In the ’80s we had a local Dr Disc record shop. it was an awesome store – loads of vinyl and tapes at the time, and in my late teens I regularly dropped in and picked up something. I can recall in those days, looking for something new – a new band [new to me] to pick up on, and I’d regularly spend an hour just flipping through sections of used LPs by bands I wasn’t very familiar with. I did flip through the Uriah Heep section a number of times — so many albums, so many cool covers. I eventually picked up a copy of Demons And Wizards [to start] and from that day on I had a new favorite band, and my enjoyment and collecting of the band [and everything related] became routine.
Fast forward a few years, [I wrote Ken a letter where he worked at St Louis Music. He was retired from being a rock star then, and was working with getting endorsements and promoting Ampeg amps. He wrote back, and in turn I sent him a pile of questions on Uriah Heep, and he responded. We exchanged a few Q & As, and a few letters, as well as had few brief phone chats. I received answers to my questions from Ken usually through the post, and usually hand-written. Although his answers were often short, but pretty interesting. On how he’d like to be remembered[?] Ken replied – “As someone who contributed, did his best and made a difference (Of course, by then, I won’t care!]”. (Maybe I’ll share more of these Q&As another time.)
Ken was [and til the end] always a busy guy — from having contact with him in the ’90s and seeing his updates on social media, he always had new plans, multiple new recording or writing projects in the works. He was not one for small talk, though occasionally he’d say something that I thought ‘interesting that he’d say that’. In interviews [which I did a few of over the years], Ken always said what was on his mind, even if it’d be regarded as controversial to some or ruffled a few feathers amongst UH fans. He was definitely an interesting person, who was also highly respected by many other rockers [ask Billy Sheehan, Mike Anthony, Blackie Lawless…]. More so, the guy was a major force behind one of England’s biggest hard-rock bands of the early ’70s. He was the main songwriter, keyboard player, slide guitar player, backing vocalist… and penned so many great Heep songs, especially from the period spanning 1971 to 75, when they took off to be such a huge concert draw and recorded about a half dozen big selling albums. As a musician, Ken had his own sound; he was self-taught on keyboards [after taking on keyboards to join a band that didn’t need another guitar player!] Both his Hammond organ and his guitar sounds are quite unmistakable, and this separated him [and Heep’s sound] from many others. His contributions with songs like Lady In Black, Look At Yourself [which he also sang lead on in studio], July Morning, The Wizard, Easy Livin’, Sunrise, and Stealin’ – were huge fan favorites and a few were radio hits, which still get played on classic rock radio today. Those songs would also go on to be important and expected songs in Uriah Heep’s live set, even decades after he left the band, in 1980.
In recent years Ken still had plenty of projects on the go, including shows and albums with his band ‘Live Fire’, solo albums, collaborations, and participating and contributing to various Uriah Heep reissue projects, solo reissues, and the new 50th Anniversary box set. I’d given up years ago on getting to see him perform live or meet him, as Ken’s relocating to Spain [and with European countries and places like Russia being his market really], really left no hope for tours in Canada or the USA. Today’s news of his passing came as a shock to anyone; Ken was still active, and always seemed upbeat & positive on social media or in interviews. As a fan, I am grateful for so many great albums that Ken left us, including his albums after he came out of retirement in 1999. His music has left a huge impact on my own life [and many fans lives] since I picked up that amazing Roger Dean cover and took home Demons & Wizards, and played side 1 about 5 times in a row before flipping it over.
Thanks, and RIP Ken.
KJJ. , 05/11/20