Ozzy Osbourne Drummer Lee Kerslake: 1947-2020
Legendary drummer Lee Kerslake was a man who hit his kit with real power and who enjoyed life to the fullest, earning himself the nickname of ‘The Bear’ in a career that was rich and varied.
Born in Dorset in 1947, Kerslake began playing drums at the age of 11 and joined assorted bands before landing a gig with London-based outfit The Gods in 1968. During his time with that band, he cut two albums and formed a firm friendship with keyboard player Ken Hensley who he would re-join first in Toe Fat, and then in Uriah Heep in 1972.
By then, alongside Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath and Deep Purple, Heep were one of the pre-eminent heavy bands in the UK and three albums into their career. Kerslake joined in time to record their fourth, Demons And Wizards, which propelled the band further onto the world stage, selling six million copies in the process and providing them with their first US hit with the single Easy Livin’.
Kerslake’s powerful style added to the band’s soulful sense of melodrama as did his backing vocals, and Heep’s next three albums would go on to sell over a million copies in the United States, influencing countless musicians – including a teenage Billy Corgan who would later cover Easy Livin’ with his band Smashing Pumpkins.
Kerslake played on 17 Heep albums until his ill-health forced him to leave the band in 2007. Mid-way through his time with Heep, he was recruited to play with Ozzy Osbourne following the singer’s sacking from Black Sabbath in 1979. Alongside guitar whiz Randy Rhoads and bassist Bob Daisley, Kerslake appeared on Ozzy’s first two solo albums – 1980’s Blizzard Of Ozz and its follow-up, Diary Of A Madman.
Recorded in swift succession, both of those albums introduced Rhoads to the world and helped establish Ozzy as a headline act in his own right, spawning classic tunes that include Mr Crowley, Over The Mountain, Flying High Again and his signature tune, Crazy Train.
Daisley and Kerslake were not credited on Madman, leading to a longstanding feud with the Osbourne camp over their roles in the songwriting on both albums. Lawsuits ensued, although a rapprochement occurred when Kerslake revealed he was battling colon cancer in 2018, with Ozzy sending the drummer two platinum discs commemorating his playing on his first two solo albums.
Kerslake’s own contribution to heavy music as a whole was considerable and, as he approached the end of his life, he completed work on a documentary about his career that featured contributions from fellow drummers including Deep Purple’s Ian Paice and Iron Maiden’s Nicko McBrain who – alongside KISS’s Gene Simmons and Def Leppard’s Joe Elliott – acknowledged his impact.
Lee’s death on September 19 at the age of 73 was announced by his former bandmates in Uriah Heep, with keyboard player Ken Hensley and guitarist Mick Box both taking to social media to confirm his passing and eulogise the man.
Kerrang! would like to extend our condolences to the Kerslake family, as well as his friends and fellow band members in Uriah Heep.
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