The Sensational Alex Harvey Band formed in 1972 when veteran vocalist Alex Harvey (February 5, 1935, Gorbals, Glasgow, Scotland; died February 4, 1982, Zeebrugge, Belgium) teamed with struggling Glasgow group Tear Gas.
Zal Cleminson (born May 4, 1949; guitar), Hugh McKenna (born November 28, 1949; keyboards), Chris Glen (born November 6, 1950, Paisley, Renfrewshire, Scotland; bass), and Ted McKenna (born March 10, 1950, Glasgow, Scotland; drums) gave the singer the uncultured power his uncompromising rasp required and were the perfect foil to the sense of drama he created. Armed with a musical and cultural heritage, Harvey embarked on a unique direction combining elements of heavy rock, R&B, and the British music hall. He created the slum-kid Vambo, celebrated pulp fiction with "Sergeant Fury," and extolled a passion for B-movie lore in "Don’t Worry About the Lights Mother, They’re Burning Big Louie Tonight." Framed, SAHB’s 1972 debut album, was accompanied by a period of frenetic live activity, while Next... reflected a consequent confidence that was especially apparent on the title track, a harrowing, atmospheric rendition of a Jacques Brel composition.
The quintet continued their commercial ascendancy with The Impossible Dream and Tomorrow Belongs to Me while enhancing their in-concert reputation with a series of excellent and increasingly ambitious stage shows. Harvey’s presence was a determining factor in their visual appeal, but Cleminson’s intelligent use of clown make-up and mime brought yet another factor to the unit’s creative think-tank. 1975’s Live encapsulated this era, while SAHB’s irreverence was made clear in their exaggerated reading of Tom Jones' hit "Delilah," which gave the band a U.K. Top 10 single. Its success inspired The Penthouse Tapes, which featured such disparate favorites as "Crazy Horses" (the Osmonds) "School’s Out" (Alice Cooper), and "Goodnight Irene" (Lead Belly). The band enjoyed another hit single with "Boston Tea Party" (1976), but the rigorous schedule extracted a toll on their vocalist. He entered hospital to attend to a recurring liver problem, during which time the remaining members recorded Fourplay as SAHB (without Harvey). Hugh McKenna was then replaced by Tommy Eyre and in August, 1977 Harvey rejoined the band to complete Rock Drill. However, three months later he walked out on his colleagues during a rehearsal for BBC’s Sight and Sound program, and despite the ill-feeling this caused, it was later accepted that his return had been premature given the extent of his illness. Despite pursuing a solo career at a more measured pace, Harvey died as a result of a heart attack on February 4, 1982. Ted McKenna, Cleminson, and Glen had, meanwhile, formed the short-lived Zal with Billy Rankin (guitar) and Leroi Jones (vocals), but this ill-starred ensemble struggled in the face of punk and split up in April 1978. McKenna later joined Rory Gallagher and MSG, while Cleminson was briefly a member of Nazareth.
In 1992, members of the original band were reunited as the Sensational Party Boys. The band became very popular once more in their native Glasgow and surrounding areas. They officially changed their name in August 1993 back to the Sensational Alex Harvey Band with the original line-up (minus Harvey). Credible frontman, ex-Zero Zero, and Strangeways vocalist Stevie Doherty (born July 17, 1959, Coatbridge, Scotland), performed the band’s back catalog with great presence and power, and without attempting to emulate Harvey. The band reunited for a second time in the new millennium, with Billy Rankin and then Max Maxwell taking Harvey’s place behind the microphone.