By Steve Newton
Having a bunch of vinyl albums from the seventies is cool, because the seventies were a while ago, and sometimes you forget which ones you actually own.
Then when you go searching in the alphabetized stacks for a particular rock band from half a century ago you might find something that surprises you.
When I heard that former Uriah Heep keyboardist, guitarist, and main songwriter Ken Hensley had died a few days ago at age 75–less than two months after the band’s former drummer Lee Kerslake passed away at 73–I got to wondering which ancient Heep platters I still had.
So I went a-searchin’, and there–nestled snugly between UFO‘s Lights Out and Utopia’s Oops! Wrong Planet–were three vivid reminders of the love I had for progressive hard-rock back in high school.
My Uriah Heep collection includes Demons and Wizard, The Magician’s Birthday, and Sweet Freedom. (Not sure what happened to my Uriah Heep Live double album.)
Demons and Magician’s were both released in 1972, just six months apart, when I was 15 years old. Both featured the amazing fantasy cover art of Roger Dean, whose work you may recall from all those awesome Yes albums. I remember The Magician’s Birthday the most, because the 10-minute title track, a decidedly strange tune, included a wild workout between Kerslake and lead guitarist Mick Box.
The lineup was the same on all three albums, Box, Kerslake, Hensley, vocalist David Byron, and bassist Gary Thain, whose freewheeling licks I really loved. Sadly, Thain died young of a heroin overdose in 1975, joining the 27 Club. And Byron died of alcohol-related complications in 1985 at the age of 38.
So 73-year-old Box is the last surviving member of the classic lineup. And he’s still playing guitar with Uriah Heep. Keep on rockin’ Mick!
Getting back to the music in the seventies, I remember buying one more Heep album–1974’s Wonderland–before losing interest and focusing more on better bands like Thin Lizzy and Blue Oyster Cult. I didn’t pay much attention again until 1983, when the band had released its Head First album. I didn’t think much of that disc either, but at the time Uriah Heep was opening for the red-hot Def Leppard on its Pyromania tour, and I did an interview with then-singer Peter Goalby, who told me that his fave old Heep album was Demons and Wizards.
While Ken Hensley wrote most of Uriah Heep’s best-known tunes from my teenage years–tracks like “Look at Yourself”, “Easy Livin'”, and “Stealin”–the song I like the best from those days was a pretty, overlooked ditty from Sweet Freedom called “Circus” that was penned by Thain, Box, and Kerslake.
Thanks for the memories Heep.