Lee Kerslake was the drummer and important member in the success of the bands Uriah Heep, and Ozzy Osbourne’s Blizzard of Ozz . He would also write and contribute backing vocals & melodies to a number of huge classic albums. His passed on Saturday having lived beyond the short period doctors had given him in 2018 when diagnosed with cancer. The man was determined to make the most of his last few years – including a documentary on his life & career, a solo album [both yet to be released], and generally trying to stay positive and productive, despite knowing the end was near.
As a pre-teen when I first heard the 2 Blizzard Of Ozz albums, and owning them soon after, I loved them – played them repeatedly, and still take them out regularly. Back then I was a fan of these albums [and followed Ozzy during the 80s], I hadn’t yet discovered Uriah Heep, but I knew Lee Kerslake’s name – it was on 2 of my favorite albums! I didn’t discover Heep for a few years, or understand why Lee [and Bob] were no longer in Ozzy’s band, aside from one mention in an interview where Ozzy claimed Lee went back to rejoin Heep. Discovering Lee’s work with Heep and all his related recordings was a game changer for me.
From Bournemouth, England, Lee’s first break came when he became the drummer for London based The Gods, a band perhaps better known for the bandmembers that passed through it than the 2 albums, and numerous singles they’d released in the latter half of the 60s. At the time of recording the band also consisted of Ken Hensley, Joe Konas, John Glascock, with former members including Paul Newton, Mick Taylor, Brian Glascock, and Greg Lake. Lee played, wrote, and sang back-up on both of the band’s albums – 1968’s Genesis and 1969’s To Samuel A Son. From the first album [the better of the pair, IMO] he co-wrote 3 songs with guitarist / singer Joe Konas – “Misleading Colors”, “You’re My Life” and “Time And Eternity” – with the first one being one of the heavier songs the band did. On the band’s second album, Lee wrote 2 tracks – “Lovely Anita” and “Eight O’Clock In The Morning”, the latter being a favorite, and reminds me of Heep’s “Circle Of Hands”.
The Gods joined Cliff Bennett and became Toe Fat, with Lee playing on the first Toe Fat album, as well as joining Ken Hensley for the recording of Head Machine’s Orgasm LP. He then joined The Business, who became National Head Band, and issued their lone LP Albert 1 in 1971. This also included keyboard player Jan Schelhaas [pre Caravan, Camel], guitarist Neil Ford, and bass player Dave Paull [who would later join Lee on Ken Hensley’s first solo album]. The album would be a fine blend of pop, folk & country rock, progressive… but it didn’t go anywhere and the band split up, with Lee joining Uriah Heep in late ’71.
Lee joined Uriah Heep for the band’s most successful album – Demons And Wizards. The album was the band’s 4th, and it would be the one that featured such radio hits and classics – “Easy Livin” and “The Wizard”. Lee’s would jump right in co-writing on 3 tracks. The album’s success is often put down to the new line-up with Kerslake, Hensley, David Byron, Mick Box, and then-new bass player Gary Thain all jelling so well. This would become what is known as the “classic” line up of Heep for the next few years, and include the albums The Magician’s Birthday, Live January 1973, Sweet Freedom, and Wonderworld. The epic title track to The Magician’s Birthday, would feature a lengthy guitar & drum section, perhaps Lee’s most famous contribution to Heep’s legacy as a co-writer and for his performance.
Following the departure [and passing] of Gary Thain following Wonderworld, it was Lee who would help bring in bassist John Wetton for the next few albums, as a friend from the same region in England. The band would see further changes, with a another bass player [Trevor Bolder] and new frontman [John Lawton], within a couple of years. Lee would continue to write and shine on the band’s albums in the latter half of the 70s, contributing the songs “Who Needs Me”, from Firefly [which featured in the band’s live set during the era] and “Come Back To Me”, a ballad and single from Fallen Angel. Lee had also played on the debut solo albums by Hensley and Byron.
Lee left the band prior to the next album being completed. He went on to start his own project , and worked on material with Pete Cox [pre Go West]. But before long he was contacted to audition for Ozzy Osbourne’s new band, or as Lee would say “I auditioned them.” He was an instant hit with bassist Bob Daisley and guitarist Randy Rhoads, and joined what was known as Blizzard Of Ozz. The band recorded 2 albums, and 2 albums that are sacred to most Osbourne fans, with such classics as “I Don’t Know”, “Crazy Train”, “Mr. Crowley”, Flying High Again”, “Believer”… with the heavy performances of Lee & Bob, and the spectacular new guitar sound and skills of a young Randy Rhoads – Blizzard Of Ozz could’ve been one of the greatest bands of all time, but after the 2 second album Diary Of A Madman, Lee & Bob were left off the album photo and out of the band before Ozzy went to tour North America with their replacements. Lee also co-wrote on most of Diary, but it also his performances on these albums, and in particular his intros to “Over The Mountain” & “Little Dolls”, as well as the tracks “I Dont Know”, “Steal Away [The Night]”, and the title track to Diary of A Madman that made Lee Kerslake such a crucial part of the band and a legend to many new fans of these albums for decades to come. On the last few Uriah Heep albums Lee had been on were been less of the ‘eavy, but with these 2 Blizzard albums Lee was playing like he hadn’t played in years, with new and exciting energy.
Upon being let go from Blizzard Of Ozz, Lee was key in helping Mick Box reassemble Uriah Heep, by bringing with him Bob Daisley, and having been friends with John Sinclair [keyboard player] to help bring him in to the band. The ’80s Heep was off and running, [along with singer Peter Goalby], and released a trio of albums, most notably 1982’s Abominog. The new Heep sound was up to date, more Americanized hard-rock, with heavy guitar, various keyboards, harmonies; Heep was more like Foreigner – but heavier, and I think some of this new sound had to do with the energy that Lee [and Bob] brought with them from their previous recordings with Ozzy. After more changes in ’86 & ’87, Heep would be stable for the next few decades. Although, there was less albums, Lee was still a big part of the band’s sound and shone on 1995’s Sea Of Light, and 1998’s Sonic Origami. The latter would be Lee’s last studio album with the band [though a number of live albums & DVDs followed]. He was forced to retire in 2007 due to health issues, mainly arthritis.
There was the short-lived supergroup Living Loud in the early 2000’s, who Lee – along with Bob Daisley, Steve Morse, Don Airey, and Jimmy Barnes recorded an album that featured half originals and 6 remakes of tracks from the Blizzard Of Ozz albums. In 2014 Lee Kerslake returned again for a one-off album with guitarist/singer Stefan Berggren. Their album The Sun Has Gone Hazy, was an excellent return for Lee as a performer & songwriter. This was a solid release of classic rock that would appeal to any fan of Lee or Heep. It would prove to be Lee’s final album to promote [though a solo album has been recorded titled Eleventeen] , and I was happy to interview him during this period. I thought it was a great album with songs like “Walk Tall”, the Heep resembling “Super Sonic Dream”, and “As Time Goes By”.
Upon being diagnosed with cancer, Lee’s final years would include being inducted in to the Heavy Metal Hall Of Fame, as well as finally receiving his Platinum LP Awards for his 2 albums recorded with Blizzard of Ozz [via the Osbournes]. He also kept in contact via social media with his fans. And despite all the legal issues with the Osbournes over the years , he was quick to forgive and forget in the press and thankful for his awards. A man who was happy for being recognized for his achievements, his fans, and proud of his career. Will be missed, but left behind an amazing legacy of music to check out and enjoy.
A LOOK AT LEE’S CAREER IN SONGS
Here’s 20I classic tracks that Lee wrote (or co-wrote) and/or performed on:
The Gods – Eight O’Clock In The Morning
The Gods – Misleading Colors
National Head Band – Too Much Country Water
Uriah Heep – Poet’s Justice
Uriah Heep – The Magician’s Birthday
Uriah Heep – July Morning (live)
Uriah Heep – Circus
Uriah Heep – Suicidal Man
Uriah Heep – Who Needs Me
Uriah Heep – Come Back To Me
Blizzard Of Ozz – I Don’t Know
Blizzard of Ozz – Over The Mountain
Blizzard of Ozz – Diary Of A Madman
Uriah Heep – Sell Your Soul
Uriah Heep – Weekend Warriors
Uriah Heep – Dream On
Uriah Heep – Everything In Life
Living Loud – Last Chance
Berggren-Kerslake Band – Super Sonic Dream
Bergren-Kerslake Band – The Sun Has Gone Hazy
KJJ , 20/20