John Lawton, the rock and blues vocalist known for his stint as the lead singer of British rock band Uriah Heep in the 1970s, has died. He was 74.

According to a statement from the band posted to Facebook, Lawton died unexpectedly on June 29.

"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," the band wrote. "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."

They continued, "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."

John Lawton
Former Uriah Heep singer John Lawton has died at 74.
| Credit: Fin Costello/Redferns

Born in England in 1946, Lawton got his start as a vocalist bouncing between various bands, joining up with the German hard rock band Lucifer's Friend in the early 1970s while also working with the Les Humphries Singers, a gospel group.

"What we all really loved was getting together and doing some Lucifer's Friend work," Lawton said in a 2014 interview. "[But] the money just wasn't there to keep the band going without anything else. We did a lot of studio work for other people as well — singing sessions and stuff like that — just to keep the money rolling so we could keep Lucifer's Friend going."

Lawton joined Uriah Heep in 1976, following the departure of lead vocalist David Byron, and recorded three studio albums — Firefly, Innocent Victim, and Fallen Angel — with the band.

"I didn't know enough about Uriah Heep before I joined," Lawton recalled. "I basically had to go out and buy the album, The Best of Uriah Heep, to familiarize myself with the music."

Lawton would also tour with the band, which yielded the live album Live in Europe '79, before departing later that year.

"We both really agreed that we should come to the end of our ways," he said. "It was better for them to go their way and I should go my way, and that's it. Having said that, we are still good friends."

Lawton would later fill in for singer Bernie Shaw for two weeks on Heep's 2013 European tour.

John Lawton
Credit: Fin Costello/Redferns

Following his split with Uriah Heep, Lawton recorded the solo album Heartbeat, and performed with various bands, including Rebel, Zar, and Gunhill, and later reunited with his former Heep bandmate Ken Hensley to form the Hensley Lawton Band. He would continue to record and perform live throughout the 2000s and 2010s, and worked extensively in Bulgaria, directing several travel documentaries for the government and performing an annual concert there.

"I was never aware of how much of an influence Uriah Heep's music was to the people in the Eastern Bloc, not only in Bulgaria but also in Romania, what used to be Yugoslavia, and in the Ukraine all the way up to Russia," he said in 2014. "It was really the first kind of westernized music that they listened to via their bootlegs, which were hastily hidden from the secret police if anybody came knocking, under the table. And I've met so many people — all the generations — who've said to me, 'You have no idea how much that music meant to us.'"

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