Keys to the kingdom

Local new age piano sensation Danny Wright ponders the secret of his success

"It's funny," says Dori Nichols. "In the last few years, we've grown into a several-million-dollar business, but in the beginning I wasn't even trying to start a company. I just wanted to do something to help Danny. It was almost like magic."

Of course, success comes with a price tag.
"It's getting so I can't go into a grocery store or to the florist without somebody saying, 'Hey, you're Danny Wright!' and coming over to me asking for an autograph," he says. "It hasn't gotten so bad yet that I have to stay indoors all the time, but if that day ever comes, I don't know how I'm gonna feel about it."

He lives a low-key life, visiting regularly with his elderly parents, who live nearby, and entertaining friends in his home with his companion and housemate of seven years, Michael Landers, owner of Landers' Hair Salon, a popular Fort Worth styling spot.

But he's found that as benevolent and calming as new age music is, its fans can be as disturbed as any rock groupies. Wright's mailbags don't always arrive bearing sweet testimonials. There are countless unsolicited musical submissions from would-be Danny Wrights, and he dutifully listens to them all, though few impress him; when the submitters don't hear from Wright with a pledge of eternal support, they sometimes write again expressing bewilderment or hostility. Occasionally the postman arrives bearing vaguely creepy missives from strangers demanding money or personal possessions from Wright, or a personal visit, lifelong friendship, even marriage.

A couple of years ago, Wright acquired the official seal of true celebrity: his very own stalker. The young woman, who lived in Fort Worth, was so obsessed with Wright and his music she drove by his home several times a week, invariably accompanied by two rather large and scary-looking men. Wright says he turned her away and began reflexively calling the cops whenever she showed up--which was often very late at night.

After Wright changed housekeepers, the woman managed to gain entrance to his house by introducing herself to the new hired help as a close friend. While the unsuspecting housekeeper went to fetch Wright, who was working out in a back room, the woman made herself at home, rifling through his CDs and memorabilia. Outraged, Wright ejected her. A few weeks later, he spotted her with her two companions a block from his house and sicced a nearby cop car on them.

They haven't returned, but Wright is still spooked by the whole affair. He posted a full-time bodyguard in the front room for a while and invested in an expensive home security system. His number is unlisted, and he asked that this article not give the address of his home, describe its exterior, or even mention the area of town in which it is located.

"It's kind of scary to think about," Wright says. "All these people are out there, and they feel like they know you through your music, even though you've never met them and probably never will meet them. They feel like they're your best friends."

But he's willing to run such risks because the thrill of celebrity is so addictive and satisfying. He doesn't occupy the same hallowed plane as some of his idols just yet--but he's getting there.

Two years ago, he played on the same Dallas Symphony pops bill with composer-pianist Marvin Hamlisch. After the performance, Wright introduced himself and gave his hero an autographed CD. "He didn't know who I was when I met him," Wright says.

Then he smiles a satisfied smile and adds, "He does now.

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