I knew [for whom] music came so naturally in everything he did. A real nonspecific memory was us not playing together for a couple years. Then last year, when we started playing together, it took like five minutes to realize we still spoke the same musical language. Even new songs he didn't know, he got through eye contact. He’s one of those people who, when you have a musical connection with him, it’s easy. That's the best memory I have of him.”
Brandy Provenzano, talent buyer/booking agent and Gary’s ex-wife: “The entire time I was with him, and even not, he's always been in at least three bands at one time. It drove me crazy, but he loved it so much. There's just too many good memories. A lot of people looked up to him. Even Ronnie [Vannucci] from The Killers said Gary was his favorite drummer.”
Rob Ruckus, former bandmate of Gary’s (The Nines, The Fremonts, Constant Moving Party) and co-star of A&E’s Bad Ink: “We played music together for over f*ckin’ 20 years in The Nines, and that's done. There will be no more Nines. ... I won’t do The Nines without Gary. That was [our] baby. I feel like I’ve been beat the sh*t out of and lost the best of my friends. I’ve been watching that guy play music for 30 years, and I’m stunned every time I see it. A tremendous loss for this town and the world. I've literally been making calls all over. F*ckin’ New York, France, Germany—friends and family all over the world. I'm devastated right now."
Chris “King” Schiavone, former local musician, bandmate of Gary's (DANTANA) and restaurant manager: “My father Sonny King started the lounge scene in the ’50s but [what] eventually rekindled that old Vegas swagger was lit by The Nines. I brought my father and [Rat Pack comedian] Shecky Greene to a Nines show at the Double Down one time. The place was packed, and I remember watching their faces. Then Shecky said, “If I was 20 years younger, I would open up for them." I never told the guys he said that, but that’s when I knew the torch was passed.”
Frank Klepacki, local musician and audio director: “I've shared the stage with him countless times and the same bills with many of the different bands he was in. I met him as far back as the Constant Moving Party days. While I had been aware of his battle for some time, I was trying to be as positive as I could that he could fight it and recover. I hate this disease that takes so many good people from us too early. He was a tremendously talented multi-instrumentalist and always an upbeat and great person to be around. He was always smiling, so supportive of everyone. Gary will be extremely missed and remembered by us all.“
Brian Garth, local musician and recording engineer: “The entire Black Camaro family is pretty upset about this. He was our drummer from the beginning, went on our first tour with us (2004), and is even on most of our best live recordings. He implemented this old piece-of-sh*t drum machine into his gear to minimize having to bring along several large pieces. It actually became our sound. Some of my fondest memories are of him on the tour bus snoring away in unison with Tom [Miller] in what we began referring to as the Snorkestra. He was close friends with our bass player at the time, who we had a falling out with on tour. When we returned to Vegas after 36 days, the band was pretty much broken up. We never asked Gary back for some reason, figuring he may have "sided" with the bass player guy, which turns out, after speaking with him years later, that it couldn't have been further from the truth. Regrets ... Anyway, long story short, we've loved Gary since the day we met him. What a sh*tty day today is.”