Denny Wright

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Denny Wright
Birth name Denys Justin Wright
Also known as Denys Justin Freeth-Wright
Born (1924-05-06)6 May 1924
Origin Deptford, London, England
Died 8 February 1992(1992-02-08)
London (67 years old)
Genres Jazz, skiffle, folk
Occupation(s) Guitarist
Record producer
Club owner and manager
Instruments guitar
backing vocals
Years active 1939–1991
Associated acts Stephane Grappelli, Lonnie Donegan, Johnny Duncan, Digby Fairweather

Denys Justin Wright (6 May 1924 – 8 February 1992), better known as Denny Wright, was a jazz and skiffle guitarist who performed with Stephane Grappelli, Lonnie Donegan, Johnny Duncan (bluegrass musician), Digby Fairweather, Ella Fitzgerald, Ken Snakehips Johnson, Billy Eckstine, Fapy Lafertin, Russ Conway, Bireli Lagrene, Humphrey Littleton, Nigel Kennedy and his great friend George Shearing.

A session musician for many years, he frequently acted as arranger and "fixer" for recording sessions. Wright was a prolific jazz and orchestra composer. He led many bands, ranging from small jazz ensembles through night club bands to full size orchestras. In addition to jazz and skiffle, he worked with Latin American and Jamaican bands, including Kenny Graham's Afro-Cubists. He contributed to swing bands and orchestras, frequently playing with the Carl Barriteau orchestra, the Decca Records house band under Phil Green, and, on occasion, the Glenn Miller band. Denny Wright was voted the 1980 BBC Jazz Society Musician of the Year.

Although best known as a guitarist, his favourite instrument was the piano - the only musical instrument he would ever play at home. Travellin' Blues by Johnny Duncan and the Bluegrass Boys feature Wright's piano playing.

Early life[edit]

Denny Wright was born in Deptford, London, UK, and grew up in Brockley, with frequent forays to the Old Kent Road and the Elephant and Castle. His parents were Joseph William Wright, a skilled wireless telegraphist who worked for the General Post Office and who served with the Royal Engineers throughout World War One, and Selina Elizabeth Stewart, who was born in Hampstead. Denny's paternal family originally came from Polstead and Boxstead in Suffolk, although they had moved to Deptford by 1881. Denny's grandfather, Ephraim Wright, was an Engine Fitter; Ephraim died at the age of 34 on November 26, 1894 at the South Eastern Hospital in Deptford, the victim of Enteric Fever - also known as Typhoid. Denny's first instrument was the piano. His older brother, Alex Wright, was a semi-professional guitarist before the war and Denny, ten years younger, was soon trying to play his brother's guitar. Denny began playing professionally before World War II, while still at school, pulling in a substantial income.

Idiosyncratically, he nearly always used his thumb on the top E string and could only play as fast as he could sing. He often sang along as he played a solo; for instance, you can hear Denny briefly singing along with his solo at 0'50" on Lonnie Donegan's No 4 UK hit "Don't You Rock Me Daddy-O", recorded in 1957.

Musical career[edit]

Wright spent the first part of World War II playing in jazz clubs in the West End of London, doing session work and performing in bands on many hit wartime radio shows. He worked with Grappelli for the first time in London around 1941. At school Denny served with the Auxiliary Fire Service in Brockley. Wright was classified as medically unfit to serve due to a childhood injury suffered in a road accident in 1930 that cost him his spleen and half of his liver. Instead, he joined ENSA, entertained the troops and ended the war in 's-Hertogenbosch, Netherlands.

In 1945 he set up London's first bebop club,[1] the Fullado in New Compton Street, where he played piano and guitar. In the late 1940s he toured Italy and the Middle East with the Francisco Cavez orchestra and performed in King Farouk's palace.

Throughout the 1950s Denny provided guitar accompaniments for Lonnie Donegan, Johnny Duncan, Humphrey Lyttelton, Marie Bryant (one of Duke Ellington's vocalists) and others, as well as featuring on the BBC's Guitar Club. Wright worked with Tex Ritter, providing him with musical accompaniment at the Texas Western Spectacle at the Haringey Arena in 1952. Along with Digby Fairweather, Roy Williams, Johnny Van Derrick, Jack Fallon, Tony Crombie and Jack Fallon, Denny accompanied Joel David on Old Bones and added a notable guitar solo to Joel David's song "Be My Valentine Tonight".

Wright was part of Donegan's group who first took skiffle to the Soviet Union in 1957.

From 1940 (Workers' Playtime, among others) until the early 1980s, Wright worked as a session musician, providing guitar on hits by Mary Hopkin, Dusty Springfield and Tom Jones, among others.

His free-flowing improvisational style came to the forefront through his work with Donegan. Wright established a fresh lead guitar style in the context of the folk and blues roots from which Donegan drew his repertoire. Drawing upon the jazz/blues elements in his own background, and Reinhardt's influence, Wright produced constantly innovative lead breaks and solos for Donegan's live work and recordings on both acoustic archtop and electric guitar.

Together with Bill Bramwell and Donegan's younger lead guitar players, Les Bennetts and Jimmy Currie, he helped inspire the next generation of British lead guitarists working with blues-based material in a rock context. In Chapter 6 of "The Beatles: The Biography", George Harrison's friend Arthur Kelly recounts George attempting Denny's solo from Last Train to San Fernando.[2] In "The British Invasion" by Barry Miles, Miles relates how the first song rehearsed by The Quarryemn after they were joined by Paul McCartney was 'Don't You Rock Me Daddy-O, the Lonnie Donegan hit which featured a trademark Denny Wright solo.

In the 1960s, in addition to a great deal of session work providing backing for many top artists including Mary Hopkin and Jones, with friend Keith Cooper he produced Tribute to the Hot Club as The Cooper-Wright Quintet. Denny also contributed on the folk scene, working extensively with folk singer and guitarist Steve Benbow. They continued to work together through the end of Denny's career. During this period, Denny also began a long partnership with record company Rediffusion. In 1974 he released an album on EMI's budget label Music for Pleasure titled "Non-Stop Pepsi Party" (credited to Denny Wright and the Hustlers), which was composed of cover versions of contemporary hits plus the self-penned "Shout About Pepsi", which later appeared on the 1995 Studio 2 compilation album The Sound Gallery.

In the early 1970s, Wright once more accompanied Grappelli, beginning at the Cambridge Folk Festival where Grappelli's career was relaunched. Wright recorded and performed concerts with numerous leading British and international musicians during this time. In 1978, he formed Velvet with Ike Isaacs, Len Skeat and Digby Fairweather. In 1980, Wright was voted BBC Jazz Society Musician of the Year. After Velvet, he formed a band with Don Harper before reforming the Hot Club of London with Johnny van Derrick (violin), Gerry Higgins (double bass) and his protégé Robert Seaman (guitar). Denny played with the Hot Club of London across the UK, as well as at jazz festivals in Eindhoven and Cork. The 1970s saw Denny form a close friendship with Anton Kwiatkowski, one of the leading Producers/Engineers for EMI; throughout the decade, the worked together on many albums, mostly for EMI's Music for Pleasure label. His last gig, at The Grapes in Shepherd Market, Mayfair in late 1991, was with van Derrick.

Denny occasionally taught young guitarists, both privately and at London comprehensive schools, and guest lectured at the Royal College of Music on the life of a session musician.

Personal life[edit]

Denny married Barbara, a lyricist and actress, in 1961. Their son, St.John, was born while Denny was on stage in Leeds with Lonnie Donegan. Barbara died on 16 February 1989 after an eight-year battle with breast cancer. They had been married over 27 years. Denny, who was devastated by his wife's death, died on 8 February 1992 in London after a nine-year battle with bladder cancer, a direct result of his heavy smoking. Van Derrick and Denny's son, who had given up his career to become Denny's carer, were with him when he died. He was cremated at St. Marylebone Crematorium on 14 February 1992; at the service, his band, the Hot Club of London, played "Days of Wine & Stephan" - one of Denny's compositions. His old friend Lonnie Donegan was not able to attend; instead, he sent a massive floral tribute in the shape of a guitar.


Stephane Grappelli: "Denny Wright also is a marvellous player, he's got such a good technique. Of course he can't produce Django's melodic line because Django invented it, but he has his own style, and on top of that he's got the strength of Django Reinhardt. In my opinion he's the only player in the world who can compare to Django and, you know, when I'm playing with Denny Wright and if I let my spirit go, then maybe I find that for a few seconds I'm back again with Django Reinhardt." (Guitar Magazine, mid-1970s)

Paul McCartney: "I remember going to see Lonnie Donegan in 1956 at the Empire in Liverpool. It was wonderful. After we saw him and the skiffle groups, we just wanted guitars. Denny Wright, his guitar player, we really used to love – he was great." ( interview) "I loved Carl Perkins, Chuck Berry, Buddy Holly and Lonnie Donegan's guitarist, Denny Wright, who was fantastic." (Guitarist magazine, 2004)

Chris Spedding: "We used to buy the old Lonnie Donegan records, and we admired people like Denny Wright, the Donegan guitarist. Skiffle really woke me up, and I bought a guitar which I played in groups at school."

Digby Fairweather: "A soloist with a quicksilver mind, Wright reflected Django Reinhardt and George Barnes in his work, but his inspirations were all his own."


Singles (UK chart position in brackets)

  • Georgia, Marie Bryant with the Mike McKenzie Quartet (1954)
  • Lost John, (Trad. arr Donegan) Lonnie Donegan (1956) (2)
  • Stewball, (Trad. arr Donegan) Lonnie Donegan (1956) (2)
  • Bring a Little Water, Sylvie, (Trad. arr Ledbetter, Donegan, Campbell) Lonnie Donegan (1956) (7)
  • Don't You Rock Me Daddy-O, (Varley, Whyton) Lonnie Donegan (1956) (4)
  • Cumberland Gap, (Trad. arr Donegan) Lonnie Donegan (1957) (1)
  • Last Train to San Fernando, Johnny Duncan (1957) (2)


  • Showcase, Lonnie Donegan (1965)
  • Lonnie Donegan Live, Lonnie Donegan (1957)
  • Johnny Duncan's Tennessee Song Bag, Johnny Duncan (1957)
  • Live at the Cambridge Folk Festival: The BBC Sessions,Stéphane Grappelli
  • I Got Rhythm!, Stephane Grappelli (1974)
  • Live in London, Stéphane Grappelli
  • Songs of Ireland, Steve Benbow
  • Friendly Folk, Steve Benbow & Denny Wright (1972)
  • Non Stop Pepsi Party, Denny Wright and the Hustlers (1974)
  • Combo, Don Harper (1977)
  • Tribute to the Hot Club, Cooper-Wright Quintet
  • Mr Guitar, Denny Wright
  • Jazz at the New Theatre
  • Velvet


  1. ^ Up West: Voices from the Streets of Post-War London. Transworld. 17 August 2010. pp. 210–. ISBN 978-1-4070-8389-6.  |first1= missing |last1= in Authors list (help)
  2. ^ "The Beatles: The Biography". 
  • Priestley, Brian; Ian Carr; Digby Fairweather (2007). The Rough Guide to Jazz. Rough Guides. ISBN 1-84353-256-5. 
  • Brown, Tony; Jon Kutner; Neil Warwick (2000). The Complete Book of the British Charts. Omnibus Press. ISBN 0-7119-7670-8. 

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