Alex Harvey, 1935-1982
The Sensational Alex Harvey, circa 1975
Alex Harvey was born February 5, 1935, in Glasgow, Scotland. After leaving school at 15, he tackled a wide variety of professions, including lion tamer, before turning to music in 1954. Playing with a number of different Dixieland and jazz ensembles honed his musical skills, enough that in 1956 Harvey was touted as Scotland's answer to British teen idol Tommy Steele. Following the brief notoriety gained in that newspaper competition, he began covering Big Bill Broonzy and Jimmie Rogers tunes in the skiffle craze then sweeping the U.K. By 1959 Harvey was fronting his own group, the Alex Harvey Soul Band, also known as Alex Harvey's Big Soul Band. With this incarnation Harvey gained regional fame, playing regular gigs in Edinburgh as well as Glasgow. Residency at the famous Top Ten Club in Hamburg, Germany, garnered the band a recording contract with Polydor Records and the release of Alex Harvey and His Soul Band, a live album, in 1963. Around this time a number of singles recorded for various German club owners were also released, lapsing into almost immediate obscurity. By 1965 he'd gone solo, teaming up with his brother Les to record an album, The Blues. Returning to Glasgow in 1966, the brothers teamed with local musicians to form the short-lived Blues Council. After that group disintegrated, Alex Harvey briefly fell into the psychedelic band Giant Moth, a gig that landed him steadier work in the backup band for the London production of Hair. Another solo release in 1969, Roman Wall Blues, failed to gain him the recognition he sought. With his career rapidly declining, Harvey lucked into a fortuitous discovery -- Glasgow prog rockers Tear Gas. Together, they morphed into the Sensational Alex Harvey Band in 1972. A pair of U.K. hit singles, 1975's Delilah (a quirky remake of Tom Jones' 1968 hit) and 1976's Boston Tea Party, helped propel the Sensational Alex Harvey Band into one of the most sought-after international headline acts. Recurring back problems exacerbated by his physically demanding stage antics forced Harvey to announce, in October 1977, his retirement from full-time rock 'n' roll. Following a rare European tour, Harvey was stricken in Zeebruggen, Belgium, with a fatal heart attack. Rock lost one of its most enigmatic and original proponents on February 4, 1982, the day before Alex Harvey would have turned 47.