Who Played What? Episode 1- “Keyboards on The Wall”

Today, we celebrate the 30th anniversary of the release of Pink Floyd’s The Wall, one of the most successful albums ever released, the biggest selling double album of all time, and probably the most thouroughly analyzed of any of Pink Floyd’s releases. In honour of the 30th anniversary of The Wall, I will examine a rather contentious source of mystery surrounding the album; who played what keyboard parts on The Wall?

BEWARE: LONG ARTICLE AHEAD!!!!!!!

The making of The Wall was known for being a particularly shitty time for founding keyboardist Richard Wright. He was never particularly keen on the album’s theme or live concept, he was going through a divorce from his wife Juliette, and was allegedly suffering a cocaine addiction at the time (something Rick always denied.) After fighting and failing to earn a co-producer’s credit on the album, Rick began to severely clash with Roger Waters. The tension would eventually reach the point where Roger finally had enough with his bandmate of 15 years, and dismissed him from Pink Floyd. Rick left the band during this period, but stayed on to finish the album and perform in the live shows (as a hired hand rather than as a full band member.) For the album, this period of inconsistency and unreliability meant that many keyboard parts were played by people other than Rick.

The Wall was not the first time that people other than Rick played keyboards. Some past examples:

-On the Ummagumma studio album, everybody recorded all their own instruments for their own solo compositions. The multitude of keyboard instruments on The Narrow Way are all played by David.
-David claims to have played some extra keyboards on Have A Cigar. It’s not clear which keyboard he’s playing though.
-In live versions of Echoes, Roger would add some extra keyboards in a couple of sections. During the Leslie piano intro, Roger would play some Farfisa organ (you can see this in Pompeii, before he gets up and grabs his bass), and Roger would do the piano pings during Rick’s Farfisa break.
-David played Hammond organ in live versions of Great Gig in the Sky, allowing Rick to concentrate on piano.
-The various EMS VCS3 synths were never exclusive to Rick. In the studio, they would be used by all four members of the group barring Nick Mason (Roger was probably the most prominent with the VCS3.) Mind you, the VCS3 synth is a modular synth that required an external (and frequently unused) keyboard controller, so the VCS3 doesn’t really count as a keyboard. Even the Synthi AKS (the one used for On The Run), with its built-in membrane keyboard sequencer, is a stretch in my opinion.
-Touring saxophonist Dick Parry added lots of extra keyboards during the Animals tour in 1977 (specifically the ARP Solina and some occasional Minimoog), set up in a rig behind Rick’s which was very difficult for the audience to see.

With all this being said, Rick remained the prominent keyboard figure in the band up to and including Animals (the live examples are simply a case of Rick needing an extra pair of hands.) With The Wall, the role of the keyboards changed; they were more orchestrated, and specific things were often required out of them. Rick’s relative lack of virtuosity made this a problem, especially in the piano department. His deteriorating relationship with Roger, coupled with his personal issues at the time, didn’t exactly make his playing more productive either.

While Rick did play significantly less keyboards than he played on any other Floyd album in the past, probably too much is said about his lack of keyboard playing on the album. I hear a lot of people talking about how Rick played almost nothing on the album (“Hey You and that’s it” I’ve heard one guy on a forum claim.) His playing is, in fact, present on most songs, and some things like Hey You, Young Lust and Don’t Leave Me Now are all Rick. Even on songs like Nobody Home, where the prominent piano part is played by Bob Ezrin, Rick’s in there playing a part on the Prophet synth.

The use of session keyboardists on the album in lieu of Rick’s unreliability is also something that’s been overstated. Peter Wood and Fred Mandel are often cited as the people who played a large portion of the keyboards on the album. Wood, actually, didn’t play on the album at all, and was only brought on board to accompany Rick for the tour, and Mandel only played the organ on the two In the Fleshes (which from what I can tell is the exact same part on both songs, so technically he only did one part.) Producer Bob Ezrin, a skilled keyboardist in his own right, was actually responsible for most of the keyboard parts that Rick didn’t play, and David Gilmour and engineer James Guthrie played some parts here and there. But aside from Mandel’s one organ part, nobody actually needed to be hired for the album to specifically cover Rick.

The following is a list of who played what keyboard parts on the album and the subsequent tour. This information is provided by the book Comfortably Numb: A History of The Wall 1978-81 by Vernon Fitch and Richard Mahon (fantastic read, by the way). While I can’t vouch for it to be absolutely 100% correct (I’ll interject comments where I feel necessary), most of this information is actually provided by David Gilmour himself, and this is about as accurate of a listing as I think we will ever get of who played what on The Wall.

In the Flesh?
Rick: Prophet 5
Roger: VCS3
Fred Mandel: organ

The Thin Ice
Rick: piano and organ
David: Prophet 5

Another Brick in the Wall pt. 1
Rick: Prophet 5, Minimoog and Rhodes

I’ve never actually heard the Rhodes in this song, but according to a recording session document there is indeed a Rhodes on the song, so I’m not completely out to lunch.

The Happiest Days of Our Lives
Rick: clavinet and organ

Another Brick in the Wall pt. 2
Rick: organ and Prophet

Mother
Bob Ezrin: Prophet, organ and piano

Goodbye Blue Sky
Rick and David: Prophet
Roger: VCS3

Not really sure why it took both Rick and David to accomplish the relatively simple synth part on this song, but I won’t argue.

Empty Spaces
Rick: piano
David: ARP Solina, Prophet, Clavinet
James Guthrie: ARP Solina
Roger: VCS3

Again, not sure why it took two people to play the ARP Solina (actually, I think there might be an error in the book; it could actually be the ARP Quadra, for the sequencer that creates the song’s rhythm.)

Young Lust
Rick: organ and Wurlitzer electric piano (with Wah-Wah)

Rick actually recorded two organ parts: one through the Leslie, and one through a Big Muff. The Leslie actually had a neat trick attatched to it: weights were added to the rotating horn so that when Rick switched speeds, it would take just a little bit longer to slow down or speed up.

One Of My Turns
Rick: piano
Bob Ezrin: Prophet and organ

Somehow, I wonder if this might actually be the other way around (Rick played the other parts in the live show.)

Don’t Leave Me Now
Rick: organ, organ pedals, piano, Prophet
Roger: VCS3

Another Brick in the Wall pt. 3
Rick: Prophet
David: Prophet (low part)

Goodbye Cruel World
Rick: Prophet

Hey You
Rick: Rhodes electric piano, organ and Prophet

Is There Anybody Out There?
Rick: Prophet
Bob Ezrin: synth and string synth*

*I know this is vague, but this is what the book says.

Nobody Home
Rick: Prophet
Bob Ezrin: piano
Roger: VCS3

Vera
Rick: Prophet

Comfortably Numb
Rick: organ
David: Prophet (low notes on outro solo)

The Show Must Go On
Rick: Prophet
Bob Ezrin: Prophet and piano

In the Flesh
Fred Mandel: organ
David and James Guthrie: ARP Quadra (sequencer)
Bob Ezrin: Prophet
Roger: VCS3

Run Like Hell
Rick: Prophet

Rick’s only solo on The Wall

Waiting For the Worms
Rick: organ
Bob Ezrin: piano
David: Prophet
Roger: VCS3

Stop
Bob Ezrin: piano

The Trial
Bob Ezrin: piano

Live performances:

For the live performances of The Wall, every member of Pink Floyd was doubled on their instrument by a session player, forming the Surrogate Band, or the Shadow Band. Rick was paired up with Peter Wood, a prolific session player who co-wrote the Al Stewart hit “Year of the Cat” and would subsequently join Roger as the main keyboardist at the Wall concert in Berlin 1990 (I’ve not been able to find much other information on Peter Wood, except the fact that he’s very sadly no longer with us.) For the large part, with a few exceptions, they were divided in the manner of Rick playing organ and Prophet synth, and Peter playing piano. Peter played all of the acoustic piano parts during The Wall shows (except the beginning of The Thin Ice.)

Again, this information comes from Comfortably Numb by Fitch and Mahon, as well as my own observations from watching live footage. One interesting feature of the book is that it shows a detailed photo of Rick’s notes that he pasted to his Prophet 5, showing which preset settings to use on the Prophet for each song, and otherwise which instruments he had to play on each song. However, this doesn’t tell us anything about what Peter was doing, and the book is mostly less than informative about what he does during the show. Based on that, Peter’s instruments might be a little sketchy (although in many places it’s simply process of elimination.)

In the Flesh?
Rick: ARP Quadra (sequencer) and Prophet 5 (on main stage, unseen to audience)
Peter Wood: Hammond C3 (on front stage, wearing life mask of Rick)

The Thin Ice
Rick: piano on first verse, Hammond organ second verse onwards
Peter: piano from second verse onward

This is the only song in the live show in which Rick played acoustic piano. As soon as the second verse kicks in, Peter sits down at the piano and Rick very quickly gets up and moves to the Hammond organ.

Another Brick in the Wall pt. 1
Rick: Prophet 5
Peter: ARP Quadra and outro piano

The Happiest Days of our Lives
Rick: Prophet 5
Peter: piano

Another Brick in the Wall pt. 2
Rick: organ and Prophet
Peter: Wurlitzer electric piano

Mother
Rick: Prophet and organ
Peter: Prophet and piano

Goodbye Blue Sky
Rick: Prophet and organ solo
Peter: Prophet

What Shall We Do Now?
Rick: ARP Quadra (sequencer)
Peter: Prophet and organ

Young Lust
Rick: organ
Peter: Wurlitzer

One of My Turns
Rick: Prophet and organ
Peter: piano

Don’t Leave Me Now
Rick: Prophet and organ
Peter: piano

Another Brick in the Wall pt. 3
Rick: Prophet
Peter: not sure

The Last Few Bricks
Rick: Prophet
Peter: ARP Solina

Rick wrote in his notes for the medley about a “bees” preset for the Prophet. LOL.

Goodbye Cruel World
Rick: Prophet

Hey You
Rick: Rhodes, Prophet, Wurlitzer?
Peter: organ?

This song is the one I’m the most sketchy about. Rick’s notes suggest he didn’t play the organ (i.e. Peter) but he did play the Prophet. Since the Prophet was on top of the organ, that doesn’t sound very practical at all. Also, Rick mentions the Wurlitzer, but all the electric piano sounds like Rhodes to me. (The “bees” effect is mentioned in the notes again. I don’t know why, but I find that very funny.)

Is There Anybody Out There?
Peter: Prophet, maybe ARP Solina

Rick apparently got a break for a few songs until Comfortably Numb.

Nobody Home
Peter: piano

Vera/Bring the Boys Back Home
No live keyboards

Comfortably Numb
Rick: Prophet, organ
Peter: piano

The Show Must Go On
Rick: Rhodes intro, Prophet
Peter: piano, Prophet?

In the Flesh
Rick: organ, Prophet
Peter: CP80 piano

From this song through Stop, everyone was performing with reduced rigs in front of the wall. Like his fellow Surrogate bandmates, Peter wore a “death mask” of Rick, and played piano in a static, zombie-like manner.

Run Like Hell
Rick: organ, Prophet
Peter: CP80

Waiting For the Worms
Rick: organ
Peter: CP80

Stop
Peter: CP80

(Fitch/Mahon attribute the piano to both Peter and Rick, which I don’t think is true. Actually, the piano may not even be live, since everyone except Roger is leaving the stage at this point to cue up The Trial.)

The Trial
I highly doubt there are any live keyboards on this song

Outside the Wall
Rick: accordion
Peter: acoustic guitar

By the way, I am well aware that most of my big articles have been centered around Rick Wright. Hell, the blog’s called “Always Wright.” I do this for a couple of reasons:

-I feel that Rick has always been under-represented as a figure of Pink Floyd, when there is so much interesting things to be said about what he brought to the band. As a gear nerd, I appreciate the multitude of information about David Gilmour’s guitars and equipment (there is a whole site dedicated to chronicling Gilmour’s gear down to the last patch cable.) I would like to think that there’s a similar interest in Rick’s keyboards and his playing.
-The main reason is that I’m biased. I am, after all, the “Rick Wright” of Pigs. So as a representative in that department, my choice of subject matter in rather weighted in one direction.

With that being said, I intend to write some more articles that focus on the other band members. My next look in the “Who Played What?” series will focus on who’s playing bass guitar on each Pink Floyd recording, another infamously contentious issue in the Floyd community.

7 thoughts on “Who Played What? Episode 1- “Keyboards on The Wall”

  1. An interesting post, and I agree completely that far less is known for sure about the way Rick produced certain sounds compared to the wealth of information on Gilmour's gear, practically down to what kind of solder was used inside his guitar.

    I have a suggestion: for years, I've been trying to figure out exactly how Rick created the percussive chords on "One of These Days." I've run pianos through Leslies, but haven't been satisfied with the results. I think the Echorec is in there, but I can't tell if it's before the Leslie, or if the Leslie is miked with processing downstream from it. The closest I've gotten is a Wurlitzer patch through a Leslie.

    But back to Rick's contributions, I think he's been underrated because he's not a flashy player like Keith Emerson or Rick Wakeman. It's easy to forget how hard it is just to put a few notes in just the right place (pun intended). I'm a keyboard player myself, and I owe a huge debt to Rick Wright in terms of learning how to find just the right sound for a song.

  2. On In the Flesh peter is on the hammond for sure. See the bootleg videos. Sure that rick plays the cp80 on run like hell and peter on hammond.

    Thanks for the great site!

    -Lars, from Norway

  3. I'm confused? I'm not sure what I played anymore. Guess I'll have to have go back to becoming a professional hockey player or Tubist in a clown band.
    Cheers, Fred M.

  4. Thanks for writing this, as it is pretty interesting information that is not widely known unless you've got the Comfortably Numb book. Actually, all told, it looks like Rick played more keyboards on the wall than any one other person did. I look forward to your "Who played What" with bass as I suspect it will be quite illuminating.

    Peter Wood died in 1993 after an accidental fall in his home in NYC. I've always wondered if there was any awkward tension between himself and Rick during the Wall tour.

  5. One interesting feature of the book is that it shows a detailed photo of Rick's notes that he pasted to his Prophet 5, showing which preset settings to use on the Prophet for each song

    do you have a pic of this?

  6. Really cool post, nice to see some attention paid to the often overlooked keyboard parts of Floyd's music.

    A quick question. Myself and several other musicians have just set up a Pink Floyd tribute band named A Touch of Floyd and the one thing we've found is that there are apparently no transcriptions of Rick's actual keyboard and synth parts available. We've been working things out by ear but our keyboard player was, until recently, pretty much a solely classical player so playing by ear doesn't exactly come naturally to her and as a guitarist, transcribing notation ain't my strong suit.

    Just wondering if you knew of anywhere that one could find some decent transcriptions of Ricks playing?

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