Mick Box in 2008
There are only a few bands who can say they’ve been together for 40 years without breaking up. There might be even fewer people who can say that they were in that band since the beginning. Guitarist Mick Box would be one of those people. Box, 63, has been in the English progressive rock band Uriah Heep since their formation in 1969. Although the band tends to be more popular in Europe, Uriah Heep has been able to sell 30 million records worldwide. The band’s 23rd/22nd studio album, Into the Wild, was released on April 15 in Europe and will be released on May 3 in the US.
Uriah Heep formed in 1969 and released their debut, Very ‘Eavy…Very ‘Umble, the following year. The band was probably at the peak of its career in the early 1970’s, releasing classic albums such as Look At Yourself, Demons And Wizards, and The Magician’s Birthday. The band also managed to have hit singles with “Easy Livin’” and “Stealin’” here in the US. Throughout their career, Uriah Heep has had 15 different line-up changes (with none of them reuniting). Mick Box has seen it all. Although the band is somewhat unknown in the US, the band is still popular amongst avid rock music fans. Fans of Uriah Heep are often referred to as “Heepsters”.
Uriah Heep is currently on tour and will be coming to Penn’s Peak in Jim Thorpe, PA on June 24. In this interview, Mick Box will be asked about Uriah Heep past and present.
1. Uriah Heep will be releasing their 23rd studio album, Into the Wild, on April 15 in Europe and May 3 in the US. What was it like making the new album? I noticed that Mike Paxman is producing again as well. I’ve heard previews of the new album and it sounds just as powerful as Wake The Sleeper.
Mick: Into the Wild, is the natural successor to Wake the Sleeper for sure. It is more of a rock album, but it still has an epic song and a ballad. Mike Paxman was once again the producer, and he is inspirational to work with on many levels. He is always “up” and has many good ideas to offer. He does not sit in the control room when we do takes, but stands with a set of headphones on in the studio with us. We record as a band and do not do it piecemeal, as this gives it a great energy.
2. What was the inspiration behind the album’s title, if any?
Mick: It was taken from the book and film of the same name. The title track though lyrically strays away from the storyline of the book and film. It is also a comment on how we finish an album, and then release it into the wild to see if anyone likes it.
3. What can fellow Heepsters expect from this tour for the new album?
Mick: We will always do the classics songs we are known for like “July Morning”, “Gypsy”, “Easy Livin’” and “Lady in Black”, but we will intersperse these songs with some of the new ones. If we have a support band we put in 5 new songs in the 1hr 30 min set, but if we are on our own we do 7 new songs.
4. Alright I’m now going to start asking questions about the past: When did you start playing guitar?
Mick: About age 14 years old. I was into jazz guitarists like Django Reinhardt, Barney Kessal, Tal Farlowe, Les Paul & Mary Ford. I then moved into the rock side when I heard people like Jeff Beck.
5. You formed the band back in 1969. From what I’ve read, you and the late David Bryon were in a band called Spice before forming Uriah Heep. How did you meet David?
Mick: David used to come to our shows when we were called The Stalkers, and sit in on a couple of numbers once he had, had a few drinks. He was our drummer Roger Penlington’s cousin. When our singer left we held auditions at Rogers house and David was there, and he joined.
6. How did keyboardist Ken Hensley come into the line-up?
Mick: We recorded a lot of our first album as the band Spice. This was a four piece but when we heard our original songs back in the studio we felt the need to add keyboards as a colour. I was a big fan of the Vanilla Fudge and thought that the Hammond Organ would be the perfect keyboard to have. Our bass player Paul Newton had worked with Ken in a band called the Gods and he played a Hammond Organ, and so suggested him. He came to the studio and loved what he heard, and joined.
7. Uriah Heep were and are known as a hard rock/progressive rock band. What artists and/or bands influenced the band’s sound?
Mick: Vanilla Fudge
8. One thing I’ve noticed is that over the years, Uriah Heep have had many line-up changes (I’m counting 15, including the current line-up). Your most stable line-up was the one before Russell Gilbrook joined the band. What do you think makes a band line-up stay intact?
Mick: It helped that I managed the band for many years and this gave us stability. We now have a manager called Martin Darvill who we are very happy with.
9. I own many of Uriah Heep’s albums, the majority of them from iTunes. I would’ve made the debut my first purchase but when iTunes didn’t have it, I picked Salisbury. I must ask you about the self-titled track! What was it like recording that song? I can imagine it wasn’t easy.
Mick: It all happened naturally as we were in the frame of mind that we did not want to be restricted with our music to 3-4 minutes. So when we were writing we let the song dictate where it should go, hence the track Salisbury. Then we decided that some of the driving parts would benefit from a 27 piece brass section. Once this was added it became a very powerful and unique track.
10. In the band’s four decade history, you’ve had a total number of six lead singers. Was there one person well known that almost got the job? I think I remember reading in the history section of the official website, David Coverdale auditioned?
Mick: Yes David Coverdale came down for a jam but he was offered the chance to form Whitesnake, which of course he took.
11. Of the members in your band, two of them have passed: Gary Thain and David Byron. Do you have any favorite memories or stories of David and Gary?
Mick: There are many but you will have to read them in a book, if I ever get around to writing it.
12. I’m from the US and I’ve noticed there are a large amount of people who don’t remember Uriah Heep back in the day. How successful do you think the band is/was in different countries? Do you think the band gets the respect or recognition they deserve? Do you think Uriah Heep has a cult following?
Mick: I think that after selling over 30 million albums, and playing concerts in over 53 countries, we cannot really call ourselves much of a cult band. Respect and recognition is given to you, and is not something you can demand. You have to earn it. For some of us it is harder than others, but it does not really bother me or even enter my head. As long as you do the best you can, and continue to keep the quality of what you do high, that is all you really think about in that department.
13. I’ve just read that it was back in July 2010 that the band performed the Demons And Wizards album in its entirety (I must say that’s my personal favorite Heep album). Do you think the band would do that again or maybe even play another entire album live?
Mick: It is not something we plan to do, but that was a bit of fun. There is only so much looking back that you can do.
14. Uriah Heep have released 22 studio albums (as of now, not including Into the Wild). Of them, do you have a favorite or favorites?
Mick: Not really as they all have a place in my heart.
15. What song or songs do you enjoy playing live? Are there any obscure songs from the band’s catalogue that you’d like to play live?
Mick: I think we have visited most of them, but “July Morning” is always a good song live.
16. Are there any former members of the band you keep in touch with?
Mick: (Drummer) Lee Kerslake & (singer) John Lawton mostly.
17. Random question concerning the Celebration album from 2009: I didn’t get it because I thought I read that it was a compilation with two new songs. Then I found out that it’s an album of re-recorded hits (now I’ll have to pick it up!). Besides it being the band’s fortieth anniversary, what made you want re-record older material?
Mick: It was to celebrate our 40 years in the music business. It was never an exercise to better the original tracks as you can never do that, but it was to show everyone we still had the same passion and energy for what we do, as we ever had. We also included 2 new tracks to show we are proud of our history, but we are moving forward all of the time. This CD is a good calling card to the band as it is today if you have never heard of us.
18. What do you like about touring?
Mick: Playing live is what we live for. This is where we are the happiest, and I always say a working band is a happy band.
Thanks again, Mick!