Category Archives: Feature Story

BEHRINGER Artist Benjamin Wright Discusses His Legendary Career in Music

You might not yet know legendary string arranger (and BEHRINGER artist) Benjamin Wright by name, but you’ve almost certainly heard some of his music. He has worked with some of the most prominent names in modern music, from Michael Jackson to Justin Timberlake. Wright, one of the most sought after string arrangers in the music business, has done the string arrangements on such albums as Michael Jackson’s Off The Wall, Justin Timberlake’s Justified, and Outkast’s smash hit Speakerboxxx. Wright depends on BEHRINGER in his studio, and he recently took some time to talk with us about that and his career. 

You toured with a lot of major acts including James Brown and Otis Redding. What was it like touring with such well known acts?

Those tours were package deals, my band played on the same bill. I met James Brown when I had just gotten out of high school. His band was hot. He had four drummers on his stage. I had never seen that before. One guy was the drum captain. It was very exciting to stand on the same stage and watch them. With Otis it wasn’t the same kind of musical situation. James Brown was such a great musical act. Otis’ band was not as good, but he was hot. It was his songs and his singing. It wasn’t so much as how the band sounded. With James it was the whole sound. It was a production.  Otis was just beginning to peak. It was a very exciting time for me. It my first time on the road, and it was the first time I had left home.

Who influenced you as a musician?

My favorite musician is Duke Ellington. I used to play with a guy called Fats Ford back when I was in the military stationed in Montgomery, Alabama. Fats was a trumpet player who said he had played with Duke Ellington, but no one believed him. He was a hip guy. He had all the top society gigs in town. I was a kid and just starting out, but he loved the way I played. I didn’t know standards, I just played funky. One time he picked me up for a gig he was playing at the college. When we arrived at the gig, there was a sign in front saying ‘Duke Ellington.’ We opened the door and there he was. Ellington and his band were in there and when we walked in they were all like “Hey Fats.” So it was true he had played with him. Fats introduced me to Duke. He told him that I was a young talented musician and arranger. Duke talked to me for about fifteen minutes. I was so impressed by that. A few months later Duke passed away. I was so touched by him that I named one of my sons after him.

How did you get into arranging?

In my hometown of Greenville, Mississippi, before integration, all the black kids had to go to one school. There were over 400 kids in the band with one band director. We had the number one band in the state. One time we told band director we wanted to play the number one song on the radio at the football games. I don’t remember what song it was. He told us we could do it if we could write it. We didn’t even know what he meant, but we had to come up with parts for everyone in the band. We were able to figure out the melody. It was bad, it was only about three notes, but everyone knew the melody and accepted it. When the audience recognized that part they all clapped. That had a major effect on me and that’s when I decided I wanted to write music. Every time I heard a record I always felt like ‘that should have been this or this should have been that.’ Whatever song I heard, I thought of how it could be different. That set the path to my career. It was a good thing. It’s how I developed my ear.

What are some of your favorite experiences arranging music?

It would have to start with Michael Jackson. Off the Wall was my first big record. Later, I did a big song with Earth Wind and Fire called “Boogie Wonderland.” I had built a reputation for big sound, and that was what they wanted.  You listen to that song and it’s heavy on the timpani, they kept saying they wanted more timpani. I did a lot of work with DeBarge. That was some fantastic music. I also did some great stuff with Aretha Franklin.

Several years back, I got a call from Sony UK and they sent me some of Jamiroquai’s music. I was the musical director for Gladys Knight at the time. We were in Manchester, England. One night these kids were hanging around the bus wanting to talk about music. I stayed and talked with them for a while. It turned out they were in Jamiroquai’s band, and I didn’t even know. They thought I was the nicest guy in America for staying and talking with them.

I’ve had great fun working with Justin Timberlake. I have fun. I don’t compromise on the music, but I do have fun.

Can you talk about what BEHRINGER products you use?

My whole studio is almost all BEHRINGER. I got turned onto it by the owner of a small music store near my house.  He really believed in it. So I tried it out. It outperformed the stuff I had. Almost everything in my church is BEHRINGER too.  I have 6 of the V-VERB Pro REV2496′s, 5 tube processors (T1952), 2 MULTICOM PRO-XL MDX4600’s,  7 Ultra-DI  DI100’s, 2 DDX3216 digital mixers, 8 Eurodesk mixers, used four of them on big-band gigs, but they are better for home recording.  I have 6 ULTRAGAIN PRO-8 Digital ADA8000’s, headphone amps, headphones, and 2 pair truth monitors – the 3031A and the 3030A. That’s just what I have in my own studio. My kids, who are also in the music industry too, use it also. Everyone who comes into my studio, from Jamie Foxx to Outkast, sees it.

MDX2400, MDX4600, T1952

POWERPLAY PRO XL 4700

BEHRINGER Artist Russell Wolff: 365 Days, 365 Songs for Cancer Research

BEHRINGER artist Russell Wolff is no stranger to the music business. He has opened for acts like Michelle Branch, Sugarland, and LeAnn Rimes, and can be seen playing his guitar in Martina McBride’s video for “Wrong Baby Wrong.” Most of the time he can be found in the studio recording and producing new music. His latest project reaches beyond the music industry to help a greater cause. Wolff has committed to writing, producing, and recording one song each day for 365 days. His project is in honor of a childhood friend who is battling stage IV cancer. He already had the desire to do something that would help others, and when he found out about his friend his purpose became clear, he would write songs to raise money for cancer research. Writing, recording, and producing a song all in one day is no easy task, but it is a task Wolff finds rewarding as a songwriter. 

Wolff is already over 100 days into his project, which began on December 20th, 2010, and he hasn’t slowed down yet. He took some time to chat about his work and his life as a producer and musician.

Can you talk a little about your 365 project, who it’s for and why you are doing it?

Well, the journey actually started on New Years Day 2010.  I felt the aching need to do more to help the world around me.  Just being involved in the creation or performance of music wasn’t enough anymore.  I had to put my skills and talents to work in a way that could bring meaningful change to people’s lives.  By December, 2010, I settled on writing and producing one song a day for a year in hopes of inspiring others to do something each day to help someone in need.   I also wanted to raise awareness and money for a charity.    Six days into the project, I learned that my childhood friend Dana was very sick with stage IV oral cancer.  I immediately let her know that the project would be in honor of her, and that cancer research had became the cause I had been searching for.  We ended up locating a good charity in Atlanta where she has been getting treatment.

Is it hard to come up with a new song every day?

Some days it is.  But most days, life writes them for me.  I am constantly surrounded by characters.

What inspires you to write a new song?

Under ‘normal’ circumstances, BREAKUPS!  Let’s be honest here.  But this year, for the sake of this project, I have found myself writing about all sorts of things… the excitement when you first meet someone new, the disappointment when it doesn’t work out, Dana’s fight in the hospital, rude people with lousy attitudes, my old boss, an egg sandwich, and yes, even… Charlie Sheen.

How can people support what you are doing?

Helping us spread the word is great.  Donating is wonderful as well.  We have a page on Facebook as well as the main site. People can “Like” us on Facebook, listen to the songs for free, then click the link to donate whatever they can.  The more people know about the project, the better this year will be for cancer research.

What do you hope to do with the songs?

Some of the songs are already being performed by other artists, some might make it into soundtracks, radio, etc.  I have performed some of the songs around Nashville in the interest of the project.  We have discussed taking the best 12 to 24 songs and making an album at the end of the year.  Proceeds of course, would go to the charity.

You moved to Nashville to focus on production and songwriting after releasing your own albums, what made you make such a big change to your career?

I have always been fascinated with producing music, even as a kid.  My first recording studio experience was cutting vocals at age 12 in New York City for a Broadway Show demo.  At home, I was making fully ‘produced’ demos on a little 4-track cassette recorder with tons of vocal and instrument arrangements.   Producing has always been a part of me.   So, shifting from artist to producer was a very natural progression.  I had a wonderful touring career as an artist and the best fans in the world.  (Shout out to my fans!)   But I knew I could do far more good at this point by producing and touring with other artists.

What are some of the highlights of your music career?

There really are so many.  I am very lucky to wake up each day and do what I love for a living.  Here are a couple of recent highlights…

- playing guitar with Martina McBride (“Wrong Baby Wrong” video).  She is wonderful to work with.

- While opening for Sugarland, the singer I was on tour with was having a rough night and dropped the key of her first song a half step on guitar.  I didn’t transpose the keyboard in time… So, we started the song a half key apart.  I stopped and made a joke about it.  There is something truly magical about having thousands of people laughing WITH you, not at you.

Who were some of your influences as a musician?

My uncle bought me my first album when I was a kid.  It was Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon so, that was a good place to start.  Growing up, I was into musical theater, then Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, and 80’s-90’s alternative.  I learned guitar by listening to Floyd, REM, & the Indigo Girls.  Overall, I have been more influenced by great performers and songwriters than by great technical musicians.  Performers like Michael Jackson and Garth Brooks, writers like Freedy Johnston and Jonatha Brooke, producers like Rick Rubin and Butch Vig… and oh yeah, the Beatles.

Learn more about Russell at his official website.