Lee Kerslake has died at the age of 73. The much-respected drummer, who played on many of Uriah Heep’s albums and on Ozzy Osbourne’s landmark titles, Blizzard Of Oz and Diary Of A Madman, succumbed to prostate cancer after a long illness.
“The best drummer I ever played with”
The news was confirmed by former Uriah Heep member Ken Hensley, who wrote, “It’s with the heaviest of hearts that I share with you that Lee Kerslake, my friend of 55 years and the best drummer I ever played with, lost his battle with cancer at 03:30 this morning. He died peacefully, praise The Lord, but he will be terribly missed.
“I know many of you were praying for him not to suffer and I thank you for that and, now that Lee is at peace, our thoughts and prayers should turn to his wife Sue who will need all the support she can get at this time.”
Since the news of Kerslake’s death broke, Ozzy Osbourne has also paid tribute. The former Black Sabbath frontman took to social media to share a photo of himself and Kerslake during the Blizzard Of Ozz album recording sessions at Ridge Farm Studio in West Sussex in 1980, and he included the following message: “It’s been 39 years since I’ve seen Lee but he lives for ever on the records he played on for me, Blizzard of Ozz and Diary of a Madman. Lee Kerslake RIP.”
It’s been 39 years since I’ve seen Lee but he lives for ever on the records he played on for me, Blizzard of Ozz and Diary of a Madman. Lee Kerslake RIP pic.twitter.com/xWqVR0VJn6
— Ozzy Osbourne (@OzzyOsbourne) September 19, 2020
Early work with a future Stone
Lee Kerslake was born in 1947 in Dorset, in the West of England. His first band were The Gods, whose members at various times included future Rolling Stone Mick Taylor, keyboardist Ken Hensley (who would perform alongside Kerslake in Uriah Heep) and bassist Greg Lake. Kerslake played on the band’s two albums, Genesis and To Samuel A Son.
By the time To Samuel A Son was released at the end of 1969 The Gods were no more, having moved on to back former Rabble Rousers’ singer Cliff Bennett in progressive rockers Toe Fat.
The band secured a US deal with Rare Earth Records, Tamla Motown’s ‘progressive’ label, and released their debut, self-titled album. But after an American tour with Derek and The Dominos, both Kerslake and Hensley departed.
All in a Heep
Kerslake hooked up with the National Head Band for one album, Albert One while Hensley joined Uriah Heep. In November 1971, Kerslake followed suit. He played on Heep’s classic Demons And Wizards and Magician’s Birthday albums, and forged a long career with the band, a period only interrupted by his stint with Ozzy Osbourne during the mid-80s, playing drums on Blizzard Of Ozz and Diary Of A Madman. A 1974 review of a London show by Heep in the New Musical Express praised Kerslake’s “relentless drive and thrust.”
In 2007 he left Uriah Heep due to ill health, and was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2014. His final performance with the band came in December 2018, when he briefly joined them onstage in London, adding percussion and backing vocals to “Lady In Black.”
In January 2019 Kerslake attended a ceremony at the Hall Of Heavy Metal History in Anaheim, CA, where he was presented with a pair of platinum discs for his work with Ozzy by Hall CEO Pat Guesaldo.
Kerslake had flown from the UK to California to accept the awards after being given months to live by his doctors. In the wake of the news he wrote to Ozzy and Sharon Osbourne to request the recognition. “I would like to get a couple of them to put on my wall before I die,” he said. “It’s on my bucket list.”