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.