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Ken Hensley

Ik had niet meer gedacht dat veteraan Ken Hensley nog in staat zou zijn om op 61-jarige leeftijd een dusdanig goede plaat als 'Blood On The Highway' uit te brengen. Maar ja, ik had ook nooit gedacht om persoonlijk nog eens van gedachten te wisselen met deze keyboard-wizard, die met Uriah Heep in de vorm van 'Look At Yourself' mijns inziens één van de beste jaren zeventig rockplaten heeft uitgebracht ('July Morning' is en blijft een fabuleus nummer!). De onverwachte dingen maken het leven juist zo aangenaam en op een (alweer) regenachtige zomeravond belt Ken vanuit Spanje om wat uitleg te verschaffen over 'Blood On The Highway'.

Door: Sjak | Archiveer onder hardrock / aor

band imageKen, you seem to still release an album every year. With all due respect, how can you keep up with this pace and how did you get inspired to create 'The Ken Hensley Story' when you've already passed sixty years of age?
First of all I would like to say that I appreciate the respect that you have for me doing this. At sixty-one years of age I am who I am and I still feel the urge to do all these things. The main reason for this is that I'm a writer first and foremost. It is just a natural outlet for all my stuff. Recording the stuff I write is just one of the methods for getting my writings out. As a writer you can also stand the test of time a little bit better: in the heavy metal or heavy rock world you seem to be no longer interesting when you grow old or when your hair is gone, even though you might perfectly be capable of making excellent music. I have had no help from the institutional record business for the last couple of years, they just see me as a relic from the past. Luckily I have a very solid fanbase and there was a record company in Germany who was interested in doing this project.

Why did you feel the urge to write your own story and when did you get this idea?
The first version of my “autobiography” was already published in 2006 and it was the head of the record company, Jurgen Jacobsen, that will also publish the revised version of the book who thought it would be a great idea to put the story into music. We discussed the idea and after a while I agreed on doing it. So I went through my songbooks to find some appropriate songs for this project. Furthermore I decided to write a couple of new tunes especially for this as well. There are more or less two answers to why I felt the urge to write my own story: first of all I wanted to relive my live and write it all down and I really had the time to do this in a decent manner. It's more than just my musical life, it also tells stuff about my school period and such. Secondly I wanted to issue some warning signals to upcoming musicians how it is to become a rock star and what the traps are that you might fall into.

All the material got composed and produced in Alicante in Spain. I didn't know that they had proper studios in Spain, it probably is your own studio?
Well, the studio is operated by Dani Saiz, my engineer. Before I moved to Spain, I lived in St. Louis for about 19 years and my wife Monica and I got tired of the USA culture, so we decided to move to Europe. We lived in England for a while, where all my family lives, but England is quite costly and the weather is not really nice so we decided to go somewhere else. Since Monica is Spanish, the choice for Spain was an obvious one. I tried to sell the studio I had in St. Louis but that proved to be very difficult. Therefore I decided to pack everything, ship it to Spain and rebuild in over here.

Who were the musicians that you used for the base of the album and why did you pick them?
I used local musicians for the album and I chose them because they're just great musicians. I have Juan Carlos Garcia on drums together with Antonio Fidell on bass guitar as a rhythm section and they're from a well-known progressive rock outfit in Spain. As a guitarist I used Ovidio Lopez, who in my opinion is one of the top three guitar players of the country.

You been using a lot of guest vocalist and not the worst I might say. How did you get Jorn Lande and Glenn Hughes in?
I know Jorn already for quite some time. My live band is from Norway, because Norwegian musicians can not only play but they really have the North European rock and roll attitude and I think attitude accounts for about 50% of ones success in this business. Since Norway has a pretty small music community, everybody knows one another and via my live band members I got in contact with Jorn. So when I was looking for voices to tell my story I asked Jorn, knowing that he also likes the seventies rock very much, and he agreed to do the songs that I outlined for him. Glenn Hughes I know for a very long time already and we were talking already for a few years to do something together. So when I asked him to come to Spain to do a couple of songs for my new project, he wholeheartedly wanted to do this. It was kind of a magical moment for me, because Glenn is of course one of the very best singers around.

The choice for John Lawton is an obvious one, but were did you find Eve Gallagher?
John Lawton was the first name that came to my mind for 'It Won't Last' and luckily he agreed to do the job. For the song 'Think Twice' I needed a female voice because it is a relationship song told from a female perspective. I tried out a few people, but that didn't work out and Eve was mentioned to me by a friend of mine in Switzerland where she also lives. I tried it and as you can hear from the end result it worked out great.

Don't get me wrong here, because I like your voice a lot but since you got so many good guest vocalists in, why did you decide to sing on a few tracks yourself?
'There Comes A Time' and 'I Did It All' are lyrically very personal songs. The latter one is about the acceptance that your rock star career is over and that you have to take life as it is after that. I mean I had a great life and I achieved a lot, but I still have a wonderful life now. So therefore I decided to do the vocals on those songs myself and since I feel I did a reasonable job, we left it one there. If I would have been able to get Paul Rodgers or Michael Bolton in, it may have been another story.

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The engineer that you used was Dani Saiz who also played some additional guitar. Since I don't know him, what's his background and why did you decide to use him for this record?
Dani is the owner of the Sacramento Studios and he's doing a great job at that. We work very well together and 90% of what I do, I do together with Dani. He understands me, he works quick and efficient and we have a great connection. Besides the fact that he's a great engineer, he's also a good musician which helps too.

On 'We're On Our Way' Rafa Raposo plays lead guitar. Who's he and how did you get him involved?
I think that Rafa is unknown to most people. He's a guitar player from Brazil who lives at the Costa Blanca. My bass player on 'The Last Dance' album knew Rafa and brought him in. I asked him to play a guest solo and he felt quite comfortable doing that. He really brings in that youthful energy.

On 'I Did It All' and 'The Last Dance' you used The Alicante Symphony. Why did you bring them in??
Because I truly felt that these songs needed that. I love strings and the effect that they have on songs so I already decided to use them on these songs very early in the project. It was still quite a challenge though because you have to explain a young 24-piece string section, who can play Beethoven very well, how they should play rock.

What's the meaning of both 'Doom (Scene 1)' and 'Doom (Scene 2)'?
The statements in both 'Doom' songs are actually happened literally to both David Byron and myself and it is just on there to show that when your ego is fed by outside people it heavily affects where the band goes. Usually these kind of conversations take place when you and your girlfriend are drunk, but they do take place believe me!

The album has a rock section (especially the first part of the album) and a more laidback section. Was this contrast intentionally or just the way the album developed?
This just mirrors the dynamic of the total album. There's so much passion and energy at the beginning of one's career and that's reflected in the first songs on the album. When reality sets in and the psychological aspects are beginning to dominate your career, things get more laidback and that can be heard during the second part of the album.

What are your expectations of this album? Do you still have goals set for yourself after so many years and so many albums?
First of all I have to say that I'm very pleased with the reception of this album both by the press as well as the fans. This is really a pleasant surprise for me, because normally they don't like too much what I do nowadays. The book will be out on July 20th and in September we will release a DVD. I just want to get my things out there and I'll just wait and see how it is accepted by the fans.

The album is out now, the first reactions are very positive, you're doing some promotional interviews but what's going to happen next? What are your plans for the short term future?
Besides the release of the book/CD 'Blood On the Highway' and the live-DVD I'm also talking about taking this into the theatre and put on a stage musical. This whole idea sounds very exciting to me and I've got absolutely no idea where this will lead to but I'm looking forward to do it. Furthermore I've got two or three other things going on. I'm working to produce the music for a German car magazine who will celebrate the sixtieth anniversary of formula 1 racing in 2009 and I'm supplying the music for that. Furthermore I'm setting up a non-profit organization to help disadvantaged people or musicians in need. So I've got lots of things going on in the short term future.

We've already talked about the recent past and the short-term future of your career. What more have you got in store for us or are you going for an early retirement?
I will keep busy forever with writing, that is really key for me. From that activity so many other things will come on my path to look forward to that I'm not really thinking about an early retirement. I have the fortunate position that I've been successful in the music business and that I now still have a very wonderful life. I live in Spain with a great wife and I got a lot of interesting work to look forward to. My main goal for now is to be the best husband I can be.

Okay Ken, thanks for your time and your willingness to answer my questions. The famous last words are yours?
Oh god, the famous last words. I don't have any really. I'm happy with my current life both musically as well as personally and I'm thankful for the fact that I can remain busy with so many nice things to do.

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