Karl Denver Biography

Angus McKenzie, 16 December 1931, Glasgow, Scotland, d. 21 December 1998. Denver was raised in Glasgow, but left school at 15 to join the Norwegian merchant navy. He enlisted in the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders in 1951, and fought in the Korean war. Rejoining the navy after he was discharged, Denver jumped ship in America and ended up in Nashville. Adopting his new stage name, he appeared on radio and television and played the Grand Ole Opry before being deported in 1959. In England he teamed up with Gerry Cottrell and Kevin Neil to form the Karl Denver Trio. They were discovered by impresario Jack Good, who featured the trio on his television series Wham! and placed them on a national tour with Billy Fury and Jess Conrad. During his travels Denver had developed a love of contrasting folk forms and his repertoire comprised traditional material from the Middle East, Africa and China.

His flexible voice spanned several octaves and his unusual inflections brought much contemporary comment. He enjoyed four UK Top 10 hits during 1961/2, including ‘Marcheta’ (number 8, June 1961), ‘Mexicali Rose’ (number 8, October 1961), ‘Never Goodbye’ (number 9, February 1962) and ‘Wimoweh’. The latter, a Zulu folk song already covered by the Weavers and re-recorded by the Tokens as ‘The Lion Sleeps Tonight’, reached number 4 in January 1962. Denver continued to enjoy minor chart success over the next two years, with ‘A Little Love A Little Kiss’ and ‘Still’ both reaching the Top 20. Denver also hosted the BBC Light Programme radio show Side By Side, which featured the Beatles as regular guests. With the advent of beat groups, though, he progressively turned to cabaret work. By his own admission he began to depend on alcohol, and this hampered his career. He based himself in Manchester, which in part explained ‘Lazyitis (One Armed Boxer)’, his 1989 collaboration with the city’s neo-psychedelic favourites, the Happy Mondays, which reached UK number 46 the following June. He also released an updated version of ‘Wimoweh’ on Factory Records. He was recording new material shortly before his death in 1998.

Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.