Chuck Wright might not be a household name, but his bass line on Quiet Riot’s “Metal Health (Bang Your Head)” is firmly entrenched in the annals of pop culture. Many folks might not know, but Wright also played on “Don’t Wanna Let You Go,” also from Quiet Riot’s 1982 breakthrough record, Metal Health, the first ever heavy metal album to reach number one on the Billboard 200. Though Rudy Sarzo became synonymous with the band, and played on the rest of that album, as well as it’s follow-up, Condition Critical, Wright played on Quiet Riot III, and performed off-and-on with the band for many years—most recently up until drummer Frankie Banali’s untimely death.
If that singular performance credit, in-and-of itself, is not enough to firmly entrench Wright’s name in the conversation about great bassists from the ‘80s, he’s also cemented his legacy by playing in House of Lords, Giuffria, Impellitteri, and Ted Nugent, among others, and he also currently runs the now-infamous Ultimate Jam Night at the Whiskey A Go Go in Hollywood, CA. Wright recently added to his journeyman legacy by releasing his debut solo album, Sheltering Sky. Despite his hard rock credentials, the music on Sheltering Sky is more cinematic-sounding in scope than one might expect, and very diverse, expanding beyond the musical style he’s predominantly known for, and includes elements of funk, prog, jazz-fusion, folk, gospel, and even Celtic. “A lot of people have been quite surprised,” reports Wright. “Especially those that only know me from Quiet Riot, House Of Lords, Alice Cooper, and other rock bands I’ve worked with.”
The genre-defying, 11-song record is actually quite cohesive-sounding, despite these stylistic amalgamations, and features an astounding 41 guest performers, including members of Mr. Big, Skid Row, Tesla, Dream Theater, Jane’s Addiction, Asia, Jefferson Starship, as well as acclaimed solo artists Allen Hinds, Toshi Yanagi, and Whitney Tai. A multi-instrumentalist, Wright also played acoustic guitars, some keyboards, percussion, and created sound FX texturing. We caught up with Wright recently to discuss the inspiration for some of the songs on Sheltering Sky, his phenomenal tone on Metal Health, and the seemingly innate funk influence in his playing.
I’ve always loved your tone, ever since “Metal Health” and “Don’t Wanna Let You Go.” How did you track bass back then and how does that differ from what you did on Sheltering Sky?
Back in 1983, I was playing a Music Man bass and I still have the Roland CE-2 Chorus I used on “Metal Health.” I played through an Acoustic 360 like John Paul Jones and an 8X10 SVT speaker cab with a Gallien-Krueger amp. On Sheltering Sky, I used four different basses and have three basses being played on a couple of the songs. I wanted to use my fretless bass as passage instrument between a verse and chorus, the way a lead guitar is usually used. This is prominent in the songs “Giving Up the Ghost” and “Time Wait’s for No One.” I recorded everything I did at home via GarageBand, believe it or not. I played my 1985 Spector as seen in the “Army of Me” and “Throwin’ Stones” videos, a Godin fretless bass, a Schecter 8-string Bass, and my 4-string Fender Precision.
I love the serpentine bass line/groove on “Army of Me.” What made you decide to cover Bjork?
Some years ago, I used to get together with my late friend Pat Torpey of Mr.Big and Lanny Cordola, who I worked with in House Of Lords. We would get together at Pat’s home studio and jam out song ideas, three of which are on this album. The rhythm guitar, bass, and drums for “Throwin’ Stones,” “It Never Fails,” and “Army of Me” were recorded during that period of time. We were talking about how Bjork used John Bonham’s “When The Levee Breaks” drum groove on “Army Of Me” and we decided to jam on it and record it for fun. I found these tracks in 2021 while looking for something else and felt they were too good to disappear into the ether, so I completed them. I brought in a vocalist I discovered at my weekly event, Ultimate Jam Night, named Whitney Tai, and had her sing the Bjork cover. After finishing the song, I reached out to my 3D animator friend, Drew Lanius, to help create a video for the song.
“Throwin’ Stones” has a heavy, detuned funk vibe to it. I’ve always thought your playing had that funky element to it, even in a rock context. In your experience, is there a sweet spot, musically speaking, where funk and metal converge or overlap?
I’ve always been an R&B fan. I loved most of the Motown acts as a kid. Funk is a feel thing, so I always incorporate some swing into my parts, if it’s appropriate. One reviewer said that “Throwin’ Stones” sounded like Primus meets Stevie Wonder—I think he nailed it [laughter]. The song “It Never Fails” is also quite funky. I asked Jeff Scott Soto [Journey, TSO, Sons Of Apollo] to sing it. Though he is known as a rock singer, he is also an amazing soul singer.
How have your past musical and life experiences influenced the album that came to be Sheltering Sky?
The song “The Other Side” was composed all at once for the most part. I got a phone call about the passing of my lifelong friend and Quiet Riot band mate Frankie Banali, picked up my 12-string [acoustic guitar], and wrote all the music right then and there. I even had the chorus melody and lyric idea. The “Army Of Me” video was influenced by the unrest and riots we’ve experienced in the U.S. The song “Time Waits for No One” was written after hearing of the passing of the drummer from my first band. It was to be an instrumental, but I had a cool chorus vocal idea. I reached out to Whitney Tai to help me finish it. “Throwin’ Stones” is an anti-war song with lyrics by Joe Retta [TSO, Sweet] before the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
I love the musical diversity of Sheltering Sky. What was the catalyst for that and was it intentional to stray from your hard rock roots?
My roots in the late ’70s were prog-rock, bands like King Crimson, Yes, and ELP. That has always stayed with me as a composer. Some of that influence can be heard on the House of Lords albums. I never planned on what I was creating being a solo album, during the pandemic lockdown. I was just writing music I’d want to hear—art for art’s sake. The first original song I worked on, “The Weight of Silence,” was inspired by the apocalyptic feel the world had with all the empty streets in huge cities like Rome, Paris, and New York. I recorded everything myself then edited a video together of my performance on guitar, bass, keyboards, and percussion, mixed with drone footage of the barren city landscapes around the world. After posting the video on YouTube, a few musician friends of mine reached out and wanted to add to the music. I asked keyboardist Derek Sherinian [Sons of Apollo, Dream Theater] if he’d be into in adding some Mellotron and Synth. I also brought in Ben Woods, an acclaimed Flamenco guitarist, to reinforce some of my acoustic guitar playing. To my surprise, the song and video won “Best Musical Performanc” and “Best Video” at the Rock Music Alliance Awards [http://rockmusicalliance.com/], just days before the album’s release. I didn’t even know I was nominated [laughter]!
HEAR HIM ON
Chuck Wright’s Sheltering Sky (Cleopatra)