Alexander James "Alex" Harvey
(5 February 1935 – 4 February 1982) was a Scottish blues/rock musician.
Although Harvey's career spanned almost three decades he is best
remembered as the frontman of The Sensational Alex Harvey Band, with
whom he built a reputation as an exciting live performer during the era
of glam rock in the 1970s.
Harvey was born in the Kinning Park district of Glasgow, a working-class
neighbourhood, where he grew up. By his own account, he worked in a
number of jobs, from carpentry to waiting tables at a restaurant to
carving tombstones, before finding success in music. He first began
performing in skiffle groups in 1954. On Friday, 20 May 1960, at the
Town Hall, Alloa, Clackmannanshire, Scotland, Alex Harvey and his Big
Beat Band opened for Johnny Gentle and His Group, "His Group" being the
Beatles (John, Paul, George, Stuart Sutcliffe and Tommy Moore), on this
the opening night – and biggest audience – of the Beatles' seven-date
tour of Scotland with Gentle.
His musical roots were in Dixieland jazz and skiffle music, which
enjoyed considerable popularity in Britain during the late 1950s. From
1958 until 1965, he was the leader of Alex Harvey's Big Soul Band,
playing blues and rock and roll songs and spending considerable time
touring in the United Kingdom and Germany. He also won a competition,
that sought "Scotland's answer to Tommy Steele". Harvey became strongly
identified with British rhythm and blues music, although he was equally
able to play rock songs.
After leaving the Big Soul Band, he briefly tried for a solo career but
with little success. By 1967, he found a positive direction for his
career, when he became a member of the pit band in the London stage
production of the musical Hair. This band recorded the live album Hair
Rave Up, which contained Harvey originals and other songs not from the
stage show. In 1970, Harvey formed Rock Workshop with Ray Russell; their
first, self-titled album contained an early version of "Hole in Her
Stocking", later to appear on Framed. Harvey remained with Hair for five
Harvey was also instrumental in the formation of the band Stone the
Crows by introducing his younger brother, Leslie "Les" Harvey, to singer
Maggie Bell. Also in Stone the Crows was bassist James Dewar, later of
Robin Trower fame. Les Harvey was electrocuted in a freak accident while
performing with the band in 1972.
In 1972, Harvey formed the Sensational Alex Harvey Band (often shortened
to SAHB) with guitarist Zal Cleminson, bassist Chris Glen, and cousins
Hugh and Ted McKenna on keyboards and drums respectively, all previous
members of progressive rock act Tear Gas. SAHB produced a succession of
highly regarded albums and tours throughout the 1970s. The band never
achieved acclaim in the United States the way it did in Great Britain,
but it had a cult following in certain US cities, especially Cleveland,
where the group first played at the Agora Ballroom in December 1974.
Thanks to airplay from WMMS, songs like "Next" and "The Faith Healer"
became very popular. Cleveland music critics observed that the
Sensational Alex Harvey Band could headline in that city, while in other
cities few people came to see them.
The Sensational Alex Harvey Band had Top 40 hits in Britain with the
single "Delilah", a cover version of the Tom Jones hit, which reached
number seven in 1975, and also with "The Boston Tea Party" in June 1976.
After Harvey left the group later that year, the other members
continued as "SAHB… without Alex". Harvey re-joined the group for 1978's
Rock Drill, but they disbanded shortly afterwards.
On 4 February 1982, a day short of his 47th birthday, Harvey suffered a
massive heart attack while waiting to take a ferry from Zeebrugge,
Belgium, back to England after performing a Belgian gig with his new
band, the Electric Cowboys. He suffered a fatal second attack in an
ambulance on the way to hospital. He left his second wife, Trudy, and
two sons (Alex, by his first wife, Mary Martin, and Tyro).
In 2002, a biography of Harvey by John Neil Munro was published: The
Sensational Alex Harvey. The Sensational Alex Harvey Band were voted the
fifth greatest Scottish band of all time in a 2005 survey. In 2004,
SAHB reformed and, two-years later, released a live album entitled
Zalvation (2006), which features many classic SAHB songs. On 4 February
2012, a rowan tree was planted in memory of Alex on the grounds of the
People's Palace museum in Glasgow. The tree was planted by Alex Harvey
Junior and the remaining members of the band. A limited edition book
entitled Alex Harvey: Last of the Teenage Idols, photographed by Janet
Macoska and edited by Martin Kielty was released for the 30th
anniversary of his death.
Two novels by Christopher Brookmyre, The Sacred Art of Stealing and A Snowball in Hell, reference SAHB's work.