LEE KERSLAKE On Cancer Battle, Current Projects And OZZY OSBOURNE - “All The Things We Did Made Him A Star Again And He Deserved It; I’m Not Angry About Anything”
February 17, 2020, a year ago
When news broke in December 2018 that former Ozzy and Uriah Heep drummer Lee Kerslake was terminally ill while battling prostate and spinal cancer (with doctors predicting he only had 8 months left to live), the metal community feared for the worst concerning one of the genre’s all-time greats. But now over a year later, Kerslake (who bashed out the beat on such metal classics as Demons and Wizards, Blizzard of Ozz, and Diary of a Madman, among others) is still very much with us and working hard on a pair of upcoming projects – a solo album and a documentary of his life and career. BraveWords correspondent Greg Prato chatted with the friendly drummer about these projects, his career, and overcoming obstacles.
BraveWords: How are you doing health-wise?
Lee Kerslake: “I’ve got spinal cancer and prostate cancer – I’ve got it in remission at the moment. But I’ve also got psoriatic arthritis and osteoarthritis that’s really hurting me and really painful. And I just had two stints put in for my kidneys – to go to the toilet properly. Otherwise, I was poisoning my body and I was in a lot of agony. I was in so much pain, I wanted my wife to give me tablets – I was going to take my own life. It was that much pain I was in. You can imagine, if you have food and drink – especially drink – it filters through your kidneys so you can urinate. Well, in my case, it never went to the kidneys – it shot back out of the kidneys and into my blood stream. It was poisoning me. I was like death warmed over – I was in so much pain. I never want that feeling again.”
BraveWords: Are you are feeling better now?
Lee Kerslake: “Well, I am now with the new stints in. I just bought myself an electronic drum kit, and I’m playing again, because I want to do two more shows with Uriah Heep – that’s on my bucket list. Even Ken Hensley, the sole writer of ‘July Morning’ – well, he said he was – said I’m the only drummer that ever played that right with feeling. So, that’s another honor. I’m well chuffed – people like my drumming. The thing was with Ozzy, everybody went through the roof with my drumming on that. Man, the fans I suddenly gathered. And when I was diagnosed with cancer and going to the hospital for weeks and weeks, I had 30,000 get wells. How about that? I’m so honored by that. I will never ever forget my fans – because they helped put me there, by buying my records and listening to the songs that I’d written. I’m well chuffed.”
BraveWords: So, all the cancer is in remission?
Lee Kerslake: “At the moment it is, yeah. When I first had it, it was 2,025 PSA – which was deadly. One of the guys said, ‘Lee, you should be dead.’ I must be one of those strong guys, because I just carried on, and they said, ‘We’re going to put you on chemo.’ I had six months of chemo, and it went down about 8.4 or something like that, and they said, ‘We’re going to hammer this off with radiant treatment.’ I went in for that and had radiant treatment every month – for six months, I think it was. And that wiped it out. So it’s down to 1.2 or 1.4 at the moment. I’ve got enough of the other illnesses kicking my butt to worry about that, as well. So, I’m glad that’s in remission, because there’s nothing worse than stints in your kidneys – they say it’s the most you can ever have is four times. That’s bullshit – they only last for six months, you have to get new stints put in your kidneys every six months. So anyway, we’ll see. I’m on borrowed time, but I don’t care, I’m enjoying myself. And as long as the people want me and love me, I’m going to carry on.”
BraveWords: You’re definitely an inspiration for others with your positive outlook.
Lee Kerslake: “I’ve got to have an outlook like that, because it keeps me going. I didn’t have time for the cancer – I said, ‘No. Get his crap out of my body. Do what you want.’ I didn’t even have time to think about it, I didn’t get nervous, I didn’t cry – I just got on with it and kept playing the drums. I was working. I’ve got a solo album…which I can’t tell you about! I can tell you the name of it – it’s Eleventeen. And the reason why it’s called Eleventeen is because when I was a kid at school, I used to argue with the math teacher why it wasn’t allowed – I used to say, ‘Fourteen, fifteen, sixteen, seventeen, eighteen, nineteen, eleventeen, twenty.’ He looked at me and went, ‘But that fits rather well, doesn’t it?’ We had a laugh over that.”
BraveWords: Will there be special guests appearing on your solo album?
Lee Kerslake: “No. I look at a solo album as a solo album. I have two major people – the engineer, and also, the guitarist who did the bass, high vocals, and lead guitar. He’s a genius – he’s like Randy Rhoads. Unbelievable. His name is Jake Libretto. You’re going to hear about him – he’s unbelievable. He puts Jake E. Lee and Zakk Wylde…he can bury them. He can play like Jeff Beck, Randy Rhoads, and his own style. It’s beautiful.”
BraveWords: And there is also a documentary being made about your life and career, entitled Not On The Heep (more info here).
Lee Kerslake: “Yes there is. But I can’t say anything about that, because we’re waiting again on the release date. It’s been a lot of fun – it’s brought back a lot of memories for me. Going back home to my hometown and seeing where we used to go on the beach. Where I lived in my youth, I was on the beach nearly every day, so we did a lot of filming of that. And we filmed good friends of mine like Ian Paice, Def Leppard, Ken Hensley and Mick Box and Kiss. Gene and Paul I’ve known for 50 odd years. I allowed them to come onstage with their whole stageshow [when Kiss opened for Uriah Heep early in their career] – ‘You do your thing, you’re not going to affect us. The people that came here love us, but you will get more people if you do your stage thing.’ They did the whole thing, and they came in and thanked us. And I stayed friends with Paul and Gene, and later, it turned around the other way and we were supporting them. I used to go with them to dinner in New York. We got on really well – I really enjoyed them.”
BraveWords: What do the two Ozzy albums that you played on mean to you today?
Lee Kerslake: “I had left Uriah Heep because I was fed up with the management. Management drove me mad and I hated them. So, I left. I went down to Shepperton – a friend of mine’s studio…do you remember Go West? Pete Cox was another good mate of mine, who was also with Manfred Mann, and he had a studio. So, we got together, and I had Pete Cox singing songs that I was writing. And lo and behold I get a phone call from Ossie Hoppe from Germany, and he says, ‘Ozzy Osbourne is asking to get in touch with you. He wants to know if you can join his band?’ I said, ‘No. I’m not joining any band. I’ll be part of a band…but I’m not joining to be a member of a band.’ He said, ‘No – all four of you will be straight down the middle. What’s going to happen is we’re going to get a studio in Shepperton, and you’re going to come down there, set up your kit, play a couple of tracks, and take it from there.’ I said ‘OK.’ I knew Bob Daisley was going to be in the band. They’d started recording, and they were using any drummers they could get their hands on – and they were bloody awful. Believe me, they were awful. So, I phoned Bob, and said, ‘What songs are you using?’ And over the phone he told me the idea and he played me the idea of ‘Crazy Train’ and ‘I Don’t Know.’ And I went, ‘OK. I got it.’ So, the day came that I went into the studio rehearsal, and I went, ‘One, two, three, four…’ [sings beginning of ‘Crazy Train’]. We did all of that, I started playing heavy, and Randy Rhoads jumped up in the air, and said, ‘WE’VE GOT OURSELVES A FUCKING DRUMMER!’ And that was it – I was in. And I co-wrote the second album. But I did a lot of work with the drums to get it right with the style of the first one, Blizzard of Ozz. And then we did Diary of a Madman, which I thought was an amazing album. And so did a lot of people – those two albums together sold millions, and they’re still selling.”
BraveWords: How is your relationship with Ozzy currently?
Lee Kerslake: “I think it’s so sad what he’s got. I spoke to his secretary and they passed a message on. I wanted to give him my love. All the things we did, we made him a star again, and he deserved it. I’m not angry about anything. I think the world of him – I like him, and I always will. We’re all getting old and we’re all suffering different things. I’m just about keeping my head on straight…and it’s not easy. I wanted to give him my love and my sorrow for what he’s got. He doesn’t deserve that, because that means he won’t be touring and won’t be playing anymore, and I thought, ‘Oh, I would have loved to have done one more gig.’ But that’s the way it is.”
BraveWords: Which Uriah Heep album are you most proud of?
Lee Kerslake: “I love them all. Every new one that comes out. I didn’t like Conquest – not because I wasn’t on it, but it was a bloody awful album. Terrible. But the others – The Magician’s Birthday, Sweet Freedom – were brilliant. Great. I think the first [Demons and Wizards was the first Uriah Heep album that Kerslake played on]. That was the first gold record I got, so I absolutely chuffed to death – I never had one before!”
BraveWords: Is it true that Randy Rhoads was a big fan of the Demons and Wizards album?
Lee Kerslake: “Yes, he was. He loved the way the style of the music, the way it turned and the way it went. And that’s why when he came up with the idea of a riff – me, Bob, and Randy – we wrote ‘Diary of a Madman.’ It was such a strong song on the album.”
BraveWords: Do you have a message you’d like to say to your fans?
Lee Kerslake: “Please, please, please give big love, a kiss, and affection to all my fans in America. I know I’m not well and struggling with touring, but I’ve got to get over there and play a few gigs. I owe it to them – I owe it to my fans, to get off my ass and play.”
(Lee Kerslake photo - Richard Galbraith, Randy Rhoads photo - UDR Music)