Monday, 6 January 2014

Karl Denver (1932 - 1998)

Angus Murdo Mckenzie was born in Springburn, Glasgow, in 1932. When he left school at 15, he joined the Norwegian Mercantile Marine as a deckhand. There he practiced the guitar and entertained his shipmates. After leaving the merchant navy in 1951 he joined the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders and served in the Korean War. He was wounded then discharged and during his recuperation developed a liking for country music. Once recovered he went back to the sea before jumping ship in the US when he was 21. Angus made a living playing country music in clubs in Nashville. During this time, he took the stage name Karl Denver and became friends with Faron Young and Lefty Frizzell. Karl Denver was the first British performer to play on the Grand Ole Opry radio show.

In 1959 the US immigration department caught up with him and he was deported back in Britain. He settled in Manchester and formed the Karl Denver Trio with Gerry Cottrell (bass) and Kevin Neill (guitarist). They became popular and toured the Northern working men’s clubs until they were seen by impresario Jack Good. He featured them on his television series Wham!

Jack Good also negotiated a record deal with Decca and acted as producer on the series of their hit singles. A popular song performed by the group on stage was the Zulu chant, "Wimoweh." The trio recorded it but the record company felt it too bizarre to release as a single. Instead "Marcheta" was their first single and became a minor hit in the UK in 1961.

This was followed by "Mexicali Rose" which also sold well.

Karl Denver Denver had a distinctive voice with a multi-octave range, and falsetto yodelling register. Many of his growing fans enjoyed the songs of Slim Whitman and when the US group the Tokens released ‘The lion sleeps tonight’ (a vocal version of "Wimoweh") and it began to rise in the UK charts they organized a petition for Decca to release his version of "Wimoweh.” The company relinquished and the single shot to #4 in the UK in 1962.

In the same year "Never Goodbye", was an entry in A Song for Europe.

The Karl Denver Trio toured the UK extensively and was regulars on public variety radio. In 1962 the Trio was given their own BBC Light Programme show, Side by Side.

Inevitably the popularity of the Mersey Beat over took popular demand and the Karl Denver Trio lost hold in the charts. They did continue for several years to perform in cabaret at home and overseas. Karl Denver was declared bankrupt in 1966, then again in 1973 and in 1978. About the same time Gerry Cottrell left the trio but they continued to perform in cabaret although were never able to recapture their salad days.

Karl did enjoy a brief return in 1989 after guesting on the Happy Monday’s single "Lazyitis (One-Armed Boxer)".

In 1993 he released his final album which was a frail effort from an aging and ill performer. Karl Denver died in 1998 from complications from a brain tumour.

Worth a listen
Marcheta (1961)
Mexicali Rose/Bonny Scotland (1961)
Wimoweh (1962)
Can You Forgive Me (1963) Indian Love Call (1963) Still (1963)

Happy Mondays
Lazyitis - One Armed Boxer (1990)

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