Kenneth William David Hensley (24 August 1945 – 4 November 2020) was an English singer-songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and producer, best known for his work with Uriah Heep during the 1970s.
He wrote or co-wrote the majority of Uriah Heep’s songs during this period, including the hit singles “Lady in Black” (on which he sang lead vocals), “Easy Livin'” and “Stealin'”, as well as “Look at Yourself”, on which he also sang lead vocals, and “Free Me”.
Born in Plumstead, south-east London, Hensley moved with his parents, three brothers and sister to Stevenage, Hertfordshire, in 1945. He learned how to play guitar at the age of 12 from a Bert Weedon manual. His first gig was at The Mentmore Pen Factory, in Stevenage (September 1960). After that, he played with The Blue Notes, Ken and the Cousins and Kit and the Saracens (1962). In 1963, this band evolved into The Jimmy Brown Sound, and they recorded some now lost songs. At this time, Hensley’s first “professional” opportunity almost came about: they were to back Ben E. King on a British visit, but it never happened.
In early 1965, Hensley formed a band called The Gods, with the young guitarist Mick Taylor, well known later for his work with John Mayall and The Rolling Stones. Hensley wrote most of the material, sang and played the Hammond B3 organ as the band already had the talented Mick Taylor on guitar. The Gods’ line-up included, at one time or another, vocalist and guitar/bass player Greg Lake (later of King Crimson and Emerson, Lake & Palmer), bass player Paul Newton (later the first Uriah Heep bassist), drummer Lee Kerslake (later also of Heep), bassist John Glascock (later of Jethro Tull), and guitarist Joe Konas. In early 1968 they signed with Columbia Records and recorded two LPs and several singles. After that, Newton left the band to join Spice, an Essex-based band. Hensley also played on a one-album side project of The Gods initially planned to become their 3rd album, but was recorded and eventually released in 1969/1970 under the moniker Head Machine’s “Orgasm”. The album was produced by David Paramor (producer of “The Gods”) and both Hensley and Kerslake featured, along with John Glascock on bass, Brian Glascock on drums, and David Paramor on vocals, all under pseudonyms. Hensley played mostly guitar again, as in the beginning of his career. Although Paramor was credited as composer, the songs bear many of Hensley’s influences. The album was released before Hensley joined Toe Fat and might almost be considered a prototype for the harder side of his future work in Uriah Heep.
The band eventually split but Cliff Bennett, from the Rebel Rousers, decided to move in a more “progressive” direction and asked The Gods to join him. Under the name Toe Fat they released two LPs, but only the first featured Hensley.
Paul Newton asked Hensley (Christmas 1969) to join forces in Spice, as they were looking for a keyboard player to make their sound less bluesy and more progressive, in keeping with the current trend. In January 1970, Spice changed its name into Uriah Heep. Also in the line-up were guitarist Mick Box and vocalist David Byron. With Uriah Heep, Hensley found a place to develop and showcase his songwriting and lyrical abilities as well as his keyboard and guitar playing. The band’s “classic” line-up featured Hensley, Byron, Box, Kerslake and bassist Gary Thain, plus the management provided by Gerry Bron (Bronze Records). During his time with Heep (1970–1980), they recorded 13 studio albums, and the live album Uriah Heep Live – January 1973 along with many compilations and singles. Hensley also recorded his first two solo albums, Proud Words on a Dusty Shelf (1973) and Eager To Please (1975) during this time. He was supported mainly by Mark Clarke and Bugs Pemberton.
After the departure of bassist Gary Thain (who died in 1975) and vocalist David Byron, other musicians were brought into the Heep family: John Wetton (Family, King Crimson, Roxy Music, later of U.K. and Asia), Trevor Bolder (from Spiders From Mars, later of Wishbone Ash) and John Lawton (Lucifer’s Friend), among others.
In 1980 Hensley left the band, unhappy with the musical direction they had chosen. After trying to put a new band together in the UK (Shotgun), he later moved to the USA and played a few gigs in North America as The Ken Hensley Band. Around this time he released his third solo LP, Free Spirit (1980).
In 1982 Hensley joined Blackfoot, a hard rock Florida-based band. With them, he recorded two albums (1983’s Siogo and 1984’s Vertical Smiles). Although the group achieved some success, Hensley left after Bron informed him of Heep vocalist David Byron’s death in 1985.
After 1985, Hensley lived in semi-retirement in St Louis, Missouri (USA), making a few appearances with W.A.S.P., Cinderella and others. W.A.S.P.’s frontman Blackie Lawless stated that “Ken Hensley wrote the rule book for heavy metal keyboards as far as I’m concerned.”Hensley also owned “The Attic” Recording studio in St. Louis.
In 1994, From Time To Time, a collection of lost recordings, was released featuring rare songs recorded by Hensley between 1971 and 1982, as well as some early versions of Heep’s classic songs, played by Hensley and his roommates at that time, namely guitarist Paul Kossoff and drummer Simon Kirke (both of Free). Other musicians on the songs were bassist Boz Burrell (King Crimson and Bad Company), guitarist Mick Ralphs (Mott the Hoople, Bad Company), drummers Ian Paice (Deep Purple, Whitesnake) and Kenney Jones (The Small Faces, The Faces, The Who), amongst others.
In 1999, Hensley’s musical activities began to increase, besides his work with St Louis Music. He recorded an album, A Glimpse of Glory, together with his band Visible Faith.
During the fourth Uriah Heep Annual Convention in London, May 2000, plans were made for a one-off concert by the so-called “Hensley/Lawton Band”. Hensley was joined by former Uriah Heep singer John Lawton, their first public collaboration since the latter’s departure from Uriah Heep in 1979. With them were Paul Newton (the band’s original bassist) and two members of Lawton’s band, Reuben Kane on lead guitar and Justin Shefford on drums. They played a set of old Uriah Heep classics and some of Hensley’s solo songs, and the concert was recorded for a CD release, followed by a tour in Europe culminating with a concert in Hamburg, Germany, featuring a full orchestra and a new rendition of Heep’s old song “Salisbury”.
Running Blind, his first effort in 21 years, was released worldwide in 2002 and followed by a world tour with his band called “Free Spirit”, that included Dave Kilminster (guitar), Andy Pyle (bass) and Pete Riley (drums).
After moving to Spain, Hensley released The Last Dance (with new songs), The Wizard’s Diary (Uriah Heep classics re-recorded in 2004) and Cold Autumn Sunday (Hensley’s solo songs re-recorded in 2005).
Featuring a number of special guests, the rock opera Blood on the Highway was released in May 2007. The story portrays the rise and fall of a rock’n’roll star. Lead vocals role were split between Hensley and Glenn Hughes (ex-Deep Purple, Trapeze, Black Sabbath), Jørn Lande (ex-The Snakes, Masterplan), John Lawton and Eve Gallagher.
In September 2008, Hensley went on stage again with former Heep bandmates Lawton, Kerslake and Newton along with ex-Focus guitarist Jan Dumée, for the “Heepvention 2008” fans meeting.
Hensley continued to write and record a series of new albums, beginning with a collection of songs under the title of Love & Other Mysteries, recorded near his home in Spain and followed in 2011 by Faster, his first studio recording of new songs with his live band, Live Fire. A CD of one of his solo concerts was released by Cherry Red Records in 2013, shortly followed by a live CD recorded with Live Fire during a September/October tour. Trouble, an album of 10 new songs recorded with a revised Live Fire line-up was released, again by Cherry Red, in September the same year.
In later years, Hensley and his wife lived in the village of Agost near Alicante in Spain.
Hensley died on 4 November 2020, at the age of 75. (wikipedia)
Recorded and released at the height of Uriah Heep’s powers in 1973, this album gets passed over quite a bit amongst the fans of the band. However, this is genuinely as good as anything else the band was putting out at the time and considering that Hensley was also backed by Heep drummer Lee Kerslake and bassist Gary Thain, this was pretty much a Heep album itself! Focusing on more of the less dynamic sounds of the band, Hensley’s solo work is a bit more introspective but still driving and heavy in places where it needs to be. Even the Heep classic “Rain” get’s re-done here along with another ballad in the form of “Cold Autumn Sunday” which for me evokes many a Sunday in Western Pennsylvania that I experienced growing up. This is an essential part of your Heep collection and is damn near a “lost” Heep album in and of itself. You need it on your dusty shelf as well! (by Jacob Koehler)
My rating of this album is highly biased by my early experience with the group Ken Hensley was part of as well as this album itself when it first came out. After buying the very first Uriah Heep album on a whim the day it was released (because I thought the cover was cool) and feeling like I discovered an amazing new group, I became a hard core fan, catching them live multiple times, singing along, trying (without success) to hit the high notes, and buying everything they released throughout the early to mid seventies. Buying this solo album by Ken was a no brainier when it came out, and it quickly became a mainstay on our turntable along with “….very ‘Eavy …very ‘Umble”, “Salisbury”, “Look At Yourself”, “Demons & Wizards”, “The Magician’s Birthday” & “Sweet Freedom” until my turntable was retired in the early 90’s. Then I never heard “Proud Words On A Dusty Shelf” or any of the others for a couple decades until I found this CD version which has again become an often played selection along with the other early Uriah Heep “CD”s”. Guess you can tell why I gave it a five – I’m admittedly 100% biased. 🙂 (by The Duck)
Simply Brilliant!!! A MUST For ’70-‘-73 era URIAH HEEP Fans…Like A Lost HEEP Classic!
Simply put if you’re a fan of URIAH HEEPs ’70-’73 golden era, then KEN HENSLEY’s debut solo LP “Proud Words On A Dusty Shelf…” from ’73 is an absolutely ESSENTIAL, MUST-HAVE album for your collection. This album is seriously as good as the brilliance of “Demons & Wizards”, “Magician’s Birthday” URIAH HEEP. The album also feature fellow HEEP band members Gary Thain (R.I.P.) on bass and Lee Kerslake on drums. The majority of the rest (vocals, guitar, keyboards, etc.) were played by Ken Hensley. This album is shockingly good and makes you wonder if Ken Hensley may be one of the most versatile and brilliant songwriter/musicians in rock history, but sadly unknown by far too many. (by T. Kasuboski)
Ken Hensley (keyboards, guitar, vocals)
Lee Kerslake (drums)
Dave Paul (bass)
Gary Thain (bass)
01. When Evening Comes 4,37
02. From Time To Time 3.37
A3 King Without A Throne 3:51
A4 Rain 3:14
A5 Proud Words 3:10
B1 Fortune 5:22
B2 Black-Hearted Lady 3:36
B3 Go Down 3:10
B4 Cold Autumn Sunday 5:27
B5 The Last Time 2:48
All songs written by Ken Hensley
It is with great sadness that we announce that Ken Hensley, former Uriah Heep vocalist songwriter and multi-instrumentalist passed away peacefully on 4th November following a very short illness.
Ken was one of the most important musicians of the past half-a-century. His work with Uriah Heep in the 1970s helped to make the band hugely influential. He also collaborated with bands such as Blackfoot, W.A.S.P. and Cinderella, as well as building a very successful solo career. As a writer he was responsible for such classics as ‘Lady In Black’, ‘Easy Livin”, “July Morning” and ‘Look At Yourself’.
A very spiritual person, Ken became an inspiration to many and known for encouraging talented artists.
“I am in deep shock at the news Ken Hensley has passed away, and my sincere condolences go to his family and wife Monica. Ken wrote some amazing songs in his tenure with the band, and they will remain a musical legacy that will be in people’s hearts forever. RIP Ken” Mick Box – Uriah Heep
Ken had recently finished work on a new project My Book of Answers which is due for release end of February 2021.
He leaves behind a wife Monica and 2 brothers Trevor, Mark and sister Dawn and his close friend and manager Steve Weltman.
We wish to express our deepest sympathies to Ken’s family, friends and many associates from his musical career at this time. The family ask fans for some space and time to come to terms with the tragic and unexpected loss. (taken from the official webswite)