Uriah Heep Singer John Lawton Dies at 74

Uriah Heep
Fin Costello/Redferns

Uriah Heep posed in London in December 1976. Left to right: Lee Kerslake, Mick Box, Ken Hensley, John Lawton and Trevor Bolder.

Lawton is best known for singing on 1977's "Free Me."

Former Uriah Heep vocalist John Lawton died on June 29 of undisclosed causes at the age of 74. According to a note on the long-running British rock band's official site, Lawton's death was "totally unexpected" and the group said that contrary to some reports, "there was no illness involved, which makes his passing incomprehensible."

Lawton reportedly died peacefully with his wife at his side and a private funeral is planned for close family and friends. Following stints in the bands The Deans, West One and Stonewall, Lawton began a long run with German rockers Lucifer's Friend in the late 1960s/early 1970s -- during which he recorded nine studio albums -- and contributed to 20 albums with the Les Humphries Singers in the mid-1970s. Lawton landed his most high-profile gig when he signed on as the lead singer of the prog group Heep, whose name was derived from a character in Charles Dickens' David Copperfield; a spokesperson for Uriah Heep could not be reached at press time for additional comment.

He joined Heep in 1976 in time to appear on their 10th studio album, 1976's Firefly, replacing original lead singer David Byron, as well as 1977's Innocent Victim, which featured the easy-rockin' AM-radio single "Free." Lawton's final studio recording with UH was 1978's smoother Fallen Angel, followed by the Live in Europe '79 concert album.

Following his run in UH, Lawton continued to perform with other bands, including Rebel and GunHill (which later changed its name to the John Lawton Band) and with former Heep producer/songwriter Ken Hensley in the Hensley Lawton Band. He also briefly re-joined Heep in 2013 for two weeks during a European tour to fill-in for ailing vocalist Bernie Shaw, released a handful of solo albums and dabbled in acting and directing television in the mid-2000s.

Check out Lawton fronting Uriah Heep and the band's tribute below.