Denny Purcell Dies at 51

All of us at Stereophile were saddened to learn of the death of mastering engineer Denny Purcell, whose body was found Thursday, August 22 in the offices of his Georgetown Masters studio in Nashville. He was 51.

The cause of death was not immediately determined, but was most likely either a stroke or heart failure, according to people close to the situation. Purcell had suffered some health problems in recent years, but had appeared to be improving. "He had gained some weight back, and was upbeat about his new projects," said his friend and colleague Chuck Ainley in a telephone conversation. "Everyone here is in complete shock over this."

Threshold Audio president Chris English expressed similar sentiments over Purcell's passing. The two were friends and partners in a campaign to bring audiophile standards to the pro sound community. "It's no exaggeration to say that he was the most important person to come into my professional life. He's simply irreplaceable."

Purcell was one of a handful of mastering engineers who elevated their craft to a high art. In a career spanning more than 30 years, he mastered more than 8000 albums, including approximately 500 that went "gold," selling more than 500,000, or "platinum," selling more than a million. The walls at Georgetown Masters are lined with awards from most major music labels and mementos from dozens of appreciative artists, in addition to Purcell's collection of rare guitars, basses, banjos, and other instruments. The studio he founded in 1985 won Billboard magazine's "Mastering Facility of the Year" award in 1998.

Despite his success and incredible work ethic, Purcell combined an easy-going attitude with a disarming amount of self-deprecation. During one of my visits to Georgetown Masters for the Secure Digital Music Initiative's watermarking tests, he described the mastering process as akin to magic. "The raw material comes in there," he said, pointing toward the front door, "and I sort of wave my hands over it." Gazing at a wall covered in gold records, he deadpanned "Sometimes it works." Purcell was "nominated almost every year for Mix magazine's Tech Award," Ainley stated.

Purcell's death comes at a crucial time for the music industry and the music lovers on whom it depends. In addition to working to upgrade the playback level in studios, Purcell was involved in developing mastering techniques for high-resolution recordings, and was engaged in what Ainley called "a crusade against mediocrity in the music business." His strong opinions alienated some people in the industry, but they all respected him. "He was a bright shining star in this community," Ainley said. "We're expecting an overflow crowd at the funeral."

A memorial service will take place at 10am Monday, August 26 at Nashville's Harpeth Hills Memory Gardens and Funeral Home. In lieu of flowers, Purcell's family has requested that donations be made to the Collaborative Campaign, Attn: Yvonne Moneypenny, Vanderbilt University Medical Center, 801 Oxford House, 1313 21st Ave. S., Nashville, TN 37232-4753. A benefit concert is in the planning stages for the next gathering of the Audio Engineering Society (AES), according to Frank Wells, editor of Pro Sound News. We will post information about that event when it becomes available.

A partial list of recordings mastered by Denny Purcell can be found here.