Former Uriah Heep singer John Lawton dead at 74

John Lawton
(Image credit: Fin Costello/Getty Images)

Former Uriah Heep singer John Lawton has died at the age of 74.

The news was confirmed by the band, who wrote, "It is with deep regret that we share the devastating and tragic news of the sudden and totally unexpected passing of John Lawton on 29 June 2021.

"Contrary to reports, there was no illness involved, which makes his passing incomprehensible. He went peacefully with his wife at his side.

"John will be greatly missed. A private funeral service to celebrate John’s life will be held following his wishes, with only family and close friends attending.

"We would appreciate that the family’s privacy is respected during this difficult time." 

Lawton joined Uriah Heep in 1976, having made his name in Germany as the frontman of cult rockers Lucifer’s Friend. The Yorkshireman’s blues voice presented Heep with a raft of new possibilities, and he would record three studio albums with the band: Firefly, Innocent Victim, and Fallen Angel.

"I didn't know enough about Uriah Heep before I joined," Lawton told Jeff Cramer. "After I got the phone call from Ken, I basically had to go out and buy the album, The Best of Uriah Heep, to familiarize myself with the music. And so I didn't think too much about the fact that I was replacing somebody like David Byron. 

"It only probably happened in the first couple of months really of joining the band where the press were kind of like, “John Lawton who? And Lucifer's Friend who?"

Lawton parted ways with Uriah Heep in September 1979, but remained on good terms with his former bandmates.

"We're good friends," he said. "I always say, 'Once you join the Heep family, you never leave, regardless.' And I'm always there for them if they need help. I'll always step in. And if I need help, Mick and the guys are the first ones to step up and say, “Yeah, we'll come and do this for you.” We can't argue about that at all. It's a good way to work, I think."

Following his departure from Uriah Heep, Lawton recorded a solo album, Heartbeat, in 1980, before rejoining Lucifer's Friend for 1982's Mean Machine. They broke up a year later, but reunited in 2015 for some live shows and a new album, Too Late To Hate. And Lawton filled in for Uriah Heep singer Bernie Shaw in 1995 after the latter was forced to miss two week's worth of shows with a throat problem. 

Lawton also sang at Roger Glover's Butterfly Ball live at the Royal Albert Hall in 1975, alongside David Coverdale, Glenn Hughes and Ian Gillan. He also recorded with The Les Humphries Singers - whose Sing Sang Song was the German entrant at the Eurovision Song Contest in 1975 - plus Rebel, Zar, Gunhill, the Hensley Lawton Band, the Lawton Dunning Project and his own John Lawton Band. 


Fraser Lewry

Online Editor at Louder/Classic Rock magazine since 2014. 38 years in music industry, online for 25. Also bylines for: Metal Hammer, Prog Magazine, The Word Magazine, The Guardian, The New Statesman, Saga, Music365. Former Head of Music at Xfm Radio, A&R at Fiction Records, early blogger, ex-roadie, published author. Once appeared in a Cure video dressed as a cowboy, and thinks any situation can be improved by the introduction of cats. Favourite Serbian trumpeter: Dejan Petrović.