Chicagoan bassman Orlando Wright talks about Buddy Guy, Syl Johnson, Doug McDonald, and local scene

"The Blues express sadness as well as happiness it express pain, there’s a Blues for any occasion..."

Orlando Wright: (W)right sound source

The consummate bass player, Orlando J. Wright has worked the Chicago R&B and Blues scene since the late 70's, playing north, south, and west side clubs. He has performed with some of Chicago's best, such as Syl Johnson, Sugar Blue, Junior Wells, The Staple Singers, Phil Guy, and Artie "Blues Boy" White.


Currently, Orlando tours with Buddy Guy which has put him in the lofty position of holding up the bottom during stage appearances by international Blues greats including Hubert Sumlin, Eric Claption, B.B. King, Robert Cray, Johnny Winter and Jimmy Vaughn just to name a few. Orlando was played for U.S. troops in Kuwait and Iraq, where he met and married Shemekia Copeland
Favorite Orlando’s quote is: “Each musician brings something that is special, or unique to them, when they play with a band.  It's a character that comes out in the music.  For myself, I call this the Wright Sound Source. No matter what style of music you play, it should be fun, and even more fun to see the joy it brings.”

Interview by Michael Limnios


In what age did you play your first gig and how was it like (where, with whom etc.)?
My first gig was with two friends I grew up with, a drummer named Mickey Muse and a guitar player we called Poncho, Mickey’s father was very supportive of him and he was manager of a organization called Gateway that help recovering drug addicts, every year they had a annual party and we were the entertainment one year, we were 13 or 14 years old just learning to play, we barely really new any songs all the way through, so I guess you could call us a jam band, that first gig mint a lot to us, we had a good time and the residents of Gateway were a great crowd, they danced Like we were the greatest band ever, it was great, we were hooked from that moment. 


What do you learn about yourself from the blues, what does the blues mean to you?
One of the things I learned about myself was, I liked the Blues even before I knew it was the Blues, as a kid I listened to Blues and Motown R&B, I didn’t learn till I was older what that music was, as a kid it sound good to me and I enjoyed it, and still do now.


What experiences in your life make you a GOOD BLUESMAN?
I don’t think I was that good at first, like most things the more you do it and the more experience you get, the better you become.
One of the things that I think that helped me a lot was, I played with a great guitar player named Doug McDonald, he is well known on the Chicago Blues seen and I learned a lot from him, my first Blues gigs were with him, another thing that was good for me was for a long time I played jam night at Buddy Guy’s Legends, that helped me to get even more experience, if I am any good at all it is because of these things.


How do you describe Orlando Wright sound and progress, what is your music philosophy?
My sound has changed a little from where it started because I didn’t start out to be a Blues Man, I was always more Funk and R&B, but I started to get calls to do Blues and I didn’t discriminate, the progress that I hope I have made is that I am able to bring some of that Funky groove to a band & still be supportive without going over the top or getting in the way of what’s going on around me, my only philosophy is, people come to here music to have a goodtime, to have fun, especially Blues music, so if I can, I want to help that happen, I want to see that foot tappen or the head bobbin or if you know the words sing along, it’s suppose to be fun for us as well as the audience, if we give them a goodtime, & have goodtime in the process it’s a great night.


From whom have you have learned the most secrets about the blues music?
I don’t think the Blues is hiding any secrets, other than people need to get over the idea that it’s sad because it’s no more sad than any other music. It’s not a secret, but one thing that has helped me a lot, is when I hear the original version of a song, because when you work with different bands and guitar players a lot of the time they have their own way of doing a song, so you learn it that way but when you do a gig with someone else they do it totally different, so you never have any idea of what the song really is, for me it just seems like once you hear that original version it helps making changes on the fly a little easier.


Which was the best moment of your career and which was the worst?
I think the best moment would have to be when I started playing for Buddy, before that point I was working a day job and doing gigs at night, and it was getting to the point where something would have to give, the low point would be when my father became sick and I was not able to be at home as much as I would’ve like to.


Which is the most interesting period in your life and why?
To think back on it now, I would have to say the first few years I played with Buddy, I went from a 9 – 5 day gig to doing what I always dreamed of which was music, & it’s a interesting period because it was before 9/11, & the world was different especially travel wise, and I was starting to do more traveling, and see more than I had seen in my entire life, to be honest working help make the transition easy, but it was a different world, it was before the euro, I had never stayed in hotels that much or flown in a airplane as much, I had never been on a tour bus so it was a lot to learn fast, it was definitely a interesting time.


What is the “feel” you miss nowadays from the late 70's, playing north, south, and west side clubs?
I can’t really comment on the late 70’s because I was just getting started, and a lot of the West side and South side clubs were already gone or on their way out, I played a few but there was no where as many as there used to be, and the new thing that was popular was the north side clubs.


How has the music business changed over the years since you first started in music?
When I first started CD’s did not exist, there was no internet music, youtube  or itunes you had to go to a actual record store to buy music, there was none of the digital stuff you have today, I think there was maybe more quality music also, music that will never go out of style, locally there were more clubs, even though now there may be more large venues, there have been a lot of changes, some that I think have been good, like if you have ideas you don’t need a studio to work on them, a change that is bad, is a lot of music sounds alike, they don’t even try to be original, it worked before let’s use it again.  

What advice would you give to aspiring musicians thinking of pursuing a career in the craft?
Try to learn as much as you can, take lessons, go to school, listen to all types of music, and play with other people, because the bottom line is, if you are going to do nothing but music to make a living you’ve got to be able to play your favorite music as well as music you may not be that crazy about, you want to be able to say yes to a Jazz gig, yes to a Rock gig, yes to a Blues gig, yes to a R&B or Funk gig, you want to be able to leave an impression on the person that hired you when they need someone again they will think of you, and being on time & pleasant is as important as being a good musician, because most band leaders would rather have a reliable musician, that is pleasant, that may not be the greatest player, rather than an arrogant but head that shows up late with a bad attitude.     


Are there any memories from Syl Johnson, Sugar Blue, Junior Wells, Phil Guy, and Artie "Blues Boy" White, which you’d like to share with us?
Always had a goodtime with Syl, he is high energy, we once finished a set and someone asked, are you gonna slow it down this set? Syl said no I don’t do nothing slow. Sugar Blue is high energy also, and a great musician.
Junior Wells was a lot of fun and interesting to talk to, I once saw him after a gig have a crowd listening to every word as he told stories & answered questions.
I met Phil Guy from playing with Doug McDonald, Phil was one of the first guys other the Doug to call me for Blues, with Phil I had to learn to swing or walk a bass line, because that’s the way he liked it, Phil would always surprise me because out of the blue he would call a song like Get The Funk Out Ma Face, or Billy Jean, I did a lot of college party gigs with Phil.
Artie was a little different, he was Blues and a little R&B flavored Blues, so it was another learning experience, he was fun to play with, and had interesting stories also.

Tell me a few things about your meet with Buddy Guy, which memory from him makes you smile?
I had been playing at Buddy’s club for awhile with George Baze a guitar player that before he left on his own was band leader for Buddy & Junior, on this particular night a news video crew was in the club, so Buddy came up to sit in with the band while the news crew recorded it, Buddy went into a song called still called the Blues, I had never played this song with Buddy before, so that night I got my first Buddy Guy lesson, the first lesson you learn when you play with Buddy is to watch & listen, which I didn’t know, so the first time he went to the bridge I didn’t catch him, I was behind, and when he broke it done, I was still a little to loud , after the set that night before we packed up, I saw Buddy at the bar and I told him I was sorry, I thought I didn’t play well with him & he said don’t worry I play stuff so Funky make the Stones take notice, from that one time I knew to watch Buddy Guy.  


What is the best advice a bluesman ever gave you?
Listen and pay attention, I don’t care how well you can play if you can’t follow what’s going on in front of you it makes for a long night.


Why did you think that Chicago Blues scene, continues to generate such a devoted following?
Whatever type of music you are into you can find in Chicago, but Chicago is definitely a Blues town, you’ve had so many greats that even if they didn’t stay, they were there for awhile, and many that are still there now, even though it seems to have slowed down a bit there are still a lot of Blues clubs to play, or clubs that have Blues on some nights.


What’s the best jam you ever played in? What are some of the most memorable gigs you've had?
Some of the best jams I played in and saw was at Legends.
One of my most memorable gigs was backup band for Bo Diddley, I was nervous, I thought it was a big deal, he was a nice guy and the gig turned out well, another was my first gig with Buddy, it was in Atlantic City with Jonny Lang and Susan Tedeschi, I was really nervous for that one also, another memorable one is the first time Carlos Santana set in with Buddy, he is truly a genuine person and a great player.


Some music styles can be fads but the blues is always with us.  Why do think that is? Give one wish for the BLUES
The Blues is always with us because it is one of America’s first music, it express sadness as well as happiness it express pain, there’s a Blues for any occasion, it’s Friday and I’m gonna party at the juke joint Blues, I just had great sex Blues, I just got paid Blues, mind your business Blues, just bought a new car Blues, Blues for any occasion it can go on and on, that’s why it’s always with us.
My wish for the Blues is that it can be allowed to grow & progress for the better or worse just like all other music, and that it not be treated like the bastard child the people are afraid to talk about, or admit they like listening to, or playing as a musician, I would like to see it get the same respect as other music.


How do you describe your contact to people when you are on stage and what compliment do you appreciate the most after a gig?
My contact to people is when I see that foot tapping, that head bobbing or goosenecking, I know they get it they feel it, that’s a good thing. The best compliment is when someone after the gig says (This is my first Blues show I thought Blues was sad but this was great I’m gonna tell my friends) or that someone brought them to the show and it was their first time and they loved it, those are great things to hear .

Orlando Wright's official website

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