The Sensational Alex Harvey Band
The Sensational Alex Harvey Band defies categorization - which probably accounts for their inclusion in the League of Underappreciated or Doomed Artists.
The band was terrific - tight but exploding with energy, and surprisingly sophisticated musically. But it was Alex’s name on the door, and it was Alex who brought the magic. His thick Scottish brogue instantly made him your best friend and confidant, pulling you helplessly into his world.
With the benefit of hindsight, SAHB might have come the closest to producing a successful blend of rock and theatre. Carrying on from where Ziggy Stardust left off, Harvey integrated costumes and short stories into his music, even creating a recurring character for his musical short stories and live performances. Harvey’s alter ego was called Vambo, sometimes a hooligan (Vambo Rools) and sometimes a “...cross between Spider Man and Santa Claus.”
It seems derivative to hear about it now, but at the time there was a minor movement to find ways to blend theatre with rock music. Yes, there were the actual stage productions like direct theatrical production ‘rock operas’ such as Jesus Christ Superstar and Godspell, and the less linear productions like Tommy or Arthur. Really, the whole genre began with Sgt Peppers, when it was proven that songs could have a unifying link, however loosely defined.
Alex’s approach incorporated a wide variety of theatrical elements. Primarily, there was Alex, who delivered his vocals with an actor’s ear, focusing on dramatic effect over technical prowess. Like Ziggy Stardust, he provided a fascinating central character to lionize.
When Alex Harvey started the SAHB, he was already 40 years old, having already had a career as a big band trumpeter and a musician/actor (he was in the Original London production of Hair). As such, he could not have been more unlike the typical rock star.
Alex died in 1982, after an on and off breakup with SAHB. He was one day shy of 47 years old.
So I guess this is just my way of taking a moment to honor some fantastic music and a truly unique musical voice. To my mind, Alex and his band should have been the next big thing.
They should have taken the world by storm and become a household word like “Madonna” or even “One Direction”.
Yeah, I know it’s foolish to gripe about the way the world is. Life isn’t fair. We all know that.
Nevertheless, here’s a toast to one of my musical heroes who was hugely successful in my eyes.
Alex Harvey died in relative obscurity on the day before his 47th birthday.
The term ‘relative obscurity’ is intriguingly subjective, but I’m speaking from personal experience in this particular instance.
Alex died in 1982, and I didn’t even find out about it until 1986, when I was doing research on an article I intended to write. Now, I’m probably not the biggest Alex Harvey fan out there. I mean, these days? I’m sure there’s someone out there with a full body tattoo of ‘Vambo Rools’.
So yeah, I may not have been the biggest SAHB fan in the world. But I’ll goddam guarantee you I was their biggest fan in Minot, North Dakota. Anyone who wishes to challenge me on that subject - well, you know where I can be reached, sir.
I only mention this because you can see that biographical element in the song. All the rest is fake, although I’m still open to the whole Jungle Jenny thing. The entire song is sprinkled with Alex Harvey references, and even apes his bizarre enunciation a couple of times.
It was done on an ADAT 8-track super VHS format. God bless Alex Harvey.
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