It is very rare that I have the chance to connect with someone who is considered a music legend. Most of the time, my requests do not merit responses for interviews or anything beyond that. However, I was fortunate to receive a follow up from one such music man, Ken Hensley. Fans may recognize his name for his inclusion of the original 1970s line up of Uriah Heep and for his spectacular solo career. Ken unveiled his musical adventure and was able to share a bit with me on his amazing profession.
As always, I love to hear how music entered the lives of these musicians. Ken told me his story. “I was born into a musical family, so I guess it was somewhere in my blood. My father´s dream was for me to be a professional football player and I could have done that but, by the time I was 11, Elvis had inspired me to become a rock star. From that point on, everything I dreamed, hoped and planned revolved around this ambition.”
Every since then, he has been moving forward. Mr. Hensley mentioned some of his most proud projects and instants as a musician. “Wow! There are so many moments. My first recording for EMI with The Gods, the first autograph, the first gold record, the first US show in Indianapolis in front of 16,000 people, opening for Three Dog Night and many, many of the recordings I have done, with Uriah Heep and beyond. Most recently I enjoyed making ‘Love & Other Mysteries’ which was a rather self-indulgent songwriter´s album and my current favorite is ‘Trouble,’ which I recorded with my band, Live Fire.” Need I say more about this guy?
He continues to push beyond his craft. Ken explained further about what he hopes to explore in his performances. “Recently, as well as my solo shows and those with Live Fire, I have been playing with string sections and even full symphony orchestras and that has been a new and enjoyable twist to my musical adventure! More orchestral concerts are planned for later this year and Spring 2016, so I have a lot to look forward to! Ha! I just want to write the perfect song, just like every other songwriter!”
Since he has been a part of the performance world for some time. Mr. Hensley has had some rough patches in there. “There were two things in my Heep career that were very difficult. The first was when our singer started to get drunk before shows and the second was when the band chose the wrong singer to replace John Lawton. We had a choice between two singers and one was perfect for our style and the songs but they chose the other one, which, in the end, proved to be a big mistake. Any performance that is under the influence of alcohol or drugs is impossible really and touring and recording with the completely wrong singer took most of the fun out of my musical life at the time.”
Going along with his performance experiences, Ken elaborated a bit on his views. “My professional career spans 52 years and 54 albums, so you can imagine that I have strong feelings about what happens in our business. Through the 70s, rock & roll became a business and, with the advent of CDs, a multi-billion dollar industry, with most of those billions going to the businessmen! They still do and this reduces the chances of young people with original ideas making their way into the mainstream of music, which is a real shame. The industry works to a series of blue-prints and artists are required to toe those lines, which, in turn, homogenizes talent into a steady stream of generic music that all sounds the same to me. Napster shook this up a bit, but now the businessmen have become bigger control freaks than they were before and, from where I sit, that´s actually worse for new talent. With lower general standards, fewer record deals to offer and the incredible advances in digital technology we now have button pushers considering themselves musicians and a whole generation of young people who don´t understand why they should have to pay for music! It is practically impossible for anyone with an original idea to break into our business and my bet is that we are missing a whole lot of incredible talent because of this. For the most part at least, I just don´t hear any great songs.”
Music remains to be Ken’s ideal medium. I asked if he had any ambitions to explore beyond that. “No! Music has always been my life and I believe it always will be. I still enjoy touring, playing and occasionally teaching so, while I have my health and strength and the desire to play, I will keep doing that. I do believe though, that my main gift is writing and I am writing now, more than ever. That is probably where my longer-term future lies and I want to write for film and TV eventually.”
Instead of naming specific influences, Ken gave me a perfect answer. “You know, there are many whom I have really appreciated over the years, but my main inspiration has always come from the people I have met and played for. Life itself, in all its configurations, twists and turns is also a major source of inspiration to me.”
To end, Mr. Hensley gave a glimpse of his next stage in his career. “I am getting ready to go and play in Israel for the first time and that´s exciting! Then I will go to Russia to play a small acting part and a bigger performing part in a movie. On October 15th there will be a Uriah Heep reunion in Moscow that will see me on stage with Mick Box for the first time since 1980 and after that I have a 20-city tour of Russia that runs through the end of November. I will finish the year with a charity concert not far from my home here in Spain. I am also working on a batch of new songs for an album we will start to record in January and that we plan to release/deliver in May 2016. There is a lot of great stuff going on and I am deeply thankful that I can continue my life´s work.” If that does not sound like a perfect musical ride, I do not know what is. This man has had quite the life and continues to live it as best as he can. If you are not familiar, get down and dirty with his music. Ken Hensley is a man to be reckoned with and his tunes are captivating in every way.