Kenneth William David Hensley (born 24 August 1945, Plumstead, South East London, England) is a keyboard (especially Hammond organ) player, guitarist, singer, songwriter and producer best known for his work with Uriah Heep during the 1970s.
He wrote or cowrote the majority of Uriah Heep's songs during this period, including such hits as "Look at Yourself", "Lady in Black" (on both of which he also sang lead vocals), "Easy Livin'", "Stealin'" and "Free Me".
Born in London, Hensley moved with his parents, three brothers and sister to Stevenage, Hertfordshire in 1955. He started to learn 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 even recorded some now lost songs. At this time, Hensley's first "professional" opportunity almost came about: they were going to back Ben E. King on a British visit, but it never happened.
In Early 1965, Hensley lost his interest in soul music and formed a band called The Gods, with the young guitarist Mick Taylor, well known later for his work with The Rolling Stones. Ken wrote most of the material, sang and played the Hammond B3 organ (mainly because the band already had the talented Mick Taylor on guitar). What he didn't know then, was that he would be such an influential musician playing exactly the organ. 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 (who would be 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 2 LPs and several singles. After that, Newton left the band to join Spice, an Essex-based band.
The band eventually split but Cliff Bennett, from Rebel Rouser, decided to make a more progressive sound, and called The Gods guys to join him. So, by the name of Toe Fat, they released 2 LPs (only the first one with Ken). During this time, Ken also played on a dubious recording: Head Machine's "Orgasm" (not exactly a band, a project more likely). At this time, Ken played mainly guitar again, as in the beginning of his career.
Paul Newton asked Hensley (Christmas 1969) to join forces in Spice, since they were looking after a keyboards player to make their sound less bluesy and more progressive at the time. In January 1970, Spice changed its name into Uriah Heep. Also on the line-up were guitarist Mick Box and vocalist David Byron. With Uriah Heep, Ken Hensley found a place to develop and show to the world his songwriting and lyrics abilities, keyboards and guitar playing. The major success came, and Heep is now acclaimed as one of UK's most legendary rock bands. The chemistry of the most classic line-up including Hensley, Byron, Box, Kerslake and bassist Gary Thain, plus the management provided by Gerry Bron (Bronze Records), were the launching points of their tremendous capability of making great music. During his time with Heep (1970 - 1980), they recorded 13 studio albums, and one of the most acclaimed live albums of all times: "Uriah Heep Live - January 1973" (not to mention lots of compilations and singles). Hensley also recorded his first 2 solo albums, "Proud Words On A Dusty Shelf" (1973) and "Eager To Please" (1975) during this time. With the departure of Thain (died in 1975) and Byron, other excellent musicians also got into the Heep family: John Wetton (Family, King Crimson, Roxy Music, later of UK and Asia), Trevor Bolder (from Spiders From Mars, later of Wishbone Ash) and John Lawton (Lucifer's Friend), among others. The chemistry though, wasn't the same anymore.
In 1980 Hensley left the band, not happy with the musical directions they were choosing at the time. After trying to put a new band together first in the UK (Shotgun), he later moved to the USA and played a few gigs in North America with the suggestive name of Ken Hensley Band.
In 1982 Hensley joined Blackfoot, a hard rock Florida-based band. With them, he recorded 2 albums and achieved again some success, but he left after Bron told him about Byron's sad death in 1985. He had also released by this time his third solo LP, "Free Spirit" (1980).
Hensley had been since then almost in retirement, in St. Louis, Missouri (USA), making only a few appearances in some musical projects, with W.A.S.P., Cinderella and others. Blackie Lawless (W.A.S.P.) has defined exactly what Hensley means to the rock'n'roll history:
"Ken Hensley wrote the rule book for heavy metal keyboards as far as I'm concerned."
This could be debated as Jon Lord of Deep Purple may have written the rule book for heavy metal keyboards in general. Ken Hensley likely wrote the rule book for heavy metal piano as heard in Paradise/The Spell from Demons and Wizards. The period also gave birth to many other amazing keyboardists/organists, not the least of which were Alan Taff Freeman of Nektar, and John Evan of Jethro Tull.
Surprisingly though, things began to change in the mid 90s after years of silence. In 1994, "From Time To Time", a collection of lost recordings, was released featuring rare songs recorded by Ken between 1971 and 1982, as well as some very good early versions of Heep's classic songs, played by Ken 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 (Bad Company), drummers Ian Paice (Deep Purple, Whitesnake) and Kenny Jones (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. An eclectic collection of ballads and hard rock tunes, this album was hugely acclaimed by fans who were hungry for new material from Ken.
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". Ken was joined by former Heep singer John Lawton, their first public collaboration since John's departure from Heep in 1979. With them were Paul Newton (Heep's original bassist), and 2 members of John's band, Reuben Kane on lead guitar and Justin Shefford on drums. They played a sort of old Heep classics and some of Ken's solo songs to an amazed audience, and the concert was recorded for a proper 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 classic "Salisbury"!
This is definitely not the end of the story, since Hensley has been quite busy working on his solo career. "Running Blind", his first effort in 21 years, was released worldwide and followed by a world tour with his band called "Free Spirit", that included some incredible musicians: Dave Kilminster (guitar), Andy Pyle (bass) and Pete Riley (drums). Kilminster and Riley later also played in the Keith Emerson Band (Kilminster is part of Roger Waters band nowadays). He now plays regular annual shows at small venues in Scandinavia, such as the "Summer Party" in Fredrikstad, Norway, where he has been playing consecutive gigs every August for nearly six years.
After moving to Spain, Hensley kept his schedule busy and released "The Last Dance" (with new songs), "The Wizard's Diary" (Uriah Heep classics re-recorded in 2004) and "Cold Autumn Sunday" (Ken's solo songs re-recorded in 2005).
Featuring a number of special guests, the rock opera "Blood On The Highway" was recorded at the end of 2006 and released in May 2007. The story portrays the rise and fall of a rock'n'roll star and the eventual restart. The lead vocals role was split between Ken himself, plus Glenn Hughes (ex-Deep Purple, Trapeze, Black Sabbath), Jorn Lande (ex-The Snakes, Masterplan), John Lawton (ex-Lucifer's Friend, Uriah Heep) and Eve Gallagher.
In September 2008, Ken Hensley joined the stage again with John Lawton, Lee Kerslake and Paul Newton, all of Uriah Heep fame plus the addition of ex-Focus guitarist Jan Dumée, for the "Heepvention 2008" fans meeting. Two shows with one acoustic one day and a full set the day after set the standard for Uriah Heep's music through 2 decades.
Artist descriptions on Last.fm are editable by everyone. Feel free to contribute!
All user-contributed text on this page is available under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License; additional terms may apply.