W.A.S.P. leader Blackie Lawless has paid tribute to Ken Hensley, former URIAH HEEP vocalist songwriter and multi-instrumentalist, who died peacefully on November 4 following a very short illness. He was 75 years old.
On Friday night (November 6), Lawless took to W.A.S.P.'s social media to write: "I was 17 the first time I heard a URIAH HEEP's 'Salisbury'. The songs were great, the vocals were killer, but there was something about those keyboards. It was a grinding noise I'd never heard before. There were other bands using Hammond B-3 organs… but not like this band. Years later I'd find out why.
"It was Spring of '88 when I met Ken Hensley for the first time. There had been few musicians in my life I'd had revered as much. Here was the man that wrote 'Easy Living' and was the creator of 'That Sound'. I wasn't sure what to expect on that first meeting. Many times when people meet their idols, it can be disappointing. To my surprise and relief, he could not have been cooler! He immediately put me at ease and the thing that really struck me about him was his sense of humor. He just loved to laugh and have a good time. What we call: 'just one of the guys'. So much so, that it would be months until it finally hit me just 'who' he was.
"We had been in rehearsals for weeks for what would later become the 'Headless Children' album, when one day I walked in the studio. Everybody was already there. The Band were on stage playing, the crew were moving cases around and sorting out the gear. When I walked in the area where the door was it was darkened, so I could see all of them, but they couldn't see me. I stood there and just listened for what seemed like forever. We had been playing around with the idea of doing THE WHO song 'The Real Me', but had not tried it yet. When I got there, they already had the song worked up and were playing it. I stood there, and the absolute ferociousness of the roar that was coming off the stage was stunning. Holmes on guitar, Johnny Rod on bass, Frankie Banali on drums and Ken Hensley on Hammond B-3. It's impossible for me to over exaggerate the power and intensity that was coming off of that stage. The crew didn't even notice me because they had stopped working, and were watching and witnessing this "monster song" being born. When you're a kid, you fantasize a lot about being in some band you had seen on TV or from some record you had bought. I was standing there thinking: 'I’m 15 again and this is that band I fantasized about'. Honestly, the second thought I had was: 'they don't even need me, this is one of the greatest bands in the world!'
"It was Ken that helped us get to that next level. His experience and instinct for what was right was amazing. I said earlier: 'years later I'd find out why'. I don't know if most people will ever be able to experience what happens when you have a chance to work with someone you've admired for so long, and then you have a chance to get comfortable with them. Then it happens, that moment where you remember who this person really is and you find yourself thinking: 'holy cow, this is that guy'!.
"About 2 months after we had been working together, Ken and I were driving down the street. Somehow we got on the subject of complaining about how hard some records are to make, and the torture they put you through. I was moaning about some record we had done and Ken said: 'yeah, I know what you mean. We were making this record called 'Demons And Wizards' and…' I didn't hear a word he said after that! I was sitting right next to THAT GUY!!!! I just sat there… totally stunned.
"He was not trying to impress me, he was just talking. He might not have been trying to impress me, but he failed miserably!
"I never told him this story. I was too embarrassed to tell him.
"The next time you hear the song 'Forever Free' take a good listen to the ending. That's Ken and his glorious Hammond B-3 playing us out.
"Farewell Mate… High in the Wind… Forever Free."
Hensley 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, Hensley became an inspiration to many and known for encouraging talented artists.
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 two brothers Trevor, Mark and sister Dawn, and his close friend and manager Steve Weltman.