Uriah Heep — founding member Mick Box is center — released its 25th album “Living the Dream” in 2018. (Courtesy Richard Stow)

Uriah Heep’s Mick Box keeps vow to play guitar for life

Metal band comes to town on 50th anniversary tour

As its sole founding member, it’s no secret why British guitarist Mick Box is still powerchording away on the 50th anniversary tour of metal outfit Uriah Heep. Ever since he was a London teen, he’s had a dogged determination that his peers and parents couldn’t fathom. When he bought his first guitar in the mid-1960s, he took a day job at an export firm 10 miles from home just to pay it off. And to save on train fare, he bicycled there and back every weekday, while still playing as many pub-and-club gigs as he could by night. “I was going to play guitar for the rest of my life; I was that focused,” he says. “And I told my mom, ‘On my last guitar payment, I’m giving notice and that’s it — I’m off!’ You’d never see anybody do that nowadays.” He stumbled a bit when vocalist David Byron quit the group then died in 1985, but he soldiered on with flinty new vocalist Bernie Shaw, who’s still at the helm on Heep’s 2018 release “Living the Dream,” its 25th studio album.

Do you have a rock and roll family and homestead in London?

I’ve got a wife, Sheila, and we’ve got two teenage sons, plus another son from a previous marriage who’s 42. And my 14-year-old really loves guitar, just like dad. But there’s a father/son thing going on there where you can’t really teach your kids anything, so my wife sourced out a guitar teacher, a young guy who actually lived on our street. So he came to our door for the first lesson, and I opened it up, and he goes, ‘You’re f—-ing kidding me, right?’ He thought I was having the lesson! But that guy taught my kid some great songs — all the old Heep, Purple, Zeppelin.

What amazing things have you seen in your 50-year career?

I think the biggest thing, as far as the band is concerned, was the invitation to play Russia back in 1987 as the first Western rock band to play there. We went over and played to 80,000 people over a 10-day period, and it was amazing to find out how popular we were, especially since people didn’t hear us on the radio. They got our music on the black market, where they’d spend a month’s wages on your album and even risk going to jail. Things were really tough there then.

Are there any songs you’re sick of playing?

Like, “If one more person calls out for ‘Sweet Lorraine’… ” Ha! Funnily enough, it might be that song. It’s just one of those things. It’s got that Moog thing on it that sounds like a theremin. But it’s not. It’s just a synth.

IF YOU GO

Judas Priest, Uriah Heep

Where: Warfield, 982 Market St., S.F.

When: 8 p.m. June 24-25

Tickets: $49.50 to $99.50

Contact: (415) 345-0900, www.axs.com

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