Thoughts on the Death of Thoughts on the Dead (Without Research)

  • This post has to be written in bullet points. Because of course it does.
  • If you have to ask, you’ll never know . . .
  • Well, unless I explain it to you.
  • Or, unless you were a regular reader of that most special website that today’s post honors, in which case you know the rules, and the requirements, and the structures and meta-structures that made the whole thing work.
  • Suffice to say that me writing this post in bullet points, under the tenets of “without research,” means that you can’t interrupt me, and that I can’t Google things.

But . . .

  • No. I love you, I really do. But no. No. Bullet points are here. And bullet points must be respected. No interruptions.

Yeah, understood. Okay. Carry on.

  • Thanks. Seriously, I do love you. And I wonder where you are, and where you’ll go now. I hope Bold Guy is there too, I think, to keep you company. I suspect you two get along better than we all might appreciate here on the receiving end of your various wisdoms.
  • Say “Yo!” to Precarious for us all, ‘aight? ‘Aight??

I said “Carry on” . . .

  • You did. My bad. Here I go . . .
  • I am a terrible sleeper, due to a combination of psychological and physiological factors, which combined to force me into an arising at 4am, Arizona Time, this morning.
  • I nabbed my phone from my bedside table as I left the bedroom to make myself more comfortable, and as I do at the start of most days, no matter how early, I clicked on my saved link to Thoughts on the Dead.
  • And I saw this terrible, terrible news. Posted by Brother of the Dead (BotD), father of Nephew of the Dead (NotD), both of whom were dearly and publicly loved by my online friend, Thoughts on the Dead (TotD).
  • Who has died. Of a terrible cancer. At the age of 46. Which is too young!
  • I’m reading a book that’s about, in part, the Neolithic Period. TotD might have been an elder statesman/shaman type by making it to the age of 46 in those days.
  • Then again, maybe he would not have been. Our accepted modern understandings of the short life spans of our forebears are not necessarily correct, per this from another of my favorite online resources.
  • In any event, we live in neither Neolithic nor Medieval times, so 46 is too young, in the reality which we all inhabit, more or less.
  • And while TotD clearly did his best to keep his public persona going to the best of his ability without groveling and complaining (much) over the 10 months since his cancer diagnosis, it was pretty clear that he was suffering, and that was a hard thing to read, and hard to know, and hard to accept, and hard to comprehend.
  • And that’s just awful. And terribly, terribly sad.
  • And if I, among many, who knew TotD only through his anonymous online postings feel as sad as I do right now, then it’s beyond comprehension how bad BotD and the rest of his family and their “real world” friends and colleagues must be feeling now.
  • I extend my love and respect and compassion and care toward them all, for what that’s worth. May they find some small peace in the weeks and months and years ahead, and may they find joy in the incredible body of work that TotD left behind for all of us.
  • Because, Holy Moly, what a body of work that was!!
  • He was my favorite living, working writer, right up until the point when he wasn’t.
  • He’s now one of my favorite non-living, non-working writers. There’s a wealth of brilliance to be had among the work he left behind, novel-length and story-length tales that challenge the very best of anything I’ve read by anybody else, ever.
  • That’s not hyperbole. I’ve written about TotD numerous times on this site, sharing such accolades in real time, and not just as memorials. Here’s the list of pages here that reference him, in one way or another.
  • I loved his writing, dearly.
  • And I am something of an arrogant tool when it comes to writing, since I fancy myself as something of a fine writer, too.
  • (That’s a key part of my self-identity and self-worth, so if you disagree, you’ll hurt my feelings by doing so publicly, so why do that, right? Thanks for your restraint.)
  • As a writer, I believe (rightly or wrongly) that I have a fairly finely attuned sense of what makes for good writing, and what makes for bad writing, or “blah” writing, and I can tell you without any doubt or hesitation that TotD was a truly great, once-in-a-generation caliber writer.
  • A genius, on that front. And I do not throw that word around lightly.
  • Which may sound or seem weird, given the premise of his website, where all of his public work (to the best of my knowledge) resided and resides.
  • Here’s how he described what he did. Note that putting a quote box in here is going to break the flow of bullet points, because that’s what WordPress does. That does not mean that you get to interrupt before I return to the bullet points.

But . . .

  • No. I love you. But no.

Right.

  • Right. So here’s how TotD described his enterprise . . .

My thesis is that the Grateful Dead were the Silliest Band in the World. I will attempt to prove this through misquotes, malicious lies, and just plumb crazy talk; everything in these pages is, of course, satire. Except for the stuff about Bobby: Bobby actually thought he was a fucking cowboy. He was also a terrorist, but we’ll get to that. Bob Weir is a fucking prince.

This is my first time making blog. If you enjoy what I’ve done, then that’s entirely your decision. If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to leave them, along with your choice for #16 Mississippi Half-Step OF ALL TIME.

  • It seems slight, doesn’t it?
  • Nonsensical, even. Soft. Half-baked. Not much depth there. How could this one-skit SNL-caliber concept run for days, much less months, much less years?
  • In any other writer’s hands, I don’t think it could have.
  • But TotD used that modest, humble,  soft launching point to embark upon one of the most astounding bits of world-building that I’ve ever experienced.
  • To cite but one of many examples: The Dead’s on-stage set-ups over the years could often look haphazard and amateurish.
  • That’s a fact.
  • But why was it a fact?
  • TotD created a character named Precarious Lee, who was a Dead roadie, and who took great glee in building the most structurally ridiculous stage plots possible, ideally involving low effort by the crew, disinterest from the band, and high risk to audiences, players, other crew members, the environment, the equipment, and quite possibly Precarious himself.
  • Ha ha ha! There’s a joke! Good for a solid post of chuckles, right?
  • Except . . . in the hands of a master like TotD, Precarious became a character of unexpected depth, with an incredible before- and after-story adjacent to his time with the Dead.
  • Precarious took us out on the Interstitial Highway, which was mind-blowing.
  • Precarious took us to the place where he settled (sort of), which was called Little Aleppo, and which was a neighborhood, in America.
  • And which spawned a book-length series of stories, one of which remains one of my all-time favorite reads ever.
  • Especially when it was rolling out, chapter by chapter, in real time.
  • I read it all on my morning train commute with my coffee, gleeful every day that a new installment arrived.
  • It was like being a Charles Dickens fan in the late 1800s.
  • When it was all done, I named that first Little Aleppo novel My Best Book of the 21st Century.
  • Even if it never saw the printed page. Even if it never made TotD a dime. Even if it never had to claw through the publishing industry’s maw to see to the light of day.
  • It remains brilliant, and you can still click the link above to read it, and then to read the stories that followed it at TotD’s site.
  • I strongly encourage you to do so.
  • So many great tales. So many great characters. Such incredibly refined writing, where words and phrases routinely pop from the page and shine, craftsman-like example of the ways that our language can become sublime, even when discussing the mundane.
  • A lot of it is really funny, as are a lot of other parts of the TotD semi-fictional universe, where real-world personages (living and dead) interact with created characters in ways sweet and sublime and subtle and soaring.
  • (Another Grateful Dead connection in the Little Aleppo stories: the group’s famed Wall of Sound PA/speaker system became sentient, and is now providing sound for an historic movie theater in Little Aleppo).
  • (The Wall is another great character, a fascinating exploration into the ways that an artificial intelligence might interact with the humans who surround it, often to its despair).
  • (But don’t call him WALLY).
  • But deeply integrated with all of the laughs into the weft and woof of the the TotD semi-fictional universe were moments of deep, haunting, soul-moving pathos and compassion and love.
  • And you never knew when a sad story was going to get funny, or when a funny story was going to get sad, and that’s pretty much the way real life happens, and that’s pretty much what made this little escape from real life so very, very magical.
  • There are hundreds, if not thousands, of examples of TotD’s excellence on such fronts on his website, so if you just head over there and plow through the archives, you will be richly rewarded.
  • (Expert tip: find a subject/topic you particularly enjoy, then use the categories and tags to dig deeper into the story lines associated with said topic).
  • Among that plethora of fine choices, one piece springs to mind today, and I encourage you to go read it.
  • But first: consider what’s happened in Arkansas over the past couple of days with regard to the rights, health and well-being of transgender young people.
  • And then: consider all of the other States in our country that are seriously considering similarly hateful and harmful laws.
  • And then then: read this.
  • That’s extraordinary story-telling. A short piece, that quickly introduces you to places and people who are remarkable and not, in equal measure, and makes you care about them, deeply, quickly, wholly.
  • And there’s a lesson in there, too.
  • You might learn something.
  • Or at least re-consider some other things.
  • And that makes it art, to these eyes, and to this mind.
  • Great art. Fine art. Serious art.
  • With chuckles.
  • I look at the very best things I’ve ever written, and they pale in comparison to that piece, or hundreds of other similar pieces scattered throughout TotD’s canon.
  • Wow, was he good.
  • Wow, will I miss his work.
  • And wow, will I miss him.
  • Even though I never met him.
  • Even though I have no idea what he looked like.
  • Even though I only learned his first name within the past year when Bob Weir outed him on a David Lemieux podcast.
  • Even though I only learned his last name when his brother told us all that he died this morning.
  • He was truly a Ninja Jedi when it came to online stealth and protecting his anonymity, while living fully in the public domain.
  • Hats off on that front. Well played, you.
  • So when I miss him, my brain will miss him as TotD, not as Rick Harris.
  • Though I wish I had had the chance to get to know Rick Harris, too.
  • I think we would have gotten along well.
  • Common interests and suchlike, you know?
  • Because online connections and friendships are real, for reals.
  • Truly.
  • Meaningfully.
  • Deeply.
  • I have met and gotten to know (virtually-speaking) a lot of other folks in the “Comment Section” at TotD’s site over the years.
  • A couple of them have already reached out to me this morning to make sure I knew the news and that I was doing okay with it.
  • I did know.
  • But I’m not doing okay with it.
  • I do look forward to keeping in touch over the months and years ahead with the community that TotD built.
  • Good folks. Funny. Freaky. Fine company.
  • Enthusiasts.
  • Weirdos and squares in equal measure.
  • You decide who fits in which bucket.
  • Or not. We’ll be here all the same.

All of us?

  • Yes, all of us.
  • We love you.

Want To Come Home: Bunny Wailer (1947-2021)

I rarely post here more than once per day, but having shared one of my periodic lists of things with which I am well pleased this morning, I now find myself feeling a bit less than pleased to learn that Neville O’Riley Livingston, better known and loved as Bunny Wailer, has flown on to his great reward today.

Bunny was the last surviving member of the Wailers, and the only one of the original three who was granted the gift of a reasonably full life; Bob Marley was taken from us in 1981 by cancer, and Peter Tosh was gunned down in 1987 during a botched robbery. Those early and tragic deaths likely contributed to the Marley and Tosh legends, though they were both already heroic while they walked among us, with Marley standing as the great ambassador for Jamaican music to secular audiences in Europe and the Americas, and Tosh signed to the Rolling Stones’ boutique label, where he played a key role in the cross-pollination of rock and reggae, and also shone as a vibrant prophet to and celebrant of the global membership of the African diaspora.

Bunny and Marley had known each other since their early chilhoods, and were essentially step-brothers for some years, as Bunny’s father and Bob’s mother lived together and bore a baby sister to them both. The pair formed a group called The Wailing Wailers around 1963 with another friend from their Trenchtown neighborhood, Winston Hubert McIntosh, better known as Peter Tosh. The trio, with various other supporting players and singers (and without Marley for much of 1966, when he moved to Delaware, seeking work), had significant chart success in Jamaica, working in sequence with the greatest of the island’s legendary producers: Leslie Kong, Coxsone Dodd, and Lee “Scratch” Perry. The Wailers were eventually signed and marketed to a global audiences on Chris Blackwell’s Island Records label; Bunny, Tosh and Marley recorded two studio albums together on Island, the classics Catch A Fire and Burnin’, both released in 1973.

Tosh and Bunny then departed the group soon after Burnin’ was issued, when it became clear that Blackwell saw the Wailers as little more than a backing band for Marley, and when the group’s international touring schedule and demands became incompatible with Bunny’s spiritual beliefs and practices. His first solo album, Blackheart Man (1976), is one of the finest reggae records ever released, and the early singles he issued on his own Solomonic Label are also crucial, killer jams (though harder to find, alas). He continued to record and perform until 2018, when a stroke took his beautiful, heart-lifting voice from him. For most of his post-Wailers career, his work was entirely based in and focused on Jamaica, and he stood as a brilliant creative, cultural and spiritual leader on his home island. Role models matter, and I respect his deep sense of place, and his commitment to that place’s people, and culture, and future.

From a global commercial standpoint, Bob Marley was clearly the most successful and well-known Wailer, with Peter Tosh standing in a solid second place position, and Bunny mostly being played in the media like the forgotten third wheel, even for all the years that he was the only one of the trio still living and working. In my own household, though, the order of listening precedence is reversed: we spin Bunny the most, by a long shot, Tosh less, but still regularly, and Marley very, very rarely, if ever. While it’s not Bob’s fault, the ubiquity of his 1984 Legend compilation is such that it’s really hard for me to listen to any of those songs anymore, nor the post-Bunny-and-Tosh albums that whelped them, having heard his music beaten to death for so many years by crappy bar bands and overly-earnest acoustic guitar slingers, on commercial radio, on television commercials, in movies, and anywhere else where a company or corporation or performer wants to communicate multi-cultural cache in the laziest and most obvious fashion possible.

I’m sure Bunny Wailer was not saint in his personal life (who of us are, really, when all’s said and done?), but he certainly hewed to his faith more deeply than many other artists who use public statements of belief as commercial springboards, then abandon them when they become inconvenient. I always admire folks who make life decisions based on their deeply-held principles, and not on commercial expediency. While Bunny may not have been as prolific or as pointedly political a songwriter as his fellow Wailers, his best works are sublime in their messages, in their arrangements, and (most of all) in the pure, sweet, heart-tugging magic of his beautiful, wonderful voice.

Plus, in his latter days, he looked like this:

He had royal style and bearing and presence, befitting his well-deserved stature as cultural royalty on and beyond his home island. The music he helped pioneer has long since become a global phenomenon, influencing countless scenes and styles and genres, but few of his followers were as worthy of adulation as he was, and even fewer created art that will influence current and future generations as deeply as his did, even if most of us didn’t know it at the time, or attributed it to others.

A terrible loss, at bottom line. He was only 73 years old, too young to be taken away, all things considered. I close with one of my favorites of his many great songs, something of a signature tune for him, culled from that first 1976 solo album (though he had originally recorded it much earlier with the Wailers). The lyrics seem most fitting today, so I re-print them in case you care to sing along. As you should. As I am.

There’s a land that I have heard about
So far across the sea
To have you all, my dreamland
Would be like heaven to me

We’ll get our breakfast from the tree
We’ll get our honey from the bees
We’ll take a ride on the waterfalls
And all the glories, we’ll have them all

And we’ll live together on that dreamland
And have so much fun
Oh, what a time that will be
Oh yes, we’ll wait, wait, wait and see
We’ll count the stars up in the sky . . .

. . . And surely we’ll never die

The Bumble Has Flown Away

(Very) long-time readers here may recall that in May 2009, I reported that we had added a new member to our family, a polydactyl tabby cat. The shelter where we adopted her had named her “Izzabella,” but that just didn’t seem right to us. We initially dubbed her “Ladyjane,” as in Lady Jane Grey, given her color, and the fact that my sister had a cat named Earl Grey. But in that very first blog post about our new family member, I noted that:

She’s quite busy, and her feet are truly awe-inspiring in a Ripley’s Believe It Or Not sort of way: she’s got five full toes on each back foot, five full toes on her left front foot, and five full toes plus a little dewclaw between the thumb and the fist on her right front foot, for a total of 20 full toes and a dewclaw, compared to the normal cat complement of 16 full toes plus two dewclaws. She also has a very odd voice, and talks to herself pretty much continually when she’s awake, sounding like a bumblebee as she chirps and buzzes around the house. So she could be Ladyjane the Busy Big-footed Bumblebee Cat, though that seems a smidge unwieldy.

It was indeed too unwieldy, and in a fairly short time, we shifted to calling her “The Bumble,” which fit her personality far better than either of the more-feminine names she’d already briefly possessed. She had a lot of personality, even by cat standards. There were adventures in the years ahead. And lots of strongly-expressed opinions.

Of the four cats that we had over the years as a family, three of them firmly imprinted on me as the leader of their clowder, but The Bumble always fixated on Katelin, preferring her company (and lap) to any other’s. When Marcia and I moved to Chicago, The Bumble stayed in Des Moines with Katelin, and she moved to Nevada this past summer with Katelin, John and Frank the Cat. For an Albany stray, she saw a lot of the country over the years.

Sadly, right before the move to Nevada, The Bumble became ill, and was eventually diagnosed with an aggressive tumor in her skull. Katelin and John just called to let us know know that she succumbed to her illness today, after some struggles, but also after some really good days of being loved and loving, appreciating their new home where she could be outdoors in a protected yard, or sit atop their massive and comfy Love Sac. They gave her a wonderful life. She was a lucky kitty.

Marcia and I got to see her one final time when we visited in September, so I am glad for that opportunity. A few weeks later, Katelin sent the photo below, of The Bumble chillin’. It’s a lovely shot of a lovely family member, who will be dearly missed.

If I Had The Time: Ken Hensley (1945-2020)

For the second time in as many months, I’m sad to report the passing and honor the work of a critical member of the English hard-rock group Uriah Heep, as yesterday Ken Hensley followed Lee Kerslake into the great hereafter. Hensley was the Heep’s keyboardist, guitarist, occasional lead vocalist and primary songwriter from 1970 to 1980, arguably the era when they achieved their most balanced mix of commercial, critical and creative successes. No cause of death has been reported, though his brother noted in announcing Ken’s death that his passing was sudden, and that Hensley’s wife, Monica, was by his side as he flew away.

I’ve written several times here over the years about my love for a genre I call “Heavy Organ Music,” and when I look at the gems of that pantheon, Ken Hensley’s imprimatur is widespread and deeply influential. While he achieved his greatest fame and acclaim with the Heep, he had developed that particular sound and attack earlier in his career, most especially with The Gods and Toe Fat, bands whose members in the late 1960s included Mick Taylor (Rolling Stones), Greg Lake (King Crimson, ELP), John Glascock (Carmen, Jethro Tull), Brian Glascock (The Motels), Paul Newton and Lee Kerslake (both Uriah Heep), Cliff Bennett (Rebel Rousers), Alan Kendall (The Bee Gees) and others. His connections with Newton led to Hensley’s invitation to join the group Spice just as it was morphing into Uriah Heep in time for their debut album …Very ‘Eavy …Very ‘Umble (1970). By the time of their sophomore album, Salisbury (1971), Hensley had emerged as the group’s primary songwriter, a role he would hold for a decade.

Lee Kerslake followed Hensley into the Heep for their 1972 album Demons and Wizards, often cited as their finest and most representative work, the first of four by the group’s “classic line-up.” The substance abuse-related illnesses of bassist Gary Thain (who left the band in 1974 and died in 1975) and singer David Byron (left 1976, died 1985) led to a period of constant membership churn and declining critical and commercial success, and Hensley finally threw in the towel and left the band himself in 1980. Many listeners and pundits wrote the Heep off with Hensley’s departure, but sole remaining founder Mick Box (guitar) retooled the group for 1982’s Abominog, which was a surprise hit, laying the groundwork for an ongoing Heep story that’s still producing stellar live shows and great studio albums; their most recent, Living The Dream (2018), is to these ears one of their most significant career highlights.

Hensley’s post-Heep career was productive and rewarding, if a bit more low-key than his earlier band days. He lived and worked in the United States for most of the ’80s and ’90s, appearing on albums by Blackfoot, W.A.S.P. and Cinderella, running a studio and working for an instrument manufacturer in St. Louis, and occasionally fronting his own solo bands. He relocated to Spain in the early 2000s, and remained active until his death, with a dozen live or studio solo albums to his credit across those years.

Hensley was an openly devout Christian for the final quarter-century of his life, citing his faith as a key tenet to re-establishing his life’s balance after he kicked a tenacious cocaine habit in the late ’80s. He has also long been effusive about the importance to his work and well-being of his partnership with his wife, Monica,  who he first met around 2000, and married in 2004. I always appreciate artists who are honest and open about such matters.

If you’re not familiar with Ken Hensley’s sound and work, I offer ten samples below, personal favorites all, from his Gods, Toe Fat, and Heep days. I even offer a cut from the infamous and pseudonymous 1970 album Orgasm, credited to Head Machine, but really just The Gods in transition to Toe Fat. Hensley’s songwriting, singing, guitar work and keyboard textures shine in various ways throughout these cuts. He left a great body of work for a lot of saddened fans to appreciate in the days ahead. May he rest in peace, and may his loved ones have comfort at the time of his passing.

Unchained: Eddie Van Halen (1955-2020)

Edward Lodewijk “Eddie” Van Halen died today at the age of 65, after battling throat cancer for several years. He was a stone cold genius who changed the way people looked at and listened to the electric guitar in popular rock music, with perhaps only Jimi Hendrix having had as deep a transformational impact on the instrument and how its players play it. Or at least want to play it, since virtually nobody can do what they did, as well as they did it.

Hearing “Eruption”/”You Really Got Me” on the radio for the first time circa 1978 at Mitchel Field (likely on WLIR 92.7 FM during its beautiful, educational heyday) was a classic “What the HELL was that?!? I MUST HAVE IT RIGHT NOW!!!” moment for me. Here’s a refresher, if you need it:

The self-titled debut album from which those tracks were culled did not disappoint when I acquired it soon thereafter. Big wows, then and now. And a lot of other big wows through the breakup of the original lineup around 1984. (Though their final album of the David Lee Roth era, 1984, didn’t thrill me as much as the five that came before it. Which meant, of course, that it ended up being their biggest commercial hit. Sigh). The debut LP went a long, long way in my Best of the Blockbusters music tournament some years back, and that’s probably where I’ve written the most about my appreciation for it, and them. Give it a skim, if interested.

But then be advised that the very best things I’ve ever read about Eddie, Alex, Mike and Dave (plus Sammy) were written by one of my all-time favorite wordsmiths, the persistently anonymous Mr Thoughts on the Dead. Click on the image below to read his utterly fantastic Van Halen reflections, in three links below the photo on the landing page. Then read this. TotD’s having a shitty 2020, even more than most of us, and this didn’t make it any better. I appreciate him deeply. Hope you will too.

The Time Will Come: Lee Kerslake (1947-2020)

English musician Lee Kerslake died today at the age of 73, after a years-long struggle with prostate cancer. He was a long-time favorite of mine, holding down the groove and delivering the beastly beats for decades with a variety of acts I appreciate. He was best known as the hard-hitting drummer (credited on occasion as “The Bear” for his physical stature, grizzly beard and thunderous paws) for Uriah Heep and a pair of seminal Ozzy Osbourne solo albums. But there’s a bit more breadth and depth to his catalog and creative contributions than that, including some mostly-forgotten gems that get a lot of spins about our household. Let me share a few of them with you in a spirit of tribute and respect.

I’ve written before about my love for what I call “heavy organ music,” which I described thusly in 2001:

You can generally describe it as mid-tempo, choogly rock (complete with appropriately widdly guitar and ram-a-lam drum solos), fortified with strong, typically baritone male vocals and cemented together with swirly, gurgly organ parts, usually played on classic Hammond B-3 or Vox Continental organs. Or other combo organs of the era, Farfisas and the like. You know the sound. Organy.

Lee Kerslake played on a lot of Heavy Organ Music classics over the years. He began his recording career with The Gods, whose various lineups between 1965 and 1969 included Mick Taylor (Rolling Stones), Greg Lake (King Crimson, ELP), Ken Hensley and Paul Newton (both Uriah Heep), Brian Glascock (The Motels) and John Glascock (Carmen, Jethro Tull). Kerslake joined the group in 1967 as drummer and vocalist, part of the briefly stable quartet lineup with Hensley, John Glascock, and guitarist Joe Konas who recorded the group’s two official album releases (Genesis in 1968 and To Samuel A Son in 1969), along with the notoriously raunchy 1970 Orgasm, which was pseudonymously credited to Head Machine. Here’s a classic cut from The Gods, co-written by Kerslake and Konas:

R&B singer Cliff Bennett (ex-Rebel Rousers) joined The Gods near the end of their run under that name. A re-tooled ensemble called Toe Fat emerged in 1970, featuring Bennett, Hensley (primarily on guitar, rather than his usual keyboards), John Glascock and Kerslake. Their eponymous first album is an utter stormer, with some truly bizarre early Hipgnosis art work on its cover. Here’s its opening cut:

Kerslake and Hensley left Toe Fat before the group’s less exciting second (and final) album, Hensley heading directly into Uriah Heep, and Kerslake joining the woefully under-appreciated National Head Band, whose sole album, Albert 1, is a lost near-prog classic, filled with unusual styles and structures, and ballsy playing and singing throughout. Kerslake contributed on keyboards, vocals, drums and composition. Their best cut, to these ears, was this one:

After Uriah Heep had chewed through four drummers over the course of making their first three albums, Hensley recruited his former bandmate for Heep duty, soon cementing what most would consider to be their “classic” lineup: Hensley, Kerslake, Mick Box (guitar), Gary Thain (bass) and David Byron (vocals). That quintet released four studio LPs and one live album over three years, during which time the group scored their highest sales and spins figures in the UK and USA. There are many classic cuts in that great creative period, but I’d cite this one as my perpetual favorite of the era:

That stable run ended after Thain’s onstage electrocution, followed by his untimely death of a drug overdose. He was replaced by my much-admired (and missed) John Wetton for a pair of albums, which most Heep fans don’t particularly dig, but I think are under-rated. I picked the fitting title of this post from a song of that era, co-composed by Kerslake and found on the B-side of the “Return To Fantasy” single. (I appreciate that the current most-recent comment on the Youtube page linked below praises the complexity of Kerslake’s drum work).

The late ’70s found Uriah Heep in a state of churn and devolution following the departures of Wetton, Byron, Hensley and Kerslake, leaving Mick Box as the sole founder and still standard-bearer for the group. Lest that sound negative over the long-haul, please note that I am most fond of much Heep work since that time, grateful that they never stopped growing, and thankful that they never ossified into a stale vintage rock tribute show to their earlier glories. I saw their current line-up a couple of years ago in a Chicago-area venue, and would cite that show as one of the best I saw during my four years of living there. I also consider their latest album, 2018’s Living The Dream, to be one of their all-time career highlights; see entry #15 at this link for more on that.

But back to 1979: following his Heep exit, Kerslake went on to join a super-group originally dubbed Blizzard of Ozz, featuring Black Sabbath’s Ozzy Osbourne, bassist Bob Daisley and guitarist Randy Rhodes. By the time their debut album came out, however, things had morphed into Ozzy receiving top billing as a solo artist, with Blizzard of Ozz being repurposed as the title of the 1980 disc that ended up selling in quintuple-platinum quantities. How many times have you heard this choice Kerslake drum opening in sporting events and other “gotta pump up the crowd” moments, live and on television?

The original four members of Blizzard of Ozz co-wrote and recorded a second album, Diary of a Madman, for a 1981 release, but relationships had soured between Ozzy and his manager-wife Sharon on one side, and Daisley and Kerslake on the other, leading to Diary‘s original release crediting a replacement rhythm section for the work done by the original members. It got worse a few years later, after Daisley and Kerslake sued the Osbournes to receive their due creative credit on that pair of immensely successful commercial releases, only to see Ozzy and Sharon literally re-record and re-release the records with yet another rhythm section, completing erasing Kerslake and Daisley’s contributions from what they apparently hoped would become the permanent record. Kerslake later reported that the related legal proceedings bankrupted him. Eventually, saner heads prevailed and the original recordings have become commercially available again. During his final illness, Kerslake cited a dying wish to receive his due credit for his work on those famous discs, a request that Ozzy honored, finally providing him with the platinum disc awards that he’d certainly earned all those years before. A small gesture, sure, but meaningful, and better late than never, I suppose.

As it turned out, Kerslake’s departure from Ozzy World aligned timing-wise with a complete retrofit and relaunch on the Uriah Heep front. Kerslake re-joined his former band, bringing Daisley with him, for their first post-Hensley release, 1982’s Abominog, which opened with this cut:

That record was a surprising commercial and critical success, and after another few years of personnel churn, the band’s longest-stable lineup emerged in 1986, with Box and Kerslake joined by singer Bernie Shaw, keyboardist Phil Lanzon, and bassist Trevor Bolder, once of Bowie’s Spiders from Mars, and also a veteran of the late ’70s Heep era. Kerslake’s last songwriting credit with his long-time band appeared on this cut, from 1998’s Sonic Origami.

Lee Kerslake continued to play with Uriah Heep until early 2007, when his health had declined to the point that he was no longer able to serve as the engine that drove the high-powered outfit he’d anchored for so long. He was active in other capacities as he was able in the years that followed, with some live work, some studio work, some writing, and some nice tributes to and interviews with him peppering web and radio spaces in and around the Heep community.

I return to Kerslake’s early career with The Gods to end this post, offering a closing track below that my music-nerd statistics tell me was the seventh most-played song around our household over the period from May 2008 to December 2019. Lee Kerslake plays drums on “Lovely Anita,” as per usual, but he also wrote it and sings lead vocals on it, and it’s an extraordinary little pop-rock gem, ably displaying a sensitive facet of his creative work that’s not often celebrated. But I love it dearly, and I applaud its creator, for this and so many other works. Lee Kerslake may not be the most famous musician we’ve lost in recent years, but he was well-loved among Heepsters, and someone whose name always made me pay attention when I saw it and/or heard his work. I hope you’ll join me in lifting a glass (real or virtual) in his direction upon the time of his flying away. May Lee rest in well-deserved peace.

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