Uriah Heep drummer Lee Kerslake has died at the age of 73, having succumbed to prostate cancer after a long illness. Prior to contributing to Ozzy Osbourne’s first two solo albums, Kerslake had played in a succession of bands (The Gods, Toe Fat, Head Machine, Uriah Heep) featuring Ken Hensley.
Following his death on September 19th, Hensley wrote that “It’s with the heaviest of hearts that I share with you that Lee Kerslake, my friend of 55 years and the best drummer I ever played with, lost his battle with cancer at 03:30 this morning. He died peacefully, praise The Lord, but he will be terribly missed. I know many of you were praying for him not to suffer and I thank you for that and, now that Lee is at peace, our thoughts and prayers should turn to his wife Sue who will need all the support she can get at this time.”
“Well, where are the words to describe the feelings one has when you loose a friend, colleague, fellow band mate (for 20 some odd years!) brother in arms, let alone when it’s someone larger than life like Lee Kerslake?”, wrote Uriah Heep’s current lead singer Bernie Shaw on Facebook. “As well as one of the most revered yet under rated drummers in the world, Lee was also one of the main voices in Uriah Heep. Never dropped a note in all the years I worked with him. We went on holidays together, as if working 200 days a year together wasn’t enough, he even moved in with me at my flat when he was rendered ‘homeless’ by a friends he had been bunking with in South London. We ate like Kings and drank like ….well, you get the idea. As a person, he was generous to a fault. Always smiling and ready to entertain at the drop of a hat. Many a free drink was had after a show when he would get up and play with a local band at the nearest club we could find, and first up if there was someone with a fishing boat willing to take him out for the day. That was Lee. Now, he’s with his mates, John Bonham, Keith Moon, and the boys from Heep who’s already passed”.
Nicknamed “The Bear” on Uriah Heep’s “Firefly” album, Lee Kerslake was born on April 16th, 1947, in Winton, Bournemouth, Dorset, England. He began playing drums at eleven years of age and first became a recording artist after joining Ken Hensley’s band The Gods in 1967.
The Gods had formed in 1965 when Hensley (ex-The Jimmy Brown Sound, a Stevenage based R&B outfit) joined up with a trio from The Juniors, a band which had released a single (“There’s a Pretty Girl” b/w “Pocket Size”) in 1964. The Juniors featured Malcolm Collins (vocals) and Alan Shacklock (guitar) but also three schoolmates from Hatfield that had been playing together as The Strangers since 1962. Mick Taylor (guitar) and the Glascock brothers Brian (drums) and John (bass/vocals) were the original Gods, along with Hensley who sang and played keyboards.
In 1966, The Gods opened for Ginger Baker‘s Cream at the Starlite Ballroom in London and a single (“Come On Down To My Boat Baby” b/w “Garage Man”) was recorded for Polydor Records in early 1967. Hensley wrote the B-side (credited as “Hennersley”) and The Gods were listed as Thor, Hermes, Olympus, and Mars. Kerslake had not yet joined The Gods at this point, however.
Kerslake entered the picture after John Mayall asked future Rolling Stones guitarist Mick Taylor to replace Peter Green in The Bluesbreakers. Taylor left The Gods in June 1967, thus effectively putting an end to The Gods. Ken Hensley moved to Hampshire and met up with future Uriah Heep bassist Paul Newton, putting together a new version of The Gods with Lee Kerslake and singing guitarist Joe Konas. Having built up a good following on the South Coast college circuit, however, Newton decided to leave the band. Newton was replaced by future ELP frontman Greg Lake (ex-Unit Four, the Time Checks, the Shame, the Shy Limb) and The Gods secured a residency at The Marquee in London, as the successors to The Rolling Stones.
“I played probably in 1966 already for John Gee, who was the manager of The Marquee Club”, recalled Joe Konas. “I played quite a few gigs there with one of my bands who were The Mark Barry Band. When I joined The Gods we ended up of course playing there as an opening act for Peter Frampton, The Herd, and all these other bands. Then, we got a house gig on Wednesdays, you know, Wednesday nights. We were very popular in the clubs in London and all those areas: Manchester, Birmingham. In London itself, we did a lot of gigs. They loved us a lot because we were different.”, “We were loud, rude and obnoxious.”
“I lived with Lee Kerslake and his mum and dad, Eric and Doris, in Bournemouth”, recalled Joe Konas, “and I played a lot at the Bournemouth Pavilion, where Pink Floyd and everybody played. Ken Hensley’s friend was Mick Taylor (guitar) and when Mick Taylor left, I joined up with The Gods, because he went with John Mayall. We used to live at 44 Dukes Avenue in Chiswick, London. So, they used to come over on Sundays when we were all off, like Robert Fripp from King Crimson who were good friends with Greg Lake. I used to share a bedroom with Greg Lake, there was a big room there, everybody would hop in, in one or two. So he had his room, that it was also mine. We lived there because the bedroom was really big; maybe it was a living room, I don’t know. Robert Fripp came over and jammed together, Mick Taylor, all sorts of people hopped in and out.”
Rod Evans was the singer for Deep Purple and we went to school together, recalled Konas. “So, I knew he was in that band because we were still rehearsing at our community center. So, of course I ‘d go over and see Deep Purple in their apartment and Ritchie Blackmore was there and all the guys, Jon Lord and Ian Paice. They were all wonderful. So, Ritchie Blackmore was amazing. My favourite was always Jeff Beck. I loved Jeff Beck when he played! I saw Alvin Lee at Marquee Club in 1966. Ah, he just blew everyone away!! And I went home and I started practicing. Because that’s what you do. You have those icons, you can’t buy that gift that they had. They were different than anybody else. They were just amazing players like Eric Clapton and The Yardbirds. There were so great players out there. Also, a part of that era were The Gods.”
Having signed a contract with EMI’s Columbia label, The Gods next lost Greg Lake to King Crimson, a band formed in 1968 by Lake’s friend Robert Fripp, on the heels of the album “The Cheerful Insanity of Giles, Giles and Fripp”. Hensley recalled that “Just as we were about to start recording we had a falling out with Greg. The main problem was that he was far too talented to be kept in the background.” Greg Lake himself described The Gods as “a very poor training college”. Rough!
At this point, John Glascock was asked to re-join The Gods. It was this line-up (Hensley, Kerslake, Konas, John Glascock) that recorded two albums and three singles in 1968-69.
Recording at Abbey Road, their most popular single was a cover of The Beatles’ “Hey Bulldog” in 1969 (b/w “Real Love Guaranteed” by Konas/Hensley). Their first single (“Baby’s Rich” b/w “Somewhere In The Street”, 1968) also featured non-album tracks. “Maria” (b/w “Long Time, Sad Time, Bad Time” off “To Samuel A Son”) was a non-album West Side Story extract released as a single in 1969.
The only composition by Lee Kerslake to be released as a single by The Gods was “Misleading Colours” (co-written by Konas) off “Genesis”, which was released in Nicaragua (b/w “Radio Show”) as “Colores Equivocos” in 1969.
Regarding the cover of “Hey Bulldog”, Joe Konas (who moved to Canada in 1970 and became a music teacher) recalled how the record company “wanted us to be a pop band like Herman’s Hermits and wear black suits, white shirts and black ties and I wasn’t into that and Ken Hensley wasn’t. We weren’t. We were loud, rude and obnoxious on stage. We played loud and we had harmonies, but they did want on the recordings to do poppy stuff, so they suggested to do “Hey Bulldog”, but we did it a little bit heavier”.
The full lenght debut, “Genesis” was released in 1968 and featured three songs co-credited to Kerslake and Konas: “You’re My Life”, “Misleading Colours” and “Time And Eternity”. Kerslake (drums), Konas (guitar) and Hensley (keyboard) all sang, possibly Glascock (bass) too. “To Samuel A Son” (1969) featured two songs written by Kerslake, “Eight O’Clock In The Morning” and “Lovely Anita”.
Joe Konas recalled jamming with Jimi Hendrix at The Speakeasy in February of 1969: “Oh, I can’t remember the songs. We might have played much in 12 bars and I know he loved Bob Dylan. We talked about that before and we did “Like a Rolling Stone”. We played about an hour, you know. I met him a few times before in the clubs that I used to play with The Gods at Revolution, Bag O’Nails, The Marquee Club, all those clubs. I was playing there for 5-6 years, so I knew the owners etc. Then, I got to see Jimi. But anyway, that particular night, he came in a bit stoned and said: “Can I jam with you?” I said: “Yes! It would be an honour. It’s always an honour! The master of the Stratocaster”. We did a lot of stuff. He said: “I want to hear you playing”. So, he sat down. He had a big chair, he sat down and he said: “Play”. Oh, Jesus Christ. I had been intimidated, though. This genius player, the god, is right next to me. But I played in London and we had a great time. John Glascock wasn’t there, another bass player filled in and it was just a lot of fun. We played many times there, at the Speakeasy Club. Keith Moon was always there. Paul McCartney showed up a couple of times at the back of the restaurant. A lot of people… Ginger Baker… A lot of people showed up. They liked what we did.”
By the time “To Samuel A Son” was released, The Gods had ceased to exist. They had turned into Toe Fat by teaming up with former Rebel Rouser vocalist/pianist Cliff Bennett in June 1969. The name was supposedly decided over dinner when Bennett and his manager attempted to create the most disgusting band name possible. Cliff Bennett and the Rebel Rousers had formed in 1957, got managed by Brian Epstein (like The Beatles) and had two Top 10 hits (“One Way Love” in 1964 and “Got to Get You into My Life” in 1966) before Bennett went solo and eventually formed Toe Fat.
Lee Kerslake (drums, vocals) and Ken Hensley (guitar, organ, piano, vocals) played on their self-titled album, released on Parlophone in 1970. “John Konas” is credited for singing and playing bass on the debut album but Joe Konas himself has been quoted as saying that he “never played in Toe Fat. I took off, they went into Toe Fat and Ken left and I saw Toe Fat at a club called The Eastown Theatre in Detroit twice. Cliff Bennett was the lead singer and they had a guitar player called Alan. Oh, great guitar player! A wonderful guy. I think John Glascock was with them the first time I saw them, but I don’t remember the second. But then, Ken took off to do something else, because Ken always moved around a lot: He came in, took off, he came in, took off”.
Either way, the first Toe Fat album was mainly written by Cliff Bennet, with neither Kerslake nor any of the other ex-Gods credited for any of the tracks. Still, a good album! Like the albums by The Gods, it had a cover by Hipgnosis. It showed a beach scene where four people had large toes superimposed over their heads. For the US release, a man and a topless woman in the background were replaced by sheep. Worth noting is that the “Toe Fat” album includes a version of “Bad Side of the Moon”, a composition by Elton John and Bernie Taupin. It would also be covered by April Wine in 1972 but Elton John himself only released the song as a B-side to his “Border Song” in 1970.
Hensley and Kerslake both left Toe Fat before the second album was released later in 1970. Again, John Konas was credited on the sleeve for playing bass while it would rather have been John Glascock who did so. Kerslake was replaced by Brian Glascock, John’s brother and the original drummer in The Gods. Cliff Bennett remained the frontman while Alan Kendall (ex-Kris Ryan and the Questions, Glass Menagerie) took over as guitarist after Hensley left to found Uriah Heep. Having just left his Fleetwood Mac, Peter Green also played guitar on two songs off “Toe Fat Two”. Following a US tour opening for Derek and the Dominos, Toe Fat folded and Kendall joined the Bee Gees in 1971.
John Glascock (The Gods, Toe Fat, Head Machine) next joined Chicken Shack (1971-72) for their masterpiece “Imagination Lady”. Having lost Christine McVie to Fleetwood Mac, Chicken Shack replaced her with future UFO man Paul Raymond for two albums before making “Imagination Lady” as a trio. John Glascock next (1973-1975) followed his brother Brian Glascock (1970-1973) into Carmen before being asked to join Jethro Tull in 1976, having met Ian Anderson when Carmen opened several dates for Jethro Tull’s “War Child” tour. In 1979, aged only 28, Glascock sadly died.
Another album released in 1970 was “Orgasm” by a mysterious one-off group called “Head Machine”. Recorded in London in November-December of 1969, the album featured musicians from The Gods under pseudonyms: John Leadhen (John Glascock) on bass and vocals, Ken Leslie (Ken Hensley) on organ, piano, guitar and vocals, and the drummers Brian Poole (Brian Glascock) and Lee Poole, i.e. Lee Kerslake. Someone called “Mike Road” was credited for playing percussion while all songs were supposedly written by producer David Paramor, who also sang on the album.
David Paramor (a.k.a. “David Dapp”) had previously worked with Toe Fat vocalist Cliff Bennett, both with The Rebel Rousers and on releases credited to “Cliff Bennett & His Band”. Paramor had also produced releases by Simon Dupree and The Big Sound, a psychedelic band formed in 1966 by the Shulman brothers Derek (vocals), Phil (vocals, saxophone, trumpet), and Ray (guitar, violin, trumpet, vocals). Also in 1970, the sibling trio formed the excellent prog rock band Gentle Giant. On a 1967 tour, Simon Dupree and The Big Sound had hired a then unknown keyboard player by the name of Reginald Dwight. They politely declined to record his compositions and laughed when he suggested adopting the stage name “Elton John”! As mentioned, Toe Fat didn’t make the same mistake.
“Orgasm” was possibly initially intended as a third The Gods album. David Paramor had produced the previous albums by The Gods and it has been suggested that he didn’t actually write the songs for “Head Machine” himself. The songs bear many of Ken Hensley’s influences and the album could almost be considered a prototype for the harder side of his future work in Uriah Heep.
After leaving Toe Fat, Lee Kerslake joined the National Head Band. Previously known as The Business, the National Head Band featured Neil Ford (guitar, vocals), Dave Paull (bass, keyboards, guitar, vocals), Jan Schelhaas (keyboards) and drummer John Skorsky. After changing their name they got a deal with Warner Brothers who insisted that the group should have two drummers.
Enter Lee Kerslake (drums, keyboards, vocals). Skorsky decided to quit just as the band entered the studio, however, and the remaining quartet had quite diverse taste in music. Schelhaas was a soul fan, Ford was a bluesman, Paull was a folkie and Kerslake was more into rock. Given the task of melding these influences into a coherent album was producer Eddie Offord, having just completed “The Yes Album” by progressive rock giants Yes. As a tribute to Offord, ELP (featuring Greg Lake, Kerslake’s former bandmate in The Gods) recorded the song “Are You Ready, Eddy?” for their 1971 album “Tarkus”.
National Head Band’s only album, “Albert 1”, was released in 1971. Label incompetency, a failed tour, and a whole batch of faulty album pressings did the band no favours, however, and the group split later the same year. “Albert 1” included one song co-credited to Lee Kerslake and keyboard player Jan Schelhaas, “Too Much Country Water”. Schelhaas went on to record with Gary Moore (1973), Thin Lizzy (1973), Canterbury prog giants Caravan (replacing Dave Sinclair, 1975-1978, 2002-present) and Camel (replacing Peter Bardens, 1978-1981, 2013), where he initially re-joined cousins Richard Sinclair (bass & vocals) and Dave Sinclair (keyboards) with whom he’d already played in Caravan.
Around Christmas of 1969, Ken Hensley had been asked by Paul Newton (who had briefly been bass player in The Gods) if he would join him in Spice. Newton’s band were looking for a keyboard player to make their sound less bluesy and more progressive. Formed in 1967, Spice also featured guitarist Mick Box (ex-Hogwash), drummer Alex Napier (who had replaced future Gnidrolog and Steeleye Span member Nigel Pegrum), and vocalist David Garrick, better known as “David Byron”.
Spice had released one single in 1968, “What About The Music” b/w “In Love”, with the B-side credited to Box and Garrick, i.e. Byron. Further recordings by Spice were eventually released as part of the “The Lansdowne Tapes” in 1993.
Having worked as manager of the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band, Gerry Bron became the band’s manager and signed them to Vertigo Records, the newly formed Philips label. Spice decided to change their name to Uriah Heep (the name of a character from the 1850 Charles Dickens novel “David Copperfield”) around the same time that Ken Hensley became an official band member. Prior to Hensley joining, Gerry Bron had brought in session player Colin Wood to play keyboards on Spice recordings. The last concert as Spice was on February 21st, 1970, supporting Deep Purple, and the first concert as Uriah Heep was on March 20th at the Technical College in Salisbury. Gerry Bron’s record label, Bronze Records, was founded in 1971 and went on to became the home for Uriah Heep, Osibisa, Paladin, Manfred Mann’s Earth Band, Motörhead, The Damned, Girlschool, and Hawkwind.
Uriah Heep had already released three albums by the time that Lee Kerslake re-joined his former bandmate Ken Hensley in November of 1971. Paul Newton had left Uriah Heep that same month and was briefly replaced by Mark Clarke (ex-Colosseum) before the “classic” line-up was solidified with the arrival of Gary Thain, a New Zealander that had played with the Keef Hartley Band, Heep’s touring partners. Thain joined in February 1972 and remained with Uriah Heep until February of 1975. During his last US tour with Uriah Heep, Thain became seriously injured after suffering an electric shock on stage and nine months after being fired, Thain died of respiratory failure due to a heroin overdose. He was only 27.
Prior to Kerslake joining Uriah Heep, they had gone through no less than four drummers: Alex Napier (Autumn 1969–January 1970), Nigel Olsson (January–February 1970, going on to join Elton John’s band), Keith Baker (February–October 1970), and Iain Clark (October 1970-November 1971). While none of them died of spontaneous human combustion or bizarre gardening accidents, one can’t help but think of Spinal Tap.
Byron (lead vocals), Box (guitar, backing vocals), Hensley (keyboards, guitar, vocals), Thain (bass) and Lee Kerslake (drums, percussion) recorded four studio albums together: “Demons and Wizards”, “The Magician’s Birthday” (both 1972), “Sweet Freedom” (1973), and “Wonderworld” (1974). They were also captured in January 1973 on the double live album “Uriah Heep Live”.
“Demons and Wizards” and “The Magician’s Birthday” were the first Uriah Heep albums to be released in covers by Yes collaborator Roger Dean (Asia, Budgie, Greenslade, Osibisa, etc.). Most of the songs were written by Ken Hensley (“The Wizard”, “Easy Livin'”, “Rainbow Demon”, “Sunrise”, etc.) but Lee Kerslake did get co-credited with Box and Byron for the compositions “Traveller in Time”, “Poet’s Justice” and “All My Life”. Kerslake was also co-credited for “Spider Woman” (w/ Box, Byron, Thain) and the title track off “The Magician’s Birthday” (w/ Box, Hensley)
Following the live album, Lee Kerslake co-wrote “Circus” with Thain and Box for “Sweet Freedom”. Gary Thain’s final album, “Wonderworld” contained four tracks co-credited to all five band members, including Kerslake: “Suicidal Man”, “So Tired”, “I Won’t Mind” and “We Got We”.
After joining Uriah Heep, Ken Hensley recorded an album called “Weed” (1971) with German musicians associated with the band Virus. Hensley also recorded two solo albums during his time in Uriah Heep: “Proud Words on a Dusty Shelf” (1973) and “Eager to Please” (1975). Joined also by Gary Thain, Lee Kerslake played drums on Hensley’s solo debut. Among original Hensley compositions, it contained a different version of the song “Rain” from “The Magician’s Birthday”.
In 1975, David Byron released his solo debut, “Take No Prisoners”, featuring fellow Heep members Box, Hensley, Wetton, and Kerslake. Kerslake played drums on “Man Full Of Yesterdays”, “Midnight Flyer”, “Stop (Think What You’re Doing)”, “Hit Me With A White One”, “Love Song” and “Roller Coaster”. Kerslake was co-credited for having written the last two with Byron, Box, Ball and Stonebridge. Denny Ball and Lou Stonebridge (ex-Paladin) played bass and keyboard respectively. Ball would later play on Hensley’s first post-Heep solo album, 1981’s “Free Spirit”.
Gary Thain’s heavy drug dependency led to the bassist being replaced by John Wetton (ex-Mogul Thrash and Family, 1971-72) in March of 1975. After making three amazing studio albums with King Crimson (1972-74, as their fifth bassist following ex-Gods member Greg Lake, Peter Giles, Gordon Haskell and Boz Burrell), Wetton had joined Roxy Music on tour (1974-75) before joining Uriah Heep.
John Wetton (1949-2017) would appear on Uriah Heep’s last two albums with David Byron, “Return to Fantasy” (June 1975) and “High and Mighty” (June 1976).
Wetton didn’t contribute any material to “Return to Fantasy” but Kerslake got co-credited with the other three members for “Shady Lady”, “Devil’s Daughter”, “Beautiful Dream”, “Prima Donna”, “Showdown”, “Why Did You Go” and “The Time Will Come”, the B-side to the title track single. By contrast, the songs on “High and Mighty” were credited only to Ken Hensley, with John Wetton co-credited on “Weep in Silence” and “Footprints in the Snow”.
In July 1976, after the final show of a Spanish tour, David Byron was fired due to his alcoholism. “It’s a tragedy to say it but David was one of those classic people who could not face up to the fact that things were wrong and he looked for solace in a bottle,” commented manager Gerry Bron. John Wetton quit Uriah Heep soon after. David Byron would go on to release one more solo album (1978) and an album each with Rough Diamond (1977, with guitarist Clem Clempson, ex-Colosseum and Humble Pie) and The Byron Band (1981). The latter was a collaboration with guitarist Robin George, later to form the band Damage Control with UFO bassist Pete Way. David Byron himself eventually died of a heart attack and liver disease in 1985, aged only 38.
John Wetton next re-united with King Crimson drummer Bill Bruford (ex-Yes, Gong, National Health, Genesis) who had recently released his first solo album, “Feels Good to Me” (1978), a collaboration with guitarist Allan Holdsworth (ex-‘Igginbottom, Nucleus, Tempest, Soft Machine, The New Tony Williams Lifetime, Pierre Moerlen’s Gong, Jean-Luc Ponty), keyboard genious Dave Stewart (ex-Uriel, Egg, Khan, Hatfield and the North, National Health) and bassist Jeff Berlin. Having failed to form a band with Rick Wakeman (who instead re-joined Yes), Bruford brought in Holdsworth while Wetton recruited Eddie Jobson (who had replaced Brian Eno in Roxy Music prior to Wetton joining them) on keyboard and violin, having recently worked with Frank Zappa. After making a self-titled album as U.K. (1978), Bruford and Holdsworth left U.K. and went on to make “One of a Kind” (1979) with Stewart and Berlin. In 1981, Bruford and Robert Fripp formed a new King Crimson with bassist Tony Levin (who had worked with Peter Gabriel and played on Fripp’s 1978 solo album, “Exposure”) and guitarist Adrian Belew, having lately toured with Talking Heads after playing with Frank Zappa and David Bowie. The band initially called themselves “Discipline” but this became their first album title after opting to revert to King Crimson. Meanwhile, Wetton’s U.K. went on by bringing in drummer Terry Bozzio, who Jobson knew from their time in Zappa’s band. U.K. disbanded in 1980, with Jobson being asked to participate in Ian Anderson’s solo endeavour, eventually released as the Jethro Tull album “A”. John Wetton himself, meanwhile, went on to release his first solo album (featuring Jethro Tull guitarist Martin Barre and Simon Kirke, the Free and Bad Company drummer) before briefly joining Wishbone Ash for the last months of 1980.
Sorry, lost my focus there for a bit. Lee Kerslake stayed on with Uriah Heep, of course. Having auditioned David Coverdale (Deep Purple, Whitesnake), Ian Hunter (Mott the Hoople) and Gary Holton (Heavy Metal Kids), Heep replaced Byron with Lucifer’s Friend vocalist John Lawton (ex-Stonewall, the Les Humphries Singers) while bassist Trevor Bolder took Wetton’s place.
Bolder had first played with Mott The Hoople guitarist Mick Ronson in The Rats, appearing on his solo album after working with David Bowie from 1971 to 1973 as the Spiders from Mars. Bolder would remain with Heep until his death in 2013, except for about 18 months in the early 1980s.
Lawton, Bolder, Hensley, Box and Kerslake recorded three albums together: “Firefly” (February 1977), “Innocent Victim” (November 1977), and “Fallen Angel” (September 1978).
While Ken Hensley, again, wrote almost all of the material for “Firefly”, Kerslake was credited for writing “Who Needs Me” on his own. Kerslake was also co-credited with Hensley and Box for “Crime of Passion”, the B-side of the “Wise Man” single. CD re-issues of “Firefly” also includes the outtake “A Far Better Way”, co-credited to Hensley, Box, Kerslake, Bolder and Lawton.
“Innocent Victim” included the hit single “Free Me” but no material by Kerslake. Ken Hensley continued to collaborate with Jack Williams, the songwriter who had co-written “The Hanging Tree” for the previous album. Jack Williams would also contribute songs for Hensley’s next solo album and the first record that he’d make with southern rock band Blackfoot. Songs by Williams would also be recorded by The Oak Ridge Boys and The Gregg Allman Band.
Kerslake was co-credited for two songs off “Fallen Angel”: “Woman of the Night” (w/ Box and Lawton) and the Hensley co-write “Come Back to Me”. “Too poppy” for Mick Box’s liking, “Fallen Angel” was the final straw for Kerslake and Lawton who were also unhappy with Hensley earning much more than his colleagues. “Everything he wrote, he had to use… And if you insist in using everything you end up with substandard albums,” opined Mick Box. Lee Kerslake departed after a row with manager Gerry Bron, whom Kerslake accused of favouritism towards Hensley’s material.
Kerslake departed Uriah Heep in 1978, about the same time that Ozzy Osbourne was looking for a way out of Black Sabbath. Osbourne had briefly left Sabbath in 1977, briefly replaced by Dave Walker (ex-The Idle Race, Savoy Brown, Hungry Fighter, Fleetwood Mac) for a few months, before returning to record “Never Say Die!”. Pressure from the record label and frustrations with Osbourne’s lack of input, however, led to Tony Iommi making the decision to finally fire Ozzy in April of 1979.
Having previously failed to put together a new band with musicians from the excellent English hard rock band Dirty Tricks, Osbourne thought his career was over and spent three months doing coke and booze. Black Sabbath’s manager Don Arden signed Osbourne to Jet Records, however, and dispatched his daughter Sharon to Los Angeles to look after Ozzy’s needs. Sharon wanted Ozzy to form a supergroup with Gary Moore, then living in L.A. and working with former Deep Purple singer Glenn Hughes in a group called G-Force. Gary Moore wasn’t interested but did help Osbourne out when he was to audition musicians, finally finding Quiet Riot guitarist Randy Rhoads.
Australian bassist Bob Daisley (ex-Kahvas Jute, Chicken Shack, Mungo Jerry) had joined Rainbow in 1977 but found himself without a job when Richie Blackmore decided to bring in his old Deep Purple bandmate Roger Glover as bassist in 1979. Daisley met Ozzy in London in October 1979, with Osbourne suggesting that they’d form a band with Rhoads. That trio wrote almost all of the material for their debut album and started recording with drummer Dixie Lee, formerly of Lone Star who had split up when Paul Chapman left to replace Michael Schenker in UFO. Finding that Dixie Lee “wasn’t the final piece of the puzzle”, they auditioned several drummers before hiring Lee Kerslake as their permanent drummer. Kerslake had previously met Daisley when Uriah Heep had toured with his band Widowmaker (1975-77), a group also featuring guitarists Luther “Ariel Bender” Grosvenor (ex-Spooky Tooth, Mott the Hoople) and Huw Lloyd-Langton (ex-Hawkwind).
Originally intended to be used only as a B-side, “No Bone Movies” was the final track to be written. It was added to the album in order to give Kerslake a writing credit, as all the other material had been written before he joined. Also appearing on the album was future Deep Purple keyboard player Don Airey (ex-Cozy Powell’s Hammer, etc.), who has claimed that parts of “Revelation (Mother Earth)” and the intro to “Mr. Crowley” were written by him in the studio, though he never received writing credit. Don Airey had replaced David Stone in Rainbow around the same time that Bob Daisley was fired, having previously worked as a session musician on the Black Sabbath album “Never Say Die!” in 1978. Don Airey had also worked with Gary Moore, both in Colosseum II and on 1978’s “Back on the Streets”, Moore’s solo debut if one doesn’t count 1973’s “Grinding Stone” by The Gary Moore Band.
Having joined what they thought were a group of equals, a band called “Blizzard of Ozz”, the power dynamic changed when the record label decided to launch their recordings as an Ozzy Osbourne solo debut, with “Blizzard Of Ozz” becoming only the album title. Still, a great album!
After a show in Birmingham, the band returned to Ridge Farm Studio to remix “Goodbye to Romance” for a single. Informed that Jet Records instead wanted a brand new song for single release, “You Said It All” was quickly put together by Kerslake, Rhoads, and Daisley. Kerslake performed the guide vocal at soundcheck while a drunken Osbourne slept under the drum riser. A studio version of the song was ultimately never recorded, though a live version was released on the 1980 “Ozzy Osbourne Live EP”. It also included versions of “Mr. Crowley” and “Suicide Solution” recorded on October 2nd, weeks after the release of “Blizzard of Ozz” in September of 1980. The live version of “You Said It All” appears on the 40th anniversary edition of “Blizzard of Ozz”, released in September of 2020 and also featuring outtakes and further live recordings from the Blizzard Of Ozz Tour.
Kerslake and Daisley can also be heard on two tracks off the Ozzy Osbourne album “Tribute”, released on March 19th, 1987, five years after the death of Randy Rhoads. Recorded in 1980, “Goodbye to Romance” and “No Bone Movies” feature Kerslake and Daisley, rather than Tommy Aldridge and Rudy Sarzo with Osbourne and Rhoads on the remaining “Tribute” tracks from 1981.
Having written and recorded the follow-up to “Blizzard of Ozz”, the studio album “Diary of a Madman” (November 1981), Kerslake and Daisley were severely mistreated. During the album’s recording, Kerslake says the band members were given no money to live on, prompting them to approach management. Shortly after, both Kerslake and Daisley were fired.
“Everything was working fine,” said Kerslake. “It was only when Sharon came in that we had a problem. When she started managing—taking over—she wasn’t the manager until Diary of a Madman. Before that was her brother, David. He didn’t really want to handle it. He had too much to do for Don in the office. So she came in and it started to get edgy. But we never suspected a thing until we went away on holiday. Next minute, they’re rehearsing with Tommy Aldridge and Rudy Sarzo, and going to America”.
“The only thing I could ever recall was once Ozzy had asked me to speak to her (Sharon) on his behalf regarding the two shows in New York in one night”, Kerslake recalled as to why the Osbourne camp treated him so bad. “Ozzy said ‘I can’t do two shows in one night – not with my voice!’ He told me to tell her. I did as he said. I would have died for Ozzy as we were a band and I loved him as such. Because I broke the news to her, she’s hated my guts”. In his 2011 book “Gods, Gangsters and Honour: A Rock ‘n’ Roll Odyssey”, entertainment attorney Steven Machat said that Sharon was not happy with the level of creative input that Daisley and Kerslake had in the band. She wanted Ozzy to have full control. He surmises this led to the split and any ill-will she has since harboured for the drummer.
Daisley and Kerslake were not given credit for their performance or songwriting contributions, a situation which resulted in a later lawsuit. Rudy Sarzo (bass) and Tommy Aldridge (drums) were instead pictured on the inner sleeve and falsely credited for playing on the album. Aldridge has stated that “it’s pretty obvious that it’s not my drumming on that album. I have never taken credit for that recording and have always given Lee Kerslake, whenever asked or interviewed, the credit he rightly deserves”. Sarzo had previously played with Rhoads in Quiet Riot while Aldridge (ex-Black Oak Arkansas, Pat Travers Band) had supposedly been Osbourne’s original choice for drummer. When “Blizzard of Ozz” formed, however, Aldridge had been unavailable as he played in Gary Moore’s band. “Live At The Marquee” features performances by Tommy Aldridge and Don Airey with Gary Moore in 1980 .
Daisley provided significant songwriting contributions, having written some of the music and most of the lyrics. Kerslake claims to have also had a hand in the writing of the album, using a piano in the studio to write many of the songs with Rhoads. “‘Flying High Again’ was one of my ideas, ‘Over the Mountain’ was another”, Kerslake stated in 2009. “The basic (demo) tracks were just Bob’s words, my vocals—though some of the words I wrote—and Randy’s playing. It was unreal. And then we got Don Airey to come in and do the keyboards”. Don Airey is credited as keyboardist on the album but the keyboard parts on the final versions were actually performed by Johnny Cook, who had worked with Daisley in Mungo Jerry. Airey was on tour with Rainbow and thus unavailable at the time of recording.
Kerslake and Daisley eventually sued the Osbournes, seeking royalties and songwriting credits for their contributions. The Osbourne camp responded by removing Kerslake and Daisley from the 2002 reissues of both albums, having them re-recorded by bassist Robert Trujillo (ex- Suicidal Tendencies and Infectious Grooves, now in Metallica) and Faith No More drummer Mike Bordin. The move was suspected of being retaliatory in nature, as Daisley and Kerslake had successfully won credits and royalties for their contributions to “Diary of a Madman”.
Kerslake was eventually co-credited with Osbourne, Rhoads and Daisley for all tracks except “Believer” and “You Can’t Kill Rock and Roll”, which were said to have been written only by the other three members. Ozzy and Sharon blamed each other for the decision to alter the recordings and eventually restored the original recordings for the “Deluxe 30th Anniversary Editions” in 2011. This edition of “Diary of a Madman” featured a second CD entitled “Ozzy Live”, also released separately on vinyl for Record Store Day in 2012. These live recordings featured Sarzo and Aldridge, however.
After being fired from Ozzy’s band, Kerslake brought Daisley along with him and formed a new Uriah Heep with Mick Box. Uriah Heep had released one album, “Conquest”, during Kerslake’s absence. It had been recorded with drummer Chris Slade (ex-Manfred Mann’s Earth Band, 1972-78, later with AC/DC and in Damage Control with Pete Way) and former Lone Star vocalist John Sloman. Lone Star disbanded when Paul Chapman joined UFO in December of 1978 and Sloman (ex-Trapper) had briefly joined (original Blizzard of Ozz drummer) Dixie Lee and Trapper bassist Pino Paladino in the Canadian outfit Pulsar, prior to replacing John Lawton in Uriah Heep.
“Conquest” was the last Heep album with Ken Hensley, who went on to release his third solo album, “Free Spirit”, later in 1980. Hensley would later join Blackfoot (1982-84) and appear on albums like W.A.S.P.’s “The Headless Children” (1989) and “Heartbreak Station” (1990) by Cinderella. 1994 saw the release of “From Time To Time”, a collection of lost recordings from 1971-1982. Early versions of Heep classics were included, some performed together with Free members Paul Kossoff (guitar) and Simon Kirke (drums), who were Hensley’s roommates at the time. Other musicians featured included bassist Boz Burrell (King Crimson, Bad Company), guitarist Mick Ralphs (Bad Company) and drummers Ian Paice (Deep Purple, Whitesnake) and Kenney Jones (The Who).
Mick Box and Trevor Bolder tried to keep Uriah Heep going and briefly replaced Hensley with Gregg Dechert. He only featured on the 1980 non-album single “Think It Over”, however, before leaving in 1981. Dechert would next appear as a guest musician (keyboards, guitar) on “Fame and Fortune”, the 1986 album by Bad Company featuring Brian Howe. Mick Box also tried to bring David Byron back. He refused. Bolder then decided to join Wishbone Ash when former Heep bassist John Wetton left them to form Asia with Steve Howe (ex-Yes, Tomorrow), keyboardist Geoff Downes (ex-Yes, the Buggles) and ELP drummer Carl Palmer. At this point, Uriah Heep were down to just Mick Box with the name and contract. Having brought Kerslake back to the fold and filled the bassist position with Daisley, they next brought in keyboard player John Sinclair. He had previously played with Heavy Metal Kids, joining them when Danny Peyronel had left to join UFO. The final piece of the puzzle was Peter Goalby, the singer in Trapeze since Glenn Hughes again left them in 1978.
This line-up (Box, Kerslake, Daisley, Goalby and Sinclair) would record “Abominog” (1982) and “Head First (1983)” before Bolder returned for “Equator” (1985), as Daisley had been asked to re-join Ozzy Osbourne’s band for 1983’s “Bark at the Moon”. Daisley returned after Pete Way and Don Costa had filled in during the “Speak of the Devil Tour”, following the death of Randy Rhoads and Rudy Sarzo’s departure to re-join Quiet Riot, who by then had re-formed with Frankie Banali. Sinclair likewise left to join Osbourne after “Equator”, first appearing with Daisley on 1988’s “No Rest for the Wicked”, the first Ozzy album to feature guitarist Zakk Wylde.
Anyway, Kerslake’s return to Uriah Heep was marked by a 7″ EP titled “Abominog Junior”, featuring “On the Rebound” and two non-album tracks, Small Faces cover “Tin Soldier” and “Son of a Bitch”, a song co-credited to Kerslake and the other four band members.
“Abominog”, the 14th studio album by Uriah Heep, was released the following month, in March of 1982. “Too Scared to Run”, “Chasing Shadows”, “Hot Persuasion” and “Sell Your Soul” were all co-credited to all five band members but the album also included five cover songs. “Running All Night (With the Lion)” was originally recorded in 1980 by Gary Farr’s Lion, a band that had featured John Sinclair. Russ Ballard (“On The Rebound”), John Cougar (“Hot Night in a Cold Town”), the Bliss Band (“That’s the Way That It Is”) and Sue Saad and the Next (“Prisoner”) were also covered.
“Head First” was recorded by the line-up as “Abominog”, but featured a greater proportion of the songs written by the band members. Kerslake himself was co-credited with the rest of the band for “The Other Side of Midnight”, “Sweet Talk” (also co-credited to Linda Sinclair), “Straight Through the Heart”, “Weekend Warriors”, and “Playing for Time”, the B-side of the single “Stay on Top” which itself was written by Tom Jackson. “Head First” also included “Love is Blind” (Richie Zito, Joey Carbone) and “Lonely Nights” by Bryan Adams and his writing parter Jim Vallance.
Trevor Bolder rejoined Heep for the “Head First” tour and eventually helped make “Equator” for a new label, Portrait Records. “Equator” proved to be the last Uriah Heep album to feature Peter Goalby and John Sinclair and all songwriting was credited simply to “Uriah Heep” as a collective.
July of 1986 saw the arrival of vocalist Steff Fontaine (ex-Joshua, a Christian metal band) and keyboard player Phil Lanzon. Fontaine did not make any recordings with Heep as he’d be replaced by Bernie Shaw by September. Lanzon (ex-Loose Ends, two singles in 1966) had briefly played with Sad Café (led by Paul Young, later with Mike + The Mechanics) after his band Grand Prix folded in 1984, having made three albums since forming in 1978. Their last two albums (1982-83) were fronted by Robin McAuley, later to join Toto members in Far Corporation (1985) and work with Michael Schenker (1986-1993). The first album by Grand Prix, however, had featured Bernie Shaw.
Born in Canada in 1956, Bernie Shaw didn’t become a recording artist until he (like Neil Peart) moved to England in search of musical opportunities. Shaw boarded a plane in 1978 and soon found himself in the London-based band Paris with songwriter Phil Lanzon. Having signed with RCA, Paris changed their name to Grand Prix and released a self-titled album in 1980.
Shaw was singing in a band called Stratus when Mick Box asked him to audition for Uriah Heep. Stratus had formed in December of 1983 as “Clive Burr’s Escape”, featuring the drummer (also of Samson, Trust, Alcatrazz, Gogmagog) who had played in Iron Maiden since 1979 before being replaced by Nicko McBrain (ex-Gordon Giltrap, Streetwalkers, Pat Travers, Trust) in 1982. Stratus released their only album in 1984, “Throwing Shapes”, a melodic hard rock record also featuring Alan Nelson (keyboards) and the Troy brothers, Tino (guitar) and Chris (bass), who Bernie Shaw had briefly sung with in Praying Mantis. Shaw had joined Praying Mantis in December 1981, after McAuley took his position in Grand Prix. Formed in 1973 and managed by Deep Purple manager John Coletta, Shaw only appeared with Praying Mantis on the 1982 EP “Turn The Tables”. Having just fired Steff Fontaine, Mick Box found that Shaw was a singer who could reach the high notes. Shaw was flattered and agreed to leave Stratus to join his former bandmate in Uriah Heep.
This line-up (Box, Lanzon, Shaw, Bolder and Kerslake) would remain unchanged from 1986 until 2007, with the Grand Prix duo remaining with Mick Box as the core of Uriah Heep to this day. Uriah Heep was the first ever Western rock band to play in the Soviet Union and the first Heep release to feature Lanzon and Shaw was “Live in Moscow” (1988), recorded in December of 1987.
“Raging Silence” (May 1989), the next studio album, opened with a cover of Argent’s 1972 hit “Hold Your Head Up” but most of the songs were written by the band. Kerslake himself was the only member not credited for any of the material, however, and there were two more covers included. “Lifeline” was originally included on 1983’s “So Fired Up” by LeRoux, a band featuring “Fergie” Frederiksen (ex-Trillion) before he went on to sing on Toto’s 1984 album “Isolation”. “When the War Is Over” was originally recorded by the Australian band Cold Chisel. Written by drummer Steve Prestwich, it was sung by Jimmy Barnes and included on the 1982 album “Circus Animals”. Jimmy Barnes would later sing in Living Loud, a band formed by Kerslake, Daisley and Steve Morse.
“Different World” (February 1991) and “Sea of Light” (April 1995) featured only original material written by the band members, but Kerslake himself remained uncredited for anything beyond playing the drums and providing backing vocals. “Sea of Light” featured a cover painted by Roger Dean, the first Uriah Heep album to do so since the two records released in 1972.
“Sonic Origami” (September 1998) was the final Uriah Heep album to feature Lee Kerslake, as health issues would force him into semi-retirement in 2007. Kerslake was co-credited with Box, Bolder, and Lanzon for “Everything in Life”. The album also included one cover song, “Across the Miles”, written by Jim Peterik and Frankie Sullivan for their band Survivor. It was originally included on the 1989 album “Too Hot to Sleep”, the last Survivor album to feature the late vocal genius Jimi Jamison (ex-Target, Cobra) before the re-union album “Reach” was released in 2006. “Between Two Worlds” was dedicated to David Byron and Gary Thain, the former members who both died way too young.
In 1998, Kerslake and Daisley also filed their joint lawsuit against Ozzy Osbourne and his wife/manager Sharon, seeking royalties and songwriting credits for their contributions to the “Blizzard of Ozz” and “Diary of a Madman” albums. In 2003, Kerslake and Daisley’s lawsuit was dismissed by the United States District Court in Los Angeles. “I went belly-up bankrupt when I lost the case to Sharon and Ozzy Osbourne in the courts.”, Kerslake commented. “It costs me hundreds of thousands and I had to sell the house, and then started to get ill.”
While still a touring member of Uriah Heep, 2003 also saw Lee Kerslake and Bob Daisley form the band Living Loud with singer Jimmy Barnes (ex-Cold Chisel) and Deep Purple guitarist Steve Morse (ex-Dixie Dregs, Kansas). Featuring a guest appearance by Don Airey, Living Loud released a self-titled CD (2004) featuring both original material and covers of several Daisley/Kerslake-penned Ozzy Osbourne tracks, namely “I Don’t Know”, “Crazy Train”, “Flying High Again”, “Mr. Crowley”, “Tonight” and “Over the Mountain”. “Last Chance”, “Every Moment A Lifetime”, “In The Name Of God”, “Pushed Me Too Hard” and “Walk Away” were all co-credited to Kerslake, Daisley, Barnes and Morse. The group also released a live DVD in 2005. It was reported in 2010 that Steve Morse and Bob Daisley had started to work on a second studio album, but nothing came of this.
In 2009 Kerslake explained, “I’ve had a lot of illnesses which I’ve refused to let take me over and beat me. But there are certain things you cannot beat, old age and everything that comes with it. You can’t deny that. That’s why I had to retire. I have rheumatism in my neck bones, from shoulders to the brain. So because of this I have a headache 24/7. It’s bit of a pain but I’m not going to complain because that’s my life. I’ve had a tough life, I’ve lived hard and fast and I’ve enjoyed it. And I’m enjoying it now probably more than ever. … I couldn’t do a three-month, six-weeks on one go anymore. It just takes all out of me. But I still play just as hard on the drums. As I did when I was 25. Except now it hurts!”
Among other projects, he formed his own Lee Kerslake Band to continue working periodically, also appearing alongside former Gods/Heep members Ken Hensley and Paul Newton on occasion.
2014 saw the release of “The Sun Has Gone Hazy”, an album credited to the Berggren Kerslake Band. Released by the label AOR Heaven and featuring musicians from Sweden, the ten songs were credited as written by Lee Kerslake (drums, vocals, Mellotron, chimes) and Stefan Berggren (vocals, guitar, organ, piano, Moog, Rhodes, tambourine strings). The recordings also featured bass player Tomas Thorberg (ex-Snakes In Paradise, Prins Svart) and Opeth’s current keyboard player Joakim Svalberg (ex-Qoph, Yngwie Malmsteen’s Rising Force) as guest on two tracks.
Stefan Berggren had previously fronted Snakes In Paradise, a Stockholm based band founded in 1990. Snakes In Paradise came to the attention of melodic rock fans when they acted as the back-up band for Mark Free (ex-King Kobra, Signal, Unruly Child) in 1993. Berggren has also been associated with the acts One Cent (also featuring Fredrik Åkesson, before he joined Talisman, Krux and Opeth), Rossall & The Gang, Four Sticks, Razorback, Prins Svart, Revolution Road, The Company Of Snakes, and M3, the hard rock band featuring three former members of Whitesnake. Berggren has also provided backing vocals on releases by Candlemass and the spin-off band Avatarium.
Kerslake announced his cancer diagnosis in 2015 but asserted his determination to defeat the illness. “I have had numerous tests and have been told by my specialists that I will be around for a good while yet — meaning years.”, he said. “My bone and prostate cancer can be controlled for me to live pretty much a normal life — after all, I kicked my diabetes into remission, so I will bloody well beat this.”
In 2015, Kerslake also started to record his first solo album, “Eleventeen”, named so because he couldn’t understand why there wasn’t an “eleventeen” when he learned how to count as a child. A music video was supposedly made in 2016 for “Celia Seanna” but the album has unfortunately remained unreleased.
In 2018, Kerslake and Tayla Goodman started to make a documentary on his life and bucket list. Kerslake revealed that it was his final wish to receive the platinum album certifications for the Ozzy albums that he worked on. Kerslake wrote a letter to Osbourne, informing him of his desire and ill-health, and Kerslake subsequently received his platinum plaques. The documentary is said to feature Ian Paice (Deep Purple), Joe Elliott (Def Leppard), Nicko Mcbrain (Iron Maiden), Gene Simmons (Kiss), and Mick Box. “I wanted people to realize there is camaraderie in the music industry between all the musicians, even when we don’t speak to each other for maybe 20 years.”
The documentary, “Not on the Heep“, was due to be completed by September 2019 but has not yet been released.
In December 2018, Kerslake revealed that he was battling prostate cancer, saying that “the doctor gave me about eight months to live”. He further stated that five years previously, he had been given four years to live. Kerslake’s further health complications include psoriasis, psoriatic arthritis and two heart murmurs. While he survived for more than eight months, Kerslake sadly didn’t make it through 2020.
Kerslake’s final performance with Uriah Heep came in December 2018, when he briefly joined them onstage to add percussion and backing vocals to “Lady In Black”.
Rest in peace, Lee, and thanks for everything!
…for in darkness I was walking and destruction lay around me from a fight I could not win…
Studio albums featuring Lee Kerslake:
1968: The Gods – Genesis
1969: The Gods – To Samuel a Son
1970: Head Machine – Orgasm
1970: Toe Fat – Toe Fat
1971: National Head Band – Albert 1
1972: Uriah Heep – Demons and Wizards
1972: Uriah Heep – The Magician’s Birthday
1973: Ken Hensley – Proud Words on a Dusty Shelf
1973: Uriah Heep – Sweet Freedom
1974: Uriah Heep – Wonderworld
1975: Uriah Heep – Return to Fantasy
1975: David Byron – Take No Prisoners
1976: Uriah Heep – High and Mighty
1977: Uriah Heep – Firefly
1977: Uriah Heep – Innocent Victim
1978: Uriah Heep – Fallen Angel
1980: Ozzy Osbourne – Blizzard of Ozz
1981: Ozzy Osbourne – Diary of a Madman
1982: Uriah Heep – Abominog
1983: Uriah Heep – Head First
1985: Uriah Heep – Equator
1989: Uriah Heep – Raging Silence
1991: Uriah Heep – Different World
1995: Uriah Heep – Sea of Light
1998: Uriah Heep – Sonic Origami
2004: Living Loud – Living Loud
2014: Berggren Kerslake Band – The Sun Has Gone Hazy
20??: Lee Kerslake – Eleventeen (not yet released)