There I Was On A July Morning…

I don’t believe in accidents. Some brief “chance” moments in life can have major repercussions on down the line. My lifelong love affair with the music of Uriah Heep and Ken Hensley began with just such a brief grain in the sands of time.

It was the early 70’s and I had recently moved away from the Gulf Coast of Mississippi. I was a huge music lover, but my range was very narrow being tied mainly to radio listening, and albums by bands who were played on the radio. After all, this poor lil’ Mississippi teen had yet to discover the vast world of rock and roll that lay before him.

One weekend I returned to the coast to visit my best friend in high school, Steve Wixon. Steve had recently become friends with a drummer, Kevin Pokallus, who had moved to the Coast from Kentucky. Since I had started playing drums, Steve thought I should meet Kevin. But Kevin was no mere drummer. We went to his home and I was immediately taken by the size of his drum set. I had never seen anything like it, even at major rock concerts. To my memory it was very Neal Peart, but not quite Mike Portnoy. My simple Rogers drum set with only three toms, one ride and one crash cymbal paled in contrast (I still have the Rogers snare drum).

Before Kevin started playing he asked me if I had ever heard of a band called Uriah Heep. Of course, I had never heard of them from the radio. He proceeded to drop the needle on the title track to “Look At Yourself” as he got behind his drum kit to play along. There were two things that really blew me away from what followed. The first was Kevin’s phenomenal drum skills. It was like being in the presence of a Jedi Drum Master. Amazing! The song was not an easy one to play and continued to rev up as it approached the finale. Kevin made it look as effortless as Stevie Ray Vaughn playing Hendrix.

When he finished the song Kevin held out his sticks and motioned me to give it a go. Well, I felt about an inch and a half tall and I thought dunt dunt dah, dunt dunt dah, duda dunt dunt dah just wouldn’t cut it. So I gave the perfunctory “thanks, but no thanks” reply! In fact, I felt like giving up and never playing again!

The second thing that knocked my socks off was the song Kevin played. I had never anything like it. Certainly they didn’t play that kind of music on the radio. Gong! Here comes a revelation…if there was such a kick ass band I never knew of…how many others might there be? Of course, if I had been smarter I would have picked his brain about other bands. But what teen wants to appear ignorant, right?

I never saw Kevin again but he went on to form his own drum stick manufacturing company, Hot Sticks. He continues today with a factory in Kiln, Mississippi. He has no idea of the musical debt I owe him, as well as scores of others that I passed the knowledge on to.

I left that day with a desire and the first chance I got, I bought the album. Little did I know that “Look At Yourself” wasn’t even the best track. It didn’t even feature their lead singer on vocals. The album contained one of the most beautiful songs ever written, July Morning. This began a lifelong love affair with the band. Over the years I have acquired ever single album the band released, even the “below par” ones (Yes, I own Conquest).

I’ll See You On The Dark Side of The Moon…

Kevin’s introduction to Uriah Heep eventually led me to several of the English prog rock bands. I began listening to Yes, Pink Floyd, Deep Purple, ELP and others. I was changed forever! For a time I almost forgot that rock music was still being made in America. Forty years later I am still a fan of prog rock and constantly scan the Internet for the hottest bands, most all of which hail from Europe.

As for Uriah Heep, they never had the success in America that many of their contemporaries had, but don’t let that fool you. They are a band that every serious rocker should have in their library. From the angelic vocals of Dave Byron, to Mick Box’s famous wahwah work, to the unbelievable bass work of Gary Thain / Trevor Bolder, to the great body drummer Lee Kerslake who later sat behind the kit on Crazy Train and Ozzy’s first two solo albums. And let us not forget the genius behind the songwriting, Ken Hensley considered by many to be the father of heavy rock keyboard playing. He also provided some of my most favorite melodic slide guitar work.

Uriah Heep has seen numerous lineup changes over the years as well as stylistic changes which can be expected over a 45 year span. Over the next three articles I’ll be writing on the first three eras: The Early Days, The Classic Era, and the Lawton Years. These are three distinct periods that pretty much covers the first, and most important, decade of the band’s history. It was these albums that found their way deep into my soul. I will also be writing a fourth article devoted to their main songwriter, Ken Hensley and his solo career.

Nope, I don’t believe in accidents. The “chance” meeting that day with Kevin Pokallus changed my life. Would I have found Uriah Heep some other way? Of course, I would have eventually found them but how much time would have been lost without my beloved Heep?