Les Bennetts

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One of a handful of top-flight lead guitarists on the British skiffle scene, Les Bennetts formal entry into music took place during the summer of 1957, when he was 17 years old and still a student at…
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One of a handful of top-flight lead guitarists on the British skiffle scene, Les Bennetts formal entry into music took place during the summer of 1957, when he was 17 years old and still a student at London's Polytechnic school. Teamed with Alan Jones, David Russell, Winky Wimbledon, Bennetts and singers Keith Larner and Roger Smith formed a six-man skiffle group which, by the end of the year, was ready to turn professional. Bennetts, Larner, and Smith, with new members Darrell Lyte, Roy Tobin, and Brian Gregg, formed Les Hobeaux. By the end of the year, the group -- or, more correctly, Bennetts signing for the group -- had a contract with EMI's HMV Records label.

Bennetts was a phenomenally skilled guitarist and established as a star virtually instantaneously on the burgeoning skiffle scene. Along with Denny Wright, Dick Bishop, and Jimmy Currie, he was one of the very few truly talented soloists in skiffle, and he was one of the first guitarists on the scene to begin exploring the possibilities inherent in electric amplification. Coupled with his use of folk elements, distinct from the jazz and blues emphasis of Wright and Bishop, Bennetts established a unique sound and image for himself amid the usually undifferentiated ranks of skiffle players. For all of his renown as a musician, Bennetts was also almost equally notorious for his uninhibited sense of humor and a devotion to practical jokes, even in situations at clubs that held the threat of potential violence. At one point, according to skiffle legend Chas McDevitt in his book Skiffle: The Definitive Inside Story, Les Hobeaux actually voted him out of their lineup, only to discover that, as he had signed with HMV on the group's behalf, he was effectively the owner of the group name and still the one with the recording contract and could replace them at his leisure.

He re-joined and Les Hobeaux lasted for another year, after which Bennetts joined Chas McDevitt's group for a time, before moving on to play lead guitar and sing harmony for Lonnie Donegan; his single-string lead sound can be heard all over Donegan's 1959 album Rides Again. He toured England and America with Donegan and played a key role in keeping the skiffle king popular and competitive into the rock & roll era in England. In 1959, Bennetts moved to America for a time and operated clubs in various cities, including New Orleans and New York; and returned to England in the mid-'60s, where he founded a hotel of his own. Over the next 30 years, he made his living as a boxer, coal miner, insurance salesman, screenwriter, talent manager, and dairyman. One of the most fondly remembered skiffle guitarists of the 1950s, Bennetts was preparing for a comeback in conjunction with the Chas McDevitt Skiffle Group in 1995 when he died of lung cancer.