Years ago I began writing by writing my own Ken Hensley fanzine “From Time To Time”. This was pre-internet, and it was a lot of fun trying to gather up stuff and put together to issue a fanzine. At the time I had some contact with Ken, and on a couple of occasions did a Q & A with him via postal mail [remember that?], and things were hand-written or typed [remember those things?]. Anyway, it was a lot of fun back then, and over the years I’ve tried to keep up with Ken. So here is our latest Q & A [interview].
Ken’s interview answers are always great to read. He doesn’t beat around any bushes and gets to the point.
Q: Next year will mark 10 years since your return to recording, and eventually touring. A WAY back [early 90s] when I first had contact with you – you had sworn off getting back in to rock n roll full-time, ever again [mainly touring].
Can you tell me what event[s], influences, reasons [etc] inspired you to get back to being a full-time recording and touring musician again, after being out of the game for so long?
KH: Time and my faith have a way of changing everything and as the years passed I began to realize that music (or more specifically, songwriting) was the reason I was put here and the thing that I do best. Thus I came to believe that I should ¨take a look¨ and the first step was buying the studio in St. Louis, joining Central Presbyterian Church and becoming involved in the church music program.
Q: On your albums since your return, you’ve used a number of songs [a few on each] that had been written and laying around for years. But “Blood On The Highway” features some of your best writing ever; is it safe to say you’ve used up any old material and that you’ve really hit your stride [again] as a songwriter?
KH: I did learn one major lesson when I decided to turn my attention once again to music and that was that I had a lot to learn!
First, the music industry had changed a lot during my 15-year hiatus and had completely left me behind and second, that I had to practice hard to re-learn the art of songwriting. The gift had never left me but I had discarded it and ignored it for a long time and it wasn’t going to let me back in too easily. I had to work really hard and I remember that when I finished writing The Last Dance, I began to feel that I had re-discovered how to write songs that were effective and satisfying. This fired up my enthusiasm and I began to write more and more and, once again, I find it so exciting.
I have a lot of songs prepared for the new CD and a file full of ideas and bits of songs that will all fall into place once I turn my mind to it … God willing.
Q: The remakes for “The Wizards Diary” are pretty obvious choices [aside from a couple] – those being Heep’s most popular songs, but how did you go about choosing the songs to re-do on “Cold Autumn Sunday”?
KH: That wasn’t entirely my choice actually. In the days when I worked mainly with Spanish musicians, my drummer Tommy Lopez spent some time with my solo CDs and suggested we re-record some of the songs. Tommy is an excellent drummer but he’s also a great re-mix engineer who has had considerable success in Spain and the islands.
The Wizard’s Diary (which remains a bit of a disappointment to me) was originally supposed to be in three volumes but, after my experiences with the first one, I had no appetite to return to Moscow for six weeks and Cold Autumn Sunday sort of filled the gap.
Q: Three tracks that stand out on the Cold Autumn Sunday album are “Send Me An Angel”, “Romance” and “Through The Eyes Of A Child”. Can you tell me a bit about these?
Send Me An Angel is obviously VERY different; as it was originally a hard rock track you recorded with Blackfoot.
KH: I think Tommy did a fantastic job with this song and Jack Williams says it is exactly how he originally wanted it done. The arrangements for all the versions were Tommy’s.
Q: Romance is a previously unreleased track. A great song – where & when is this from?
KH: The song is based on a Russian love tragedy. I was asked to re-write the English words for it but ended up re-writing the entire song!
It will appear in duet form, with choir and orchestra on my new CD.
Q: Through The Eyes blends a demo with a new recording. How did you approach this and what can you tell me about the original demo [and demos in general from way back]? Got more of these?
KH: How did I know you would ask this? Yes I do have lots of demos, 99% of which will never see the light of day!
This track is not an original demo, it’s a re-make done in Alicante, designed to show the contrast between the conception of a song and it’s final production.
Q: Did you have anything that you were particularly happy with on this album or Wizards Diary?
KH: Cold Autumn Sunday was more fun than TWD but, in general, I was still trying to find my musical feet at that time.
Q: On Blood On The Highway, you wrote some of your best stuff in years … “We’re On Our Way”, “Just The Beginning”, “Okay [This House Is Down]”….what inspired the great writing for this album? Did the new songs come easy [with the concept]?
And what tracks [lyrically and musically] are you most pleased with?
KH: Thanks for the kind words! I am 99.9% happy with this record and I have never had a record that was so universally well received. By the time I started to write this CD I felt that I had re-discovered my confidence in writing and that the gift had been fully restored to me. We are going to do a new mix of The Last Dance, which will make it 100%! Once I had the concept (10 years in the life of a 70s rock star, I just chose various topics from those days and then the songs came fairly easily.
I am happy with all of this record but the song that means the most to me (for mainly personal reasons) is ¨I Did It All¨.
Q: You’ve talked about doing a 2nd part to BOTH. Do you foresee yourself using guest singers [on this and / or any other projects]? [and perhaps any of the same ones?]
KH: There will be no Part 2 but I am writing more songs for the expanded sound-track that will be used in the stage musical version. I will use guest singers on every record I do from now on. It gives me so much more scope when writing and in production. The right voice gives the right life to a song. I have the right voice for a limited style of song.
Q: Is there any other Heep-alumni you may like to or intend to work with [first time or again] in the future?
KH: No plans. I prefer to just take it all as it comes.
Q: You’re currently working on an album of love songs!? What’s the status on that? Anything you can tell about it? [songs, approach, guests..]
KH: True! We actually start recording on December 2nd and this will be a very different record in many ways with the focus squarely on the songs/lyrics rather than the production. There will be at least two male/female duets and there is also one song that we will record in English, German, Spanish and Italian.
And it will feature my very first comedy song!
In pre-production we have found that approaching this record in this way presents a lot more challenges than expected. Each instrument and each component part of each instrument is really in focus and has to be played and used in exactly the right way so that the lyrics flow correctly.
I am quite sure this will be a challenging and potentially rewarding project!
Q: You’ve also got a lot of other things out there – an autobiography, DVDs, ….What else do you have in the works and do you have a short list of projects you’d like to achieve in upcoming years?
KH: Well, there are the on-going discussions about B.O.T.H becoming a musical drama for theatre, which I find very exciting but in general, I have a lot of writing to do in the short and medium-term future.
I have begun doing my solo shows and I really enjoy that so I expect I will do more of those and we intend to launch the songwriting classes in late Spring 2009.
Q: You have a strong following overseas [Europe, Russia, etc..] and can tour over there endlessly. Do you foresee yourself ever getting to North America for shows in the future?
KH: The ¨following¨ is quite strong but touring ¨endlessly¨ is not in my plans!
It is not that easy for ¨vintage¨ acts to work consistently over here because the market is so saturated with them that it is a buyer’s market and there really isn’t much money in it either!
I have one or two friends who own clubs and tell me that they make a lot more money from tribute bands than from the ¨name¨ bands that consist of only one or two original members!!
It has been a real pleasure to re-connect with my fans over here and I have found that this is most effectively achieved in my solo shows, which are easy, cheap and fun for everyone. It would be equally wonderful to re-connect with my fans in North America but that’s a far greater challenge and I don’t have a lot of (professional) help over there!
Q: Do you keep up on some of the new Heep related releases, such as Heep’s latest, John Wetton [Asia], the new David Byron archive release, etc…?
Any of these projects of interest or you’ve heard and have a take on?
KH: To be honest, I do not. I try to remain in contact with certain people (Wetton, Clarke etc…) but I am so busy here at home with Esperanza Street and my real life and outside with shows and recording that I don’t have time to even scratch my butt sometimes!
Q: While compiling the Anthology a couple of years back, you must’ve had to go back and listen to things like The Gods, Toe Fat, etc… Does any of that stuff stand out for you today [songwise, production of performance…]? And would you ever consider re-introducing anything from that period either in a live show or in studio?
KH: It was fun to listen to The Gods tracks and to reflect on the fact that we were really trying hard to be good. By nature, I am opposed to going backwards while there is still so much exploring and experimenting to be done.
Everything I did was a step on the journey but I prefer what I am doing now to anything and everything I did in the past.
© Kevin J. Julie (Universal Wheels) November '08
Thanks to Rodrigo Werneck, Ken Hensley & Ron Mann