“One of the hottest blues sax players in the business, she is known for powerful, soulful, fascinating playing.”
– John Orr, San Jose Mercury News
“One of the best horn blowers in the blues business . . . a singer and songwriter of high order.”
– Lee Hildebrand, Living Blues
“A naturally bluesy voice . . . reminiscent in its approach to Ruth Brown and Dinah Washington . . . she doesn’t just sing the blues, she feels them.”
– George “Blues Fin Tuna” Fish, Blues Blast Magazine
During the 80’s, Nancy Wright regularly sat in Monday nights at Larry Blake’s Rathskeller music club in Berkeley. Rat Band leader and guitarist Tim Kaihatsu surrounded himself with phenomenal local musicians who went on to work with top acts such as Carlos Santana, Robert Cray, and Elvin Bishop. Kaihatsu gave soloists plenty of room to stretch out, urging them to take yet another chorus as the rhythm section went from simmer to full boil.
When fronting her Rhythm and Roots Band, Wright takes a couple pages from Kaihatsu’s playbook. She surrounds herself with the highest caliber musicians–seasoned players whose enjoyment in collaborating together on a wide range of material is evident, and who also excel as lead players–and she gives them plenty of room to shine.
While Wright’s decision to record the Alive and Blue CD was fairly spontaneous, it was born out love for the way the Rhythm and Roots Band musicians perform together. It occasionally crossed her mind that the band should be recorded live. For Wright, audiences complete the circle of live music, enhancing player’s performances, and the audience at The Saloon (San Francisco’s oldest blues club) particularly inspires. The night before her December 2018 Saloon date, she contacted Kid Andersen of Greaseland Studios (where she recorded Putting Down Roots and PLAYDATE!) re: the possibility of engineering a live recording the next night.
It was a magical night featuring Wright at her best, accompanied by stellar ensemble and lead performances by Jeff Tamelier (former guitarist for Tower of Power), keyboardist Tony Lufrano (formerly with Boz Scaggs), Karl Sevaried (former bassist with the Robert Cray band) and drummer Paul Revelli (formerly with Joe Louis Walker) in front of an appreciative and enthusiastic Saloon audience.
“One night last winter in San Francisco venue The Saloon, Wright was at her most entertaining. Her tenor saxophone was both crack-of-dawn fresh and old as truth, as it drew sustenance from the blues, jazz, r&b and soul traditions.” – Downbeat
“Fully mature soul-blues . . . Wright proves herself a passionate vocalist . . . the finest soul blues-jazz album of the year. Wright, Lufrano, Tamelier, Sevareid and Revelli are one fantastic band. – Making a Scene
“Wright is one of the most sought-after sax players on the planet, but she’s a dynamite vocalist and bandleader as well and the Rhythm and Roots band really cooks in support.” – BluesBytes
Nancy Wright has called the Bay Area home for decades, but her saxophone career got its start in Dayton. A classically-trained bassoonist majoring in Music, she accepted the sax player role in the university’s production of “Cabaret.” Arriving early for rehearsal, she sat in with a group of musicians, jamming on blues for her first time. “The coin dropped” says Wright, “and I discovered the world of improvisation.” Trained on piano, violin, harp, flute and brass as well, Wright says it was also “a question of finally getting to the right instrument.”
While in Dayton, she met mentor Lonnie Mack, one of the founding fathers of blues-rock guitar, joining him regularly on stage. She toured with Grammy-award winner John Lee Hooker, performing at Carnegie Hall and the Mississippi Delta Blues Festival, and performed with Stevie Ray Vaughn, Albert King, and Albert Collins.
Wright appeared on the Bay Area music scene in 1984 with the popular New Orleans Rhythm and Blues Band, Hot Links. Following a successful North American tour, Wright and Hot Links were tapped to perform with Swamp Boogie Queen Katie Webster, appearing on her Arhoolie Records release, “You Know That’s Right.” Wright and Webster also performed together at the Chicago Blues Festival and appear together on B.B. King’s album, “Blues Summit,” winner of the 1994 Grammy Award for Best Traditional Blues Album.
Wright spent the next two decades touring North America, Europe, and Asia with such artists as Elvin Bishop, Commander Cody, Johnny Adams, Earl King, Joe Louis Walker, and Maria Muldaur, and opening the top-grossing Jimmy Buffett Outpost Tour with harmonica player Greg “Fingers” Taylor. She recorded with B.B. King, Elvin Bishop, Joe Louis Walker, Little Charlie and the Nitecats, Mark Hummel and many others, and performed with top blues artists including Robert Cray, Bonnie Raitt, Pinetop Perkins, Hubert Sumlin, Lowell Fulsom, Son Seals, and Ike Turner. “I have been blessed to play with and learn from so many wonderful musicians,” says Wright.
While blues remains the strongest thread in the tapestry of Wright’s music, in the late 90’s a new thread appeared. Gigs with local Hammond B3 organist Jackie Ivory (formerly with sax luminaries Junior Walker and Willis Jackson) rekindled her love of organ combo music. This led to working with monster Hammond star Tony Monaco in 2009 on her critically acclaimed debut CD Moanin’ which features a mix of soul jazz, blues, ballads, and boogaloo. Like Texas Tenors Arnett Cobb and Illinois Jacquet, and Chicago “Tough Tenors” Gene Ammons and Sonny Stitt, Wright works back and forth between blues and jazz comfortably.
Wright began performing with her own group while continuing to play and record with Bay Area blues and roots acts including The Blues Broads, Mighty Mike Schermer, Houston Jones, Lady Bianca, Steve Willis, Stan Erhart, and Macy Blackman. She received the 2013 West Coast Blues Hall of Fame Saxophone Player award. 2014 found her on the road again, touring in Europe, Canada and the US with Frank Bey and Greg Nagy.
Wright released her blues/roots CD Putting Down Roots in 2015. Adding vocal and songwriting dimensions to her artistry, Putting Down Roots consists of twelve blues/roots original instrumentals and vocals spanning blues, R&B, New Orleans, funk, and gospel styles, and was awarded a top-20 spot for Blues Album of the Year in the DownBeat Reader’s Poll.
On the heels of her successful Putting Down Roots CD, Wright released PLAYDATE! in 2016, delivering original material and fresh renditions of blues/roots/Americana covers. The CD’s ten special guests draw from Nancy’s extensive musical network: Tommy Castro, Elvin Bishop, Joe Louis Walker, Frank Bey, Wee Willie Walker, Victor Wainright, Mike Schermer, Chris Cain, Terrie Odabi, and Jim Pugh. PLAYDATE! is included in Downbeat Magazine’s Best Albums of 2017, and received a 2017 Blues Blast Music Awards Honorable Mention in the Soul Blues Album category.
Wright released her third CD in five years, Alive and Blue, in 2019 to rave reviews. A live set of original and cover songs and instrumentals recorded at San Francisco’s legendary blues club The Saloon, Alive and Blue is included in the Living Blues 2019 Top 50 Blues Albums, BluesBytes Top 20 Blues Album 2019 and Richard Ludmerer’s Making a SceneTop 40 Indie Blues Releases for 2019.
Wright’s extensive sideman discography includes multiple Blues Music Award-nominated CDs. A popular regular on the Legendary Rhythm & Blues Cruise, performing with Tommy Castro and the Painkillers, Wright continues to tour, playing major festivals and clubs with headlining artists and her own band.
Wright received her fourth consecutive Blue Music Award nomination in 2020.