The King Of Regal Zonophone (Denny Cordell 1969)

Denny Cordell was an outstanding record producer & a face on the 1960s British music scene. His 2 smash hits are big old units designed to impress the listener & to launch a new artist. There is though no trademark “Cordell Sound”, he just made records that sold a lot. By 1969 Denny had the run of a label operating under the giant, awash with Beatles money,  E.M.I. Here are 3 records, one produced by Cordell, the others by his company & released through the mellifluous imprint Regal Zonophone. Man, my favourite name for a label…ever !

Denny Cordell learned the ins, outs & roundabouts with Chris Blackwell at Island Records before getting an independent gig to produce the Moody Blues after they hit around the world with “Go Now”. After a #1 with Georgie Fame a hook up with publisher David Platz  gave him a year to make some records for Deram, Decca’s new “cool” label. 12 months later, after 2 Top 10 records for the Move & “A Whiter Shade of Pale”…well, you know how that one goes because skipping the light fandango was the dance craze of 1967, Denny could do whatever he wanted wherever he pleased. Regal Zonophone was known for Australian country & western or Salvation Army pop (strange but true !). It was revived solely for the records the Cordell organization wanted to release.

“A Salty Dog” is the title track of Procol Harum’s 3rd LP. When a group has a record like “Whiter Shade” it can be a tough act to follow. In an industry where merit is measured in sales rather than aesthetics it is unlikely that you are ever going to be that hot again. So commercial pressure on a  hastily assembled line-up, attempting to attain a tricky balance of blues & classica,l made for a rocky road. The follow-up 45 “Homburg” was, I thought, a cracker, the 2nd LP, with a 17 minute progressive rock suite, had more success in the US than in the UK. In 1969 Cordell was a busy man. He was, apparently, a hands-off producer anyway & Matthew Fisher, Procol’s organist was given the responsibility & did a good job.

“A Salty Dog” is a consistent, interesting record. It established Procol Harum as having more than just that song. Fisher, who took great pains to prove his entitlement to some “Whiter Shade” royalties, promptly left the group. The replacements reunited the members of the Paramounts, a band from the Beat Boom, & the guitar convolutions of Robin Trower came to the fore. The consolidation of this record allowed Procol to pursue a successful career for almost a decade only with tunes I don’t think I’ve heard.

Ha ! Any excuse to get the Move into one of these things. Tony Secunda, the band’s maverick manager, was a kindred spirit & lifelong friend of Cordell’s. Like Procol the Move crossed from Deram to Zonophone with the boss. “Curly” was the Brummies’ only single of 1969. Denny had produced all the 45s up to the unsuccessful but wonderful “Wild Tiger Woman”. This time the man who had run Deram, Mike Hurst, came on board for a one-off job for Zonophone. Hurst, a former member of the Springfields, was an innovative & interesting producer who’s ornate arrangements impressed this young boy. He merits & one day may get one of these of his own.

“Curly” is the lightest in tone of any Move single. 1969 was a transitional year for the group as Rick Price came in for Trevor Burton on bass for this song then singer Carl Wayne, who had always seemed a bit spare, left as well. Before the next record, “Brontosaurus”, Jeff Lynne was in & the seeds of the Electric Light Orchestra were sown. At this time my school played sport against a youth prison, a Borstal, like we saw in “Scum”. The kids there had their haircut very short while we were trying to dodge the barber for as long as possible. As we stepped off the coach the bad boy reception party sang “Curly” at us & I am unable now to separate the memory from the song.

In 1968 Denny Cordell produced a big hit for a new star. Joe Cocker, a former gas fitter from Sheffield, was of that same British provincial stock as Van Morrison & Eric Burden, a young white guy who wanted to be Ray Charles & developed his own unique voice. “With A Little Help From My Friends” was a pumped-up transformation of Ringo’s  “Sergeant Pepper’s” song. It was Joe’s 3rd UK single & it was time to make a mark. Joe had an extraordinary voice, the Grease Band a perfect back up; It was as a performer that his full impact was felt. The National Lampoon/John Belushi parody was called “Muscular Dystrophy”. The spasmodic, electrified jerks, the amazing voice coming from a Northern scruff…it could not fail.

Cordell needed material for his new star. He found it in Leon Russell who, after a time in Los Angeles with Spector’s Wrecking Crew, was simmering a fine pot of swampy Southern rocking soul with Delaney & Bonnie. This clip of “Delta Lady” shows how it works better than I can describe it. I bought this single in 1969, it rocks. Denny Cordell was having a busy time in that year. There was more to running a label than having an eye for new talent & an ear for a hit song. He did not have the time to work with the artists he had started with. It was Cordell, Cocker & Russell who were to share a path in the future. With this record, a startling appearance at Woodstock & 1970’s impressive Mad Dogs & Englishmen tour Joe was one of the biggest stars in the US.

This Regal Zonophone disc shows how many plates Cordell was having to keep spinning at the same time. Apart from E.M.I. there is the publisher Essex International. New Breed & Straight Ahead are both companies formed between Essex & Cordell. Why they are both on the label is confusing but maybe pounds, shillings & pence (ask your parents) has something to do with it. Well, Jimmy Miller produced the Move…I did not know that. Artistically Denny was assembling some real talent. He had brought over Tony Visconti as an apprentice & to produce Tyrannosaurus Rex. Both of them went on to bigger things. It is a lot of business on one small label & everyone would be looking to get paid. Cordell liked to get high, to make the scene. Even if he had good accountants you can bet the industry heavyweights had better ones.

In the New World with his new star & his new friends he saw the possibility of more freedom to make some music. He put some distance between himself & the wheeler-dealers & started Shelter Records with Russell. He was now the Lunar Teacake Snake Man, there were more hits & another whole strange new scene. That’s for another time (soon). There are other independent producers who get more attention but Denny Cordell was a free-wheeling guy who could spot, encourage & nurture talent on both sides of the recording desk. He made some records that we all know with some fine artists…respect !