For guitarist and singer Rusty Wright, it’s “all about the moment,” commanding the stage to deliver the musical heat, the infectious grooves and penetratingly sincere songs that have earned the Michigan musician a burgeoning national audience and recognition as a Master Blues Artist in the International Blues Hall of Fame
Those who’ve seen Wright and his top-drawer band – wife and singer-guitarist Laurie Wright, drummer Robert Vines and bassist Mark “Bumpy Rhoads” Bumgarner – perform live will attest to the outfit’s razor-tight, explosive delivery of inventive blues songs with tasty helpings of Southern rock and Detroit-bred grit.
It’s that rare combination (along with Wright’s trademark, flowing white hair and eye-popping guitar leads) that commands immediate attention, fills dance floors and earns roars of approval.
“Art gives life its real color and it’s that joy that makes it more than just a day-to-day drudge,” the guitarist says of creating music that audiences embrace.
“You should never be afraid of writing a song that might make people think. Music is about making people engage. You might take some heat for it, but as long as you’re being honest, there will always be people who will get it.”
It’s that fearless approach to music that’s cultivated growing legions of loyal fans and driven Wright since he first started exploring the wonder of music, from country to early rock ’n’ roll to “the long-hair” stuff of the Allman Brothers and Lynyrd Skynyrd. He started playing guitar in his gospel-singing mother’s touring group starting at age 13, and was writing songs, assembling bands and playing the club circuit in Flint and the Detroit area not long after.
“I loved the blues from my childhood because there was such emotion behind it,” he recalls. That same passion propels Wright’s own music and guitar-playing.
“He’s a monster of a player. It’s fun to watch the reaction of the youngbloods who don’t often get to see that kind of musicianship up close,” Laurie offers, noting Wright also “stands out in any crowd. He cuts an imposing figure, and when you add that mane of white hair hanging past his belt these days, he looks like a wizard wielding a guitar.”
Since 2004, that wizard has spearheaded release of four widely praised studio albums and 2011’s “Live Fire,” shared stages with Lynyrd Skynyrd, Kenny Wayne Shepherd, Etta James, Johnny Winter, Ronnie Baker Brooks, Bettye Lavette, Walter Trout and many more, toured the world from Italy to South Korea, and more than once represented the Detroit Blues Society at the International Blues Challenge.
The band’s most recent album, “Wonder Man” reached #8 on the Billboard Blues chart, #3 on the Hit Tracks 100 chart (Europe) and is nominated for Album of the Year in Vintage Guitar Magazine’s Reader’s Choice Awards alongside Sonny Landreth, Jeff Beck, Pink Floyd, and Joe Bonamassa. Their 2013 album “This, That & The Other Thing,” earned widespread radio airplay across North America and won Blues 411’s Jimi Award for Contemporary Blues Album of the Year.
But that’s only the beginning as Wright vows to continue casting an innovative, wide net musically to reflect his eclectic tastes.
“I have so many influences, I don’t just fit in one little space,” he insists. “I’m trying to find a way to take the blues farther down the road that will appeal to a younger generation as well. I’m not afraid to bring in other styles of music. But I want it to have passion. You never want to lose the passion.”
That’s obvious in the band’s live shows. “We don’t depend on gimmicks or props to stand out. We have a good time on stage,” Laurie says. “There is no barrier between us and the audience. We are there for them and for the energy that is exchanged when that connection is made.”
As Rusty puts it: “People are there to be entertained and playing well is only half of it. You have to entertain.”
And as audiences across the globe are discovering, Wright and his band do that in fearless fashion.
INFLUENCES: Stevie Ray Vaughn, Freddy King, Allman Brothers, Robin Trower