DENNY CORDELL-LAVARACK Record Producer, Horse
Breeder, Trainer, Gentleman and friend to many. In this Appreciation for
The Irish Times, music promoter Michael Purcell recalls a little of
Denny' s Life and Times.
Following a brief illness Denny died on
February 18th 1995 at the young age of 51. Acknowledged throughout the
world as one of the most influential record producers in the music
entertainment business, Denny had lived among us in Carlow at Corries
House, Bagenalstown since 1979.
The artists with whom he was associated reads
like a "Who's Who" of modern day entertainers, Bob Marley and the
Wailers, Procal Harum, The Moody Blues, The Move, T.Rex, Marc Bolan,
J.J.Cale, Phoebe Snow, Dwight Twilley, the Gap Band, Toots and the
Maytals, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Chet Baker, Joe Cocker, David
Bowie, Georgie Fame, Freddy King, Leon Russell, Marianne Faithfull and
in more recent times The Cranberries.
In an appreciation by Bill Graham published in
"Hot Press" (23rd March 1995). Bill stated that "a radio station
could devote a full days schedule to the music of the noted performers
and other secondary artists with whom Denny was associated and there
would not be a bum track".
Leaving public school at 17 he went to Paris
where Denny tracked down the great jazz trumpeter Chet Baker and briefly
became his manager, this was to be Denny's apprenticeship in the world
of music. It was at the age of 21 that Denny working in the "Radio
Caroline" based office of Jon Fenton's management company, got his
first big break. The promoters of a new band called the Moody Blues were
looking for a hit single for the group. Denny convinced the band to
record the Bessie Banks song "Go Now" it turned out to be a huge hit.
Denny had drawn up a business contract with the
group and despite their best efforts to do so the Moody Blues could not
back out of the agreement. Denny cleared a five-figure-sum from the
deal. Later he was to set up his own independent production company,
"Straight Ahead", it was to produce some of the great music sounds
of the 60's. Denny had another colossal hit with the classic "A
Whiter Shade of Pale", (1967) for Procal Harum. This arrangement was
to earn him £5 million or "five cool and funky big ones", as he called
Another classic produced by Denny was Lennon
and Mc Cartney's, "With a Little Help from My Friends", for the
soul singer Joe Cocker in 1968. Later Denny was to take Joe Cocker and
the Grease Band on the Legendary "Mad Dogs and Englishmen", coast
to coast tour of the United States in a cavalcade of 19 stretch limos,
culminating in their appearance at the Woodstock Free Festival. The
Grease Band included Gary Busey on drums, J.J.Cale on guitar, Leon
Russell on keyboards and Rita Coolidge on back-up vocals.
In 1978 Denny established "Flippers", a
successful (unlike my own venture of the same period) roller disco club
in Los Angeles. One could fill a book with details of Denny's further
involvement and achievements on the music scene. In fact the rock
history, "The Sound of the City", devotes three pages to him.
Born in Buenos Aires, Argentina, six years
later he moved with his family to Brazil before being sent to England to
be educated. (At the time of the Falklands war Denny had his Carlow home
painted in the Argentinian national colours). Moving to Jamaica where he
lived in a large shack on the beach, Denny set up MANGO RECORDS with his
friend Chris Blackwell. Despite driving a Ferrari (Reg.No RAAAS) Denny
always managed to be late for appointments. His Jamaican sojourn yielded
him two prize catches: Bob Marley and the Wailers and Toots and the
Maytals. In fact it was Denny who introduced Rasta music to the United
States. Denny, "retired", to Carlow Ireland in his early 30's to
breed and train racehorses, and to "Party". He was to enjoy much
success in all three enterprises. Despite the achievements in his horse
training career (Baba Karam, Tawkin and Modest were among the more
useful performers he trained for owners such as Ron Wood and John Daley)
and success as a breeder (having shares in Alzao, Niniski, Persian Bold
and Ahonoora) Denny's financial losses were to run into seven figures.
This was to result in his comeback in the international music scene in
latter years. Returning as Artists and Repertoire man for "Island
Records", Denny quickly proceeded to pick up the threads. In 1993 he
was masterminding the rise of the Cranberries who were discovered by his
eldest son, Barney in Limerick and was also associated with Melissa
Etheridge's success in the USA.
Just before his untimely death Denny was
concentrating on forming a new production, publishing and consultancy
company "Realisation" with Imago founder Kate Hyman. His last
studio outing was for Marianne Faithfull's new album "A Secret Life".
Paul Mc Guiness of U2 recalls Denny, inviting us all to a party in
Corries House, Bagenlstown and saying he was going to spend what was
left of his money on the party and go back to work in the record
business, Paul added that " Denny was well on his way to making his
second fortune, he had clearly established in the industries mind that
he could do it again."
Denny was also a keen greyhound man and
achieved a measure of success both in California and Ireland. Joining
with one of the country's top handlers, Brendan Murphy, the pair
rejoiced in the success of the classic-placed Malibu Tip and the
coursing dog Some Skunk which won the Waterloo Cup at Altcar.
Pirate Irwin writing a tribute to Denny in the
British paper: "The Independent" stated: On the Irish Racing
scene Denny was a breath of fresh air compared to the Tipperary-
dominated fake glamour set. Suddenly Ireland had a genuine star
bestriding its proudest stage- from the Curragh to Gowran Park, his
local track. With his mop of grey curls, a Marlboro dangling from his
lip and a Charismatic clan of his children and step-children he could
not but add real style and eccentricity to Irish racing.
The Daily Telegraph noted in its appreciation
of Denny's life that: Cordell liked to put his feet up on peoples desks
(he was something of a shoe fetishist) and to scatter broken matches on
their plush carpeting. He was mulish in negotiation, but knew how to
leave them laughing even as he walked off with their swag. "You're
never alone with a grand", he would say.
Further down the piece continues: however hard
he lived Cordell retained his good looks with wry and humorous face
beneath a head of prematurely grey hair. Caroline Kennedy once described
him as having "a head like Beethoven". He was a master of the art
of living, but from the female point of view remained undomesticated.
His Carlow neighbour and friend Emilio "Mim" Scala recalled: Denny
Cordell was one of the greatest hosts you could find. He loved good
food, was a great cook and there would always be a first class bottle of
wine at Corries House. He could be with the jet set one day but the next
he would be happily back in Corries, doing a spot of fishing or shooting
with his friends. Denny had made his all-weather gallop available to
many horse trainers, local wonder horse Danoli was one that benefited
from this generous action. His ability to live out Kipling's : " walk
with kings- nor lose the common touch", meant that one could meet Denny
in the local bookies or pub or in the Castle Tavern in my own street
having a quiet chat with Sean at the counter or playing cards in the
corner with the lads and never guess that he was a celebrated player in
the international music scene.
Never missing a stroke he had in the early days
of satellite broadcasting formed a syndicate to bid for the SIS rights,
he was just pipped at the post for the contract. He also devised the
Stable-mate racing club which brought 500 shareholders into racing most
of whom benefited when .019 of the club's 20 horses were winners.
Brought from the Corries in a horse-drawn
hearse Denny was buried in a quiet corner of Lorum Church cemetery,
dressed in a Rhinestone Cowboy outfit, wearing his boots. His copy of
Ellington 55 in his arms with a bottle of Irish whiskey and a spliff
placed beside him. Two Rastafarian Members of the Century Steel Band
filled in the grave. His life was then celebrated with a wake in
O'Shea's of Borris in what was described as the biggest hooley since
Ireland beat Italy in the World Cup. The end had come fast and with
little warning, feeling pain, Denny consulted his doctor, Lymphoma was
diagnosed, a month later despite the valiant efforts of the staff of the
Mater Hospital, Denny passed away. Eleven weeks later his first
grand-child Lucille was born. Twice married, he had two sons Barney and
Tarka from his first marriage to Mia, son Milo and daughter Emerald from
his second marriage to Theodora and a two year old son Finbar from his
relationship with Marina Guinness. Denny is also survived by his mother
Mary and his brother Andrew.
His delights and interests were many and
varied, family, friends, music, horses, dogs, an oul gamble, wild
fowling, paintings, books, socialising and laughter. His inimitable self
combined with his early death will ensure that his absence will be felt
more strongly in the years ahead. Sure it must have been someone like
Denny that Burns had in mind when he wrote: