The ongoing list of shit things to happen in 2020 just keeps getting longer and longer. With a rock and metal world still weeping over the loss of Eddie Van Halen last month and Lee Kerslake from the previous; another blow was dealt this week as Ken Hensley, the multi-instrumentalist behind Uriah Heep in their prime passed away, leaving the world aged 75.
So, once again, I sit down at my desk and share some thoughts and anecdotes around the life of Ken Hensley. As so many of these anecdotes begin, once again, my introduction to Ken Hensley came at a young age; it was a birthday and as always my Uncle came through, delivering not one, but two albums; ‘Demons and Wizards’ and ‘Salisbury’ by a then, unknown band to me called Uriah Heep. As with most of his deliveries at that age, I had no idea who these guys were, but the man had never let me down, so I tentatively dropped the needle down as the crackle sparked ‘Demons and Wizards’ into life.
Right there, there it was, the magical lyrics immediately got me, ‘The Wizard’, ‘Rainbow Demon’ and ‘Circle of Hands’ all played into my love of fantasy. I mean, I loved Deep Purple and Rainbow… and I mean, REALLY loved them, but my new obsession was creeping up and quickly, Heep sounded like Purple with that heavy Hammond organ sound, but it was those lyrics that got me hooked. For Heep, a lot of focus has always been upon guitarist Mick Box and then vocalist David Byron; but for me, it was always about Ken Hensley the man in the shadows at the back, the man behind the curtain pulling the strings, writing lyrics and music, arranging and providing the addition of a plethora of musical instruments when needed. Even now, hearing albums like ‘Salisbury’, ‘Demons and Wizards’ and ‘Look At Yourself’ transports me right back to lying on my bed, listening to that black circle ever spinning whilst reading the lyrics sheets and gazing at those Roger Dean covers, seeing those writing credits and noting that name over and over again, Hensley.
To this day, ‘Demons and Wizards’ is still one of my favourite albums of all time and even now as I write this piece, I am spinning this album in the hope that I can find the correct words to make all this worthwhile. Of course, Heep and Hensley are far more than just ‘Demons and Wizards’; each album with Hensley on it contains some beautiful gems including the Hensley penned and sung tracks such as ‘Lady In Black’ and ‘High Priestess’ from ‘Salisbury’, as well more collaborative tracks such as ‘July Morning’ and ‘The Magician’s Birthday’ to excellent pop flavoured hummable tracks like ‘Stealin’’ and ‘Easy Livin’’.
My love for Hensley didn’t end here; many years later I would discover W.A.S.P., in fact, there was a phase for a few years in my late teens and early 20’s when Blackie Lawless and co. would be the soundtrack to my not only getting ready to go out, but also during the night with anthemic tracks like ‘The Headless Children’, ‘Forever Free’ and ‘Mean Man’ providing a much needed machismo boost. Yet, oddly, who was behind the keyboards for ‘The Headless Children’ album? Yep, you guessed it, Ken Hensley, with that instantly recognisable Hammond organ sound that was somehow so unique and yet fit so well with W.A.S.P.’s music. Now, all that being said, this knowledge did not make me cool; hearing any of those W.A.S.P. tracks during a night would lead to me to chewing the ear off of anyone who would listen about Ken Hensley playing keyboards on this track. Furthermore, heaven forbid that statement was met with a blank look as I would then delve into the history of and album releases by Uriah Heep oblivious to the fact what was once a lush rainforest, was quickly undergoing a climate change to become nothing more than a desiccated dust bowl. Good times.
For me, it has been a sad day and our thoughts here at Metalheads Forever go out to Hensley’s family and friends. Rest In Peace to a true keyboard pioneer and fantastical writer whom without his contributions to rock and metal, the world would be a less colourful place.
Ken Hensley (1945-2020)