February 4, 1982 – Alexander James “Alex” Harvey was born February 5th 1935 in Glasgow, Scotland. 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. He briefly tried a solo approach but when that didn’t work out he became a member of the pit band in the London stage production of the musical Hair recording the live LP ‘Hair Rave Up’ in 1966, 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 years.
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 stage accident while performing with the band in 1972.
In 1972, Alex formed the Sensational Alex Harvey Band with guitarist Zal Cleminson, bassist Chris Glen, and cousins Ted and Hugh McKenna on drums and keyboards respectively, all previous members of progressive rock act “Tear Gas”. He built a strong reputation as a live performer during the 1970s glam rock era.
The band was renowned for its eclecticism and energetic live performance, Alex for his charismatic persona and daredevil stage antics. The band had hits with “Delilah” in 1975, and “The Boston Tea Party” in 1976. Alex left the band later that year.
Harvey re-joined the group for 1978’s Rock Drill, but they disbanded shortly afterwards.
Alex Harvey was no punk-rocker, having first broken in during Britain’s skiffle rage in the ’50s (as “The Tommy Steele of Scotland”) and then living on the fringes of the British blues scene during the early part of the following decade. Alex Harvey c. 1975 But when he finally found his moment and grabbed on tight for the ride, it was with the Sensational Alex Harvey Band in the early ’70s, a glam-rock outfit contemporary with Slade and Mott the Hoople. As part of his stage act, Harvey brandished a can of spray paint and used it liberally; the set list included covers of songs by the Coasters and Tom Jones, along with something called “There’s No Lights on the Christmas Tree, Mother; They’re Burning Big Louie Tonight” (references to a version of which may be found in the classic rock’n’roll movie from 1956, The Girl Can’t Help It). Where do you put a guy like this, except in the proximity of the New York Dolls? By the time punk- rock had arrived Harvey was past forty and suffering health problems related to drugs and other hazards of the rock-star lifestyle.
On 4 February 1982, a day short of his 47th birthday, Harvey suffered a massive heart attack while waiting to take a Northsea 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.