On July 5th, the sad news that English rock / blues singer John Cooper Lawton had passed away on Jun 29 was posted on the Lucifer’s Friend Official Facebook page. Lawton was known to rock fans for the albums he recorded with the German band in the early ’70s, and then for the 3 studio albums he recorded and toured with Uriah Heep in the latter half of the decade. There was very little details on John’s passing, but really it shouldn’t matter at this point – the world has lost an amazing talent, and more so to the fans who had any contact with him – a genuine great guy, and a true professional.
It is with deep regret that we share the devastating and tragic news of the sudden and totally unexpected passing of John Lawton on 29. June 2021.Contrary to reports, there was no illness involved, which makes his passing incomprehensible. He went peacefully with his wife at his side. John will be greatly missed. A private funeral service to celebrate John’s life will be held following his wishes, with only family and close friends attending. We would appreciate that the family’s privacy is respected during this difficult time.
Jeff Scott Soto – “I’m so very sad to learn my friend John Lawton known most for his tenure with Uriah Heep, a KILLER singer and wonderful human being, has passed.”
John was born in Halifax, England July 11, 1946. He began singing at the age of 15, citing such early influences as Buddy Guy, Muddy Waters, and Chuck Berry. In the later ’60s he made trips to Germany while playing in such bands as West One and Stonewall, and it’s there that he would meet up with the members of a new band to be called Lucifer’s Friend. He also took part in a studio project – Asterix, and recorded the first Lucifer’s Friend album soon after. The band was a studio band who’d release very different and experimental albums each year. Between that John joined The Les Humphries Singers as his main gig – recording and touring. He was also introduced to the Deep Purple family through his appearance at Roger Glover’s Butterfly Ball performance in 1975. It was a highlight of John’s career – “Actually standing on the same stage as David Coverdale, Glenn Hughes, Jon Lord, all these people was great! And meeting Vincent Price of the horror films was great. Those are good memories, and something I won’t forget!”
Axel Rudi Pell – “R.I.P. John Lawton! One of the nicest people in all music business and a great singer! We had the pleasure of getting him on stage for my 25 year anniversary show in July 2014 and rocking 2 songs together. You left us way too soon dear John! My deepest condolences to his wife Iris and his family.”
In 1976 he was called upon to replace David Byron in Uriah Heep, and went on to record 4 albums with the band, and one live album. Although Heep’s direction changed during this era, John proved an excellent singer in an era where the band’s popularity in North America declined. He remembered his first US tour fondly – “This was my first time in America, and I was touring with Uriah Heep, and we were the opening band to Kiss… Kiss were a good band – they were the biggest thing around at that time, and we still got to play to a lot of people.” In other countries though the band had some major success during this period, particularly with the hit “Free Me”, from 1977’s Innocent Victim. While the band’s direction in songs & production changed, many would agree that it was John’s powerful vocals during the late ’70s that held many songs together and provided much of the highlights. John also wrote and co-wrote on a few Heep classics during this era – “Free ‘N Easy”, “I’m Alive”, and “Woman Of The Night”.
Mike Starrs – “Another great singer has left the stage. John Lawton, You were the inspiration For many great singers and John you will be SO SADLY missed. Have a great trip my old friend. Und sehn wir uns.”
Following recording for an as yet released 4th album, and European tour, John left Heep, and went on to record a solo album, followed by a return to Lucifer’s Friend with an album in 1981. Throughout the ’80s & ’90s he kept busy on numerous recordings, and even made a brief return to Heep in ’95, filling in for Bernie Shaw for a South African tour and a few dates in Europe. During the ’90s and in to the 2000s John Lawton really warmed to the Heep fans through his band Gunhill, and appearances at Heep’s year end Magician’s Birthday Party shows in London. There was also a reunion show and tour with Ken Hensley, solo albums, another Lucifer’s Friend album …. Throughout John showed he was just a good, down to earth, and friendly guy to any fans that met him or had contact with. He attended fan conventions, remembered those he came in contact with, and despite being such a great singer with an amazing career, he seemed like more than an old friend to many.
Mick Box – “The passing of John Lawton on the 29th of June came as a complete shock and has left me numb. John was a big part of the Heep family, and on stage when he was covering for Bernie, who was having hospital treatment at the time, he said over the microphone “you can check out, but you never leave Heep.” That was our John and he was one of the good guys. On a personal note we had some fantastic times in Heep, and some fantastic times too outside of Heep. On filming the movie ‘Love dot net’ and playing shows with him in Bulgaria we never stopped laughing, and I will always remember those joyous times. I enjoyed the songs we wrote together, and he had an amazing voice that was both powerful, soulful and with a bluesy edge. Rock music has lost one of the great rock voices of all time and his legacy will live on forever. Our condolences go to his wife Iris, their immediate family, and his German band ‘Lucifer’s Friend.’ John, may you rest in peace my friend.”
In later years he had reunited with Lucifer’s Friend, and recorded a few studio albums, released a live album, and played a number of concerts (something the band didn’t do much prior to 1976). The band’s last album was 2019’s excellent Black Moon. At the time of my last interview with him, he had mentioned that there’d be another album, and last heard from him was that he was awaiting a studio to open (after Covid) so he could record the vocals for it. John was also very keen on seeing the 4th album he recorded with Uriah Heep get a formal release. Often referred to as ‘Five Miles’ he thought it was important this should see the light of day. I am sad that John, who was keen on it’s release (as were Lee and Trevor) won’t be here to see it, as I understand it is very good.
Jack Williams – “John was one of those rock stars who was extremely grounded & from what I saw never forgot where he came from, thus this great rock singer who had cut his bones in another huge rock band “Lucifer’s Friend” always treated me like I was always part of the “Heep” family, I will never forget the years I spent in the UK writing with Ken Hensley & watching John Lawton sing the hell out of my songs!!!RIP John Lawton.”
I was most fortunate to interview John on a good few occasions. He was always positive, and never spoke negatively about anyone. Speaking in 1997 John said – “I’ve done everything I set out to do when I was 15….I think I’ve been lucky, I’ve done everything I wanted to do musically. So, I just let life come at me these days, and it can throw at me whatever it wants, and if it’s to do with music, then I’ll do it.” And to think how much more he did after that! RIP John. Thanks for so much great music.
*Photos courtesy of Richard Wagner
KJJ, 07 / ’21