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Harry Levy was born in Cheetham Hill, Manchester in 1926. From an early age, Harry had set his sights on show business. He sang as a cantor in the local synagogue, and by the age of 14 he was appearing on stage as a professional singer and comedian.
In 1944, his agent suggested he change his name to Don Arden, after the Hollywood actor Robert Arden. He was called up to the army. During and after being demobbed he went back to working on the stage as an entertainer and impressionist. He got a reputation for being quick tempered and because of his developed physique he was nicknamed "Tarzan". He was not averse to boxing the ears of others who fell fowl of him. In 1954, he gave up performing to become a showbiz agent and started putting together his own shows. He recognized early on the commercial possibilities of rock and roll; he signed Gene Vincent for a tour of the UK and later became his manager. Arden continued to bring US rockers like Bo Diddley and Chuck Berry to tour Britain. Unfortunately, Vincent's compulsive alcoholism made him difficult to work with and the pair soon parted in less than an amicable way.
Don continually scouted for new talent and briefly managed Elkie Brooks before she broke into the big time. The rise in popularity of the beat groups in the early 60s saw Don become an agent for the Newcastle-based Animals. He brought the group to London for a residency at the Scene Club and the group swiftly hit No 1 with House of the Rising Sun. Arden’s association proved to be short-lived after a dispute with the group’s manager, Mike Jeffrey. Don increased his stable of hopefuls to include Nashville Teens, Amen Corner, and the Small Faces. Despite chart success, the groups were never given their full royalties which led to several confrontations with their management. Don Arden was not beyond "chart-fixing" and was fined on at least one occasion. Inter-manager rivalry was fierce and any attempt to poach acts was frequently met with the threat of violent reprisals. In 1966, Don Arden threatened to throw impresario Robert Stigwood out of his office if he ever interfered with Arden’s business after Stigwood had approached the Small Faces.
Don Arden enjoyed playing up to his image as a ruthless operator. He affected broad-lapelled gangster suits, and hung a picture of himself impersonating Edward G Robinson on his office wall. The dilemma many of his artists faced was that while they acknowledged Arden had discovered them and invested considerably in their early development, royalties from their top selling singles were not filtering through. In 1967, Don Arden released a single of his own called Sunrise Sunset (taken from Fiddler on the Roof), but it failed to chart. He signed The Move in 1968 and continued to manage ELO (1970) and Wizzard (1972) when the original band broke up. In 1974, he started his own record label, Jet Records, and Lyndsey De Paul had the first hit with No Honestly (1974). She repeated the success with My Man and Me before leaving the label in 1976 after an acrimonious split with Arden. In 1975, ELO and Wizzard signed to Jet Records in the UK. Roy Wood left Jet Records and disbanded Wizzard in 1976 after Jet refused to release Wizzard's third album Wizzo because it was not commercial enough. In the same year, Jet's UK distribution moved to United Artists but after inferior pressings of ELO’s album Out of the Blue were discovered Jet sued UA and abruptly switched their distribution to CBS Records worldwide early in 1978. During this time, ELO became one of the most popular bands in the world. Don Arden was also the manager of Black Sabbath but when Ozzy Osbourne was sacked he was signed to Jet. Sharon was Arden’s daughter and she and Ozzy became an item. When Sharon took over as manager of the singer, her father was not pleased and father and daughter became estranged for over 20 years.
By the late 70s, Don Arden’s business practices were coming under increasing scrutiny. In the early 80s, Jet Records were facing financial troubles after ELO had become less popular and Ozzy Osborne had left the label. Jet carried on in a diminished capacity into the late 80s before it eventually collapsed. Despite this, Don Arden enjoyed the high-rolling lifestyle of a top music mogul and lived between homes in Beverly Hills and Surrey, England. In 1987, he was tried at the Old Bailey on charges of kidnapping, blackmail, torture and assault in the case of Harshad Patel, an accountant whom Arden alleged had stolen money from him. Arden was acquitted on all charges. In 2004, Don Arden was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease and died in 2007.
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