Ken Hensley - Uriah Heep (1969-1980)

Ken Hensley

Ken Hensley

Biography :

Kenneth William David Hensley (born 24 August 1945, Plumstead, South East London, England), moved with his parents, three brothers and sister to Stevenage, Hertfordshire in 1955. He started to learn how to play guitar at the age of 12.
His first gig was at The Mentmore Pen Factory, in Stevenage (September 1960).
After that, he played with The Blue Notes, Ken And The Cousins and Kit And The Saracens (1962). In 1963, this band evolved into The Jimmy Brown Sound, and they even recorded some songs.

In Early 1965, Hensley lost his interest in soul music and formed a band called The Gods, with the young guitarist Mick Taylor, well known later for his work with The Rolling Stones. Hensley wrote most of the material.

What he didn't know then, was that he would be such an influential musician playing exactly the organ. The Gods' line-up included, at one time or another, vocalist and guitar/bass player Greg Lake (later of King Crimson and Emerson, Lake & Palmer), bass player Paul Newton (who would be later the first Uriah Heep bassist), drummer Lee Kerslake (later also of Uriah Heep), bassist John Glascock (later of Jethro Tull), and guitarist Joe Konas.

In early 1968 they signed with Columbia Records, and recorded 2 LPs and several singles.

After that, Newton left the band to join Spice, an Essex-based band.
(Spice - 1967-1969, originally The Stalkers, was the immediate precursor to Uriah Heep, featuring David Byron (Vocals), Mick Box (Guitar), Paul Newton (Bass Guitar), and Alex Napier (Drums) (Napier was a replacement for drummer Nigel Pegrum (would later join folk rock stalwarts Steeleye Span). The group changed their name to Uriah Heep on the inclusion in late 1969 of organist Ken Hensley, formerly of The Gods and Toe Fat. Drummer Lee Kerslake, who had played with Hensley in both bands, would follow him into Uriah Heep in 1972).

The band eventually split but Cliff Bennett, from Rebel Rouser, decided to make a more progressive sound, and called The Gods guys to join him. So, by the name of Toe Fat, they released 2 LPs (only the first one with Ken). During this time, Ken also played on a recording, Head Machine's 'Orgasm' (not exactly a band, a project more likely). At this time, Ken played mainly guitar again, as in the beginning of his career.

Paul Newton asked Ken Hensley (Christmas 1969) to join forces in Spice, since they were looking after a keyboards player to make their sound less bluesy and more progressive at the time. In January 1970, Spice changed its name into Uriah Heep.

Also on the line-up were guitarist Mick Box and vocalist David Byron. With Uriah Heep, Ken Hensley found a place to develop and show to the world his songwriting and lyrics abilities, keyboards and guitar playing.

The major success came, and Heep is now acclaimed as one of UK's most legendary rock bands.

The most classic line-up including Hensley, Byron, Box, Kerslake and bassist Gary Thain, plus the management provided by Gerry Bron (Bronze Records).

During his time with Heep (1970 - 1980), they recorded 13 studio albums, and one of the most acclaimed live albums of all times: 'Uriah Heep Live - January 1973'.

Hensley also recorded his first 2 solo albums, 'Proud Words On A Dusty Shelf' (1973) and 'Eager To Please' (1975) during this time.

With the departure of Thain (died in December 8, 1975) and Byron, other excellent musicians also got into the Heep family: John Wetton (Family, King Crimson, Roxy Music, later of UK and Asia), Trevor Bolder (from Spiders From Mars, later of Wishbone Ash) and John Lawton (Lucifer's Friend, Les Humphries Singers and others).

In 1980 Hensley left the band.
After trying to put a new band together first in the UK (Shotgun), he later moved to the USA and played a few gigs in North America with the suggestive name of Ken Hensley Band.

In 1982 Hensley joined Blackfoot, a hard rock Florida-based band. With them, he recorded two albums and achieved again some success, but he left after Bron told him about Byron's sad death in 1985. He had also released by this time his third solo LP, 'Free Spirit' (1980).

Hensley had been since then almost in retirement, in St. Louis, Missouri (USA), making only a few appearances in some musical projects, with W.A.S.P., Cinderella and others. Blackie Lawless (W.A.S.P.) has defined exactly what Hensley means to the rock'n'roll history: 'Ken Hensley wrote the rule book for heavy metal keyboards as far as I'm concerned.'
This could be debated as Jon Lord of Deep Purple may have written the rule book for heavy metal keyboards in general. Ken Hensley likely wrote the rule book for heavy metal piano as heard in Paradise/The Spell from Demons and Wizards. The period also gave birth to many other amazing keyboardists/organists, not the least of which were Alan Taff Freeman of Nektar and John Evan of Jethro Tull.

In 1994, 'From Time To Time', a collection of lost recordings, was released featuring rare songs recorded by Ken Hensley between 1971 and 1982, as well as some very good early versions of Heep's classic songs, played by Ken Hensley with Paul Kossoff (Guitar) and Simon Kirke (Drums) - both of Free. Other musicians on the songs were bassist Boz Burrell (King Crimson and Bad Company), guitarist Mick Ralphs (Bad Company), drummers Ian Paice (Deep Purple, Whitesnake) and Kenny Jones (The Who), amongst others.

In 1999 Hensley's musical activities began to increase, besides his work with St. Louis Music. He recorded an album, 'A Glimpse Of Glory', together with his band Visible Faith.

During the fourth Uriah Heep Annual Convention in London, May 2000, plans were made for a one-off concert by the so-called 'Hensley/Lawton Band'. Hensley was joined by former Heep singer John Lawton, their first public collaboration since John's departure from Heep in 1979. Paul Newton and 2 members of John's band, Reuben Kane on lead guitar and Justin Shefford on drums joined them. They played a sort of old Heep classics and some of Hensley's solo songs to an amazed audience, and the concert was recorded for a proper CD release.

Then was released 'Running Blind' and followed by a world tour with his band called 'Free Spirit', that included some incredible musicians: Dave Kilminster (guitar), Andy Pyle (bass) and Pete Riley (drums). Kilminster and Riley later also played in the Keith Emerson Band (Kilminster is part of Roger Waters band nowadays).

Hensley now plays regular annual shows at small venues in Scandinavia, such as the 'Summer Party' in Fredrikstad, Norway, where he has been playing consecutive gigs every August for nearly six years.

After moving to Spain, Hensley kept his schedule busy and released 'The Last Dance' (with new songs), 'The Wizard's Diary' (Uriah Heep classics re-recorded in 2004) and 'Cold Autumn Sunday' (Ken's solo songs re-recorded in 2005).

Featuring a number of special guests, the rock opera 'Blood On The Highway' was recorded at the end of 2006 and released in May 2007. The story portrays the rise and fall of a rock'n'roll star and the eventual restart. The lead vocals role was split between Hensley himself, Glenn Hughes (ex-Deep Purple, Trapeze, Black Sabbath), Jorn Lande (ex-The Snakes, Masterplan), John Lawton (ex-Lucifer's Friend, Uriah Heep) and Eve Gallagher.

In September 2008, Ken Hensley joined the stage again with John Lawton, Lee Kerslake and Paul Newton, all of Uriah Heep fame plus the addition of ex-Focus guitarist Jan Dumée, for the 'Heepvention 2008' fans meeting. Two shows with one acoustic one day and a full set the day after set the standard for Uriah Heep's music through 2 decades.