Uriah Heep is an English rock band, formed in December 1969 when record producer Gerry Bron invited keyboardist Ken Hensley (previously a member of The Gods and Toe Fat) to join Spice, a band signed to his own Bronze Records label.
They were sometimes jokingly referred to as “The Beach Boys of heavy metal” for their melodic songs, and trademark multi-part harmony backing vocals, although their music draws on diverse influences including: progressive rock, hard rock, heavy metal, jazz, and even country on occasion. As one of the first bands to fuse progressive with metal, they are a precursor to the progressive metal genre.
In spite of their huge popularity in Britain and continental Europe, Uriah Heep was never able to break into the American market in a big way, with the exception of three hit songs, “Easy Livin’” from the 1972 album Demons and Wizards, “Sweet Lorraine” from the 1972 album The Magician’s Birthday (a top ten album in Australia), and “Stealin’ “ from the 1973 release Sweet Freedom. The band released several commercially successful albums in the 1970s, including the seminal Uriah Heep Live (1973), but their audience declined by the 1980s, to the point where they became essentially a cult band in the US and UK. Uriah Heep maintains a significant following in Germany, the Netherlands, the Scandinavian Peninsula, the Balkan Peninsula, Japan and Russia, where they still perform at stadium-sized venues.
Their debut album, Very ‘Eavy... Very ‘Umble (which was self-titled in the United States), introduced a heavy organ and guitar-driven sound, with David Byron’s theatrical, dynamic vocals soaring above thunderous sonic backgrounds, although acoustic and jazz elements also featured in the mix. The album’s title references the signature phrase of the Dickens’ character Uriah Heep (“very ‘umble”) from the novel David Copperfield from which the band took its name. Their second album, Salisbury, was more squarely in the progressive rock genre, with its 16-minute title track featuring a 24-piece orchestra; it also included “Lady in Black”. Their third album, Look at Yourself, released at the end of 1971, included the single “July Morning”. Subsequent releases would find the group’s ever-shifting lineup (between 1969 and 1980, the band changed drummers five times, bassists four times, and lead singers twice) frequently exploring fantasy-oriented lyrical themes, often in lengthy, multi-part compositions, largely penned by Hensley, who would eventually come to dominate the band during his tenure. On December 8, 1975, New Zealand-born former bassist, Gary Thain, was found dead in his Norwood Green home, aged 27, having overdosed on heroin.
Following the 1976 replacement of vocalist David Byron (with John Lawton - formerly of the German band Lucifer’s Friend), Uriah Heep turned away from fantasy-oriented lyrics and multi-part compositions back toward a more straightforward hard rock sound typical of the era. In 1977 they scored a Top 40 chart hit in Australia with “Free Me” which went all the way to Number One in New Zealand. The replacement of Lawton with vocalist John Sloman for the 1980 album Conquest was not well received by most fans, and Ken Hensley’s acrimonious departure in September of that year left the group in a state of collapse. It fell to guitarist Mick Box to pick up the pieces and soldier on with a new singer Pete Goalby of Trapeze fame. Two early 1980s releases, Abominog and Head First, updated the band’s sound and generated a brief, newfound interest in Uriah Heep among younger glam metal fans.
Following the death of David Byron at age 38, Uriah Heep continued to tour and release both (occasional) studio and (frequent) live albums. The lineup was unchanged from 1986 until early 2007, with veteran Mick Box at the helm, Trevor Bolder on bass, Lee Kerslake on drums, vocalist Bernie Shaw and Phil Lanzon on keyboards. Mick Box also acted as manager until April 2005, when the band retained Simon Porter as their manager.
In early 2007 drummer Lee Kerslake had to leave the group due to ill health. In March 2007, the band recruited Russell Gilbrook as their new drummer, and immediately started recording a new studio album entitled Wake the Sleeper. Originally slated for a Summer 2007 release, Universal Music finally released Wake the Sleeper in June 2008. As Uriah Heep’s first studio album in almost ten years, Wake the Sleeper heralds an exciting new phase for the band, taking their classic sound right into the future. The album sees Uriah Heep back to their very best and is set to become a future classic - sure to please their dedicated worldwide fan base and fans of Progressive Rock in general. The current band also features Mick Box, Trevor Bolder, Phil Lanzon and Bernie Shaw.