The great Lee Kerslake has died today, aged 73, after a long, exhausting battle with cancer. “My love for music is keeping me fighting against all the odds,” he told me when we spoke for the last time, and indeed, music was the center of Lee’s life so, given a few months of existence, Kerslake didn’t give up and carried on working on his first solo album and the tied-in documentary – and stayed with us for nigh on two years longer than the doctors deemed possible. God, he was a stubborn guy!
And uncompromising, too. Our first encounter might have been too brief, but back in 2000, when I properly met URIAH HEEP – the ensemble Lee dedicated most of his years to – and had to spend a considerable amount of time in their company, Kerslake practically issued an ultimatum: either I would behave as a journalist which I was, ask questions and bugger off, or be a friend and accompany the band on tour. Of course, I opted for the latter, and this became a relationship I cherished (still do) for a couple of decades. And that’s how I got to know the real Lee.
A man of immense soul who could be fuming about some backstage snag – because Kerslake was a consummate professional – and, cooled down after a few minutes, regale his friends with a story about some past shenanigans, Lee was one of the kindest persons you would come across in the world of rock ‘n’ roll. And it was his personality, perfectly matching the personality of HEEP’s main man Mick Box, that made him such an important part of the group. That – and his drumming style: Kerslake probably was the most melodic drummer I’ve ever heard, always playing for the song… and singing it, too. Lee’s drumming on HEEP records, and on the first two Ozzy Osbourne albums, became quietly (the oxymoron can’t be the right word here, but people rarely praised Lee for what he delivered in terms of sound) influential, yet while he used to be celebrated for the thunder on, say, “The Magician’s Birthday” or the balladry of “Come Back To Me,” his contribution to “Blizzard Of Ozz” and “Diary Of A Madman” used to be denied for a long time. Musicians knew the truth, though, and admired Kerslake.
Lee, a dear friend, is gone now, his suffering ended and he’s finally at peace. Sleep well, Lee.