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 Featured Interview – Rusty Wright 


Rusty Wright may be best known as a passionate, acclaimed blues-rocker, but he is also an artist who resists categorization.  He appreciates all kinds of music and makes no apologies for failing to adhere to a classic blues format for his music.

“If you lock the blues in a box, you’ll kill it.  You’ll turn it into something that nobody listens to.  Muddy Waters even said that everyone takes the blues where you find it, but it’s up to you to take it further down the road.  My music can be a gateway to the blues for many people.  Often people will see us play and say later that they didn’t know that music was the blues, and they didn’t know they liked the blues.  If you give it to them in a way that they find appealing, you can get them to become fans.  Some would never, in a million years, have come to a blues festival, but they hear us and it makes them realize that they like it, and it opens their minds to a lot of possibilities.”

Wright also resists categorization as simply a touring musician, since he is also a studio musician, a scorer of movies/TV shows, a painter, and a “celebrity counselor at Rock ‘n’ Roll Fantasy Camp”.

“The Fantasy Camp is a nationwide thing.  People pay a large sum of money and spend a week with us, and we divvy them up into bands.  My job is to take these people who have never met each other and turn them into a backup band.  At the end of the week, they get the opportunity to perform on stage and be the backup band for three famous musicians. The first camp I attended featured Buddy Guy, Nancy Wilson from Heart, and Chris Layton (the former drummer for Stevie Ray Vaughan, now working with Kenny Wayne Shepherd).  It’s a great experience and I have a great time doing it.”

“As far as the movies and TV shows, I did the soundtrack for some independent films.  One was a comedy spoof called PI Blues, and one was a documentary about a famous comedy club in Detroit.  I also do a lot of track work for people.  I can play pretty much anything with strings, except for a violin.  People from all over the world will send me something saying they need a guitar track or a bass track or a vocal track.  I get session work from all over, Italy, Norway, Germany.”

“For my artwork I like watercolors and pen and ink.  I also use some digital tools.  I usually do landscapes, but tried my hand at drawing some old-school Harleys, castles, and a fantasy tree house.  I also just released a couple of adult coloring books.  Every morning I get up really early, as soon as the sun comes up and the first thing I do is get coffee and sit down in my studio and see what hits me.  It might be writing a song or doing a piece of art.”

Wright was only thirteen when he joined his mother’s touring gospel group as a guitarist.


“I had just gotten a guitar the year before and really took to it.  My mother was adamant that she wasn’t going to let me be a musician, but when she found out there weas no stopping me she figured it was safest to include me in her group.  I was self-taught for a while, but eventually went to Wayne State University because you must learn to read music to be able to sight-read to become a studio musician.”

Wright’s guitar skills quickly became so impressive that when his newly formed band opened for Lynyrd Skynyrd, they received a standing ovation, and members of Lynyrd Skynyrd came out to see who was playing.  Skynyrd guitarist, Rickey Medlock, later approached Wright asking ‘Dude!  Where did you come from?’  Wright appreciated that reaction so much that he named the rest of that tour the “Dude-where did you come from tour”.  Since that memorable gig, Wright has toured not only across the United States, but also in many other countries.  He remembered having one very close call while playing in South Korea.

“We were doing an armed forces tour, playing on all the bases to give them a little entertainment.  In South Korea the whole country’s electrical system is on 220 volts, but American equipment is on 110 volts.  So, they had to have a distribution box to change the voltage from the PA system and the lighting.  We had just finished playing a set and had just all put our instruments down when a bunch of gear started to sizzle, and the transformers just exploded.  Someone had accidentally routed 220 volts to all the stage gear.  The keyboardist’s whole rig got cooked, his keyboards and the amp.  He had to just sit on the side of the stage for the rest of the show because we had no backup gear.”

Like nearly all musicians, Wright struggled to survive the pandemic, which was a time when musicians were being labeled as “non-essential”.  And since the pandemic ended, he has noticed a nationwide change in attitude toward live music.

“In mid-March 2020 we lost an entire year’s worth of bookings in less than a week.  Fortunately, we had clear documentation of all of our cancellations, so we were able to prove our loss of income, and that was a lifesaver.  We were very fortunate during the pandemic because there were many organizations that gave out stipends and relief funds.  We’re especially grateful to the Blues Foundation’s COVID relief efforts which generously helped in covering some of our monthly bills one month.  Also, their HART Fund helped by covering the bills for Laurie’s (Rusty’s wife and fellow band member) hospital stay after she suffered a minor heart attack.  The Village Blues Society here in Florida was also very kind to us, as were many of our fans during that time.  We are so appreciative of the level of support and kindness that we received, and for the rest of our lives, we will try to pay forward that generosity whenever we are able to do so.”

“But since the pandemic, I do sense a feeling of apathy toward live musicians that is present that I had not seen prior to the pandemic, and it is a little disheartening.  These days tribute acts are cleaning up, but original music acts are definitely facing challenges.  Recently a performing arts center director told us that they have an easy time selling a $50 ticket for a mediocre tribute act but struggle to sell a $20 ticket for a fantastic original music act.  They’re baffled and unhappy about it, but they’re just trying to survive.  I see announcements each week of venues that must shut down because so many people have quit coming out to concerts.  And sometimes when you do play you just see a whole lot of people looking at their phones, seemingly uninterested in the music, or you’ll see some venues that display ten TVs and don’t even turn the TVs off when the musician is playing.”

Wright’s most recent album, Hangin’ at the Deville Lounge, is a concept album.  The album is named after an actual bar that used to be in his hometown of Flint, Michigan.


“The bar catered to auto factory workers, so they took their name from the Cadillac DeVille.  It was one of those places where the front door would be locked at 2 am, but if you knew the right people you could come in the back door and hang out until 4 or 5 in the morning.  On the opposite corner of the street there was this little church and the preacher used to get irritated because sometimes the DeVille lounge would be jumping, and they would party outside and leave cigarette butts and beer cans on the church lot as well.  So, the preacher bought a lighted sign and would put messages on it.  One time he put ‘Sinners welcome here’ on the sign.  So, the owner of the DeVille lounge got an even bigger lighted sign and put it on the top of the roof saying, ‘Sinners welcome here and we have beer!’.  It was that kind of place.  The bar has been closed for quite a few years now, but with the blues legend/mythology of the devil at the crossroads finding its way into quite a few of my songs over the years (and DeVille seeming to be a play on the word devil), plus the memory of the lighted sign feud between the bar and the church, it seemed natural to pull them together.  However, we re-imagined our ‘DeVille’ Lounge as a place down South, perhaps somewhere outside of New Orleans, filled with all the memories, drama, and characters you might encounter should you hang around long enough.”

“There are many different vibes on this album.  It starts out with a cool melodic piano ballad, but one track has a Stevie Ray vibe and there is some Django Reinhart gypsy jazz stuff going on too.  It represents all the different people and personalities that used to show up at the DeVille.  I never want to make a record where you start listening and you get to the last song, and you can’t pick out one thing because all the songs sound the same.  So, I’m going to keep exploring more concept album ideas.  Laurie wants to do a theatrical review.  Maybe we can find a production company to help us finance a theater show.  That might be a cool way to introduce people to different blues styles.”

One of the songs on the album seems to resonate the most with people in the audience, as they often come up after a show and talk to Wright about how it affected them.


“’No Man is an Island’ was inspired by a story I read about a mother who had a son with autism. The woman described how he just couldn’t make connections with people.  And he had to have you in his sight.  If he left the room or you left the room and came back, you would have to reintroduce yourself.  She even had to reintroduce herself every time she came back into the room.  So, through no fault of his own, he is put in this position and will never have that ability to feel connected to people.”

Another track, “No One Cares at All” captures Wright’s shock at the level of apathy in many people, including their apathy about horrific things such as sex trafficking.

“There’s so much villainy in the world.  You look around and you can’t stop it.  There’s a lot of heinous stuff right under your nose.  I guess apathy is one of my pet peeves.  I want people to feel something.”

In addition to seeing how moving his songs can be for the audience, Wright agreed with the premise that songwriting can be therapeutic for the songwriter as well and noted that the most therapeutic song he ever wrote was “Lost Souls”.

“It’s a song that has a lot of deep connotations.  It’s about musicians struggling to figure out the music industry and was my way of expressing the feelings I have about us sometimes seeming like we’re the lost souls in the world. For every performer enjoying their moment in the sun, there are thousands of other performers who are equally deserving of the spotlight, and for whatever reason, they don’t get it.  Maybe their pockets aren’t deep enough to pay for a publicist, or they work a day job and can’t tour, or can’t find a booking agent.  There are a million reasons why, and every career has dips and peaks.  We really have been fortunate to have played a lot of the largest blues festivals in the US and in Europe over the years, and many wonderful concert venues.  But sometimes it feels like there is a ‘club’ and it’s hard to break in.  Plus, I had some additional losses this past year.  I went for my annual flu shot and the technician administered my vaccine too high on my arm, causing a significant injury.  Within 24 hours I couldn’t lift my arm and was in terrible pain for several months.  Guitar playing was excruciating, and I feared I might not ever recover my ability to play like before.  Thankfully it has healed now, but we had stopped trying to book the band since we couldn’t really pitch to promoters in good faith not knowing if I would be able to play properly when the festival season rolled around.  It also made it difficult to promote the album, (although we still managed to make it to #4 on the Billboard Blues chart).  So, we missed many opportunities, but I am hoping that maybe this article will help get the word out about us.”

It would certainly seem that adding this multi-talented, outside-the-box musical innovator to a festival would be a very wise plan indeed.  And people deserve to witness the gifts he has to offer.  You can find out more about Rusty Wright’s fusion of Texas-style blues, swinging boogie and Southern rock at RustyWrightBand.com – EPK.  And you can see his artwork by searching for his name at www.redbubble.com

Writer Anita Schlank lives in Virginia, and is on the Board of Directors for the River City Blues Society. She has been a fan of the blues since the 1980s. She and Tab Benoit co-authored the book “Blues Therapy,” with all proceeds from sales going to the HART Fund.

The Rusty Wright Band makes NUMBER 1 on Hit Tracks Top 100

This chart is a music chart based in the Netherlands and tracking music popularity across the EU. It's not a specific genre but all genres combined so you see us in there with Metallica, Pink and others.