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Ken's Inspiration

By: Kenneth Joseph

  I mentioned to you that I would talk about EW&F again. At that particular performance we used a lot of EW&F’s songs. We even hired 2 amazing musicians i.e. Guy Barker (trumpet) and Phil Todd (Saxophone) to play those funky licks of EW&F. I recall we played: ‘That’s The Way of The World,’ ‘Shining Star,’ ‘Yearnin Learnin,‘ ‘Sing a Song,’ and ‘Saturday Night’ and others which blew the audience away.
I recall when we hired the services of those seasoned musicians, they walked in my house where we rehearsed at that time and they listened to EW&F’s songs without playing a note but scoring i.e. writing the notes of the horn sections on a manuscript. They then went in the back room of my house practised their notes for a few minutes then rejoined us in our front room. As we counted ourselves in to start the numbers I was blown away how tight and note perfect they were as if they had been rehearsing with us for weeks, which was not the case. That was truly amazing! They were extraordinary musicians and I was privileged to have met and worked with them. That inspired me further to attain that standard of skill and musicianship that they demonstrated that day. On a contemporary level, I was totally inspired by EW&F’s innovative style, unique sound, unique vocal style and musical arrangements. It was moving, uplifting and they pushed boundaries that captured the imagination of generations! Hott Wax and later Hi Tension was always searching and progressing musically. We were in the early stages of our musical development but we were progressive and had great mentors like EW&F to aspire to.

 hi tension meets the jacksons   One day whilst performing at the Q Club, we were first discovered by Johnny Jackson (cousin and drummer of the Jacksons) who told us that we were talented and that he was so impressed that he wanted to introduce us to the Jacksons as they were due to commence their tour in England and were arriving the following day (Day 1). He invited us to meet with them at the Hilton Intercontinental Hotel, Park Lane the following day and we agreed to do so.

 I must admit I had reservations about this but true to form he met us in the foyer of the hotel and entertained us with stories, anecdotes and drinks until the Jacksons arrived. Minutes later, the Jackson had arrived at the hotel and checked in. This is how we met the Jacksons (Day 2). Thereafter, we were invited by the Jacksons to attend their sound check at Hammersmith Odeon the following day. (Day 3) – We attended Hammersmith Odeon and studied how they conducted their sound check which was very relaxed but very professional. After their sound check they invited us and informally introduced us to their musicians. (Day 4) - We were also invited to attend their after party to be introduced to CBS representatives and staff in the hope that we might obtain a recording contract with CBS. After weeks of negotiations with CBS records, we ultimately didn’t pursue this venture.   Dear reader, I hope I still have your attention!  


Unfortunately, Hott Wax experienced yet another setback as we found out that there was another band called Hott Wax so we had to change our name for legal reasons therefore renamed ourselves ‘Hi Tension.’  The inspiration of EW&F dealing with the natural elements of our planet, hence their name, together with the study of Egyptology and the energy of universe,  it’s not surprising that my brother, David Joseph came up with the name ‘Hi Tension.’  He used to work for London Underground as a qualified Telecommunicationist and our name came from signs from London Underground saying “High Tension” denoting electrical cabling and danger.  He took that idea and renamed it Hi Tension to denote a source of power, energy and life.  Now you know!  

We composed music and wrote songs and pushed boundaries.  The most important factor for us was creating rhythmic sounds then formulating a melody around them.  We had a new or fresh approach to our sound that I humbly say the UK hadn’t heard before, under the directorship of David Joseph.  

True to Melody Maker’s prediction mentioned earlier, things were about to happen to us faster than we could imagine. Following a group jam, we created and wrote a song called ‘Hi Tension’ and it was based on that song that Chris Blackwell CEO of Island Records gave us a recording contract and signed us up. He gave us an Album deal and produced our first single with Kofi Ayivor from Osabisa. Hi Tension was our first single and was a hit both here in England and in Europe.    In addition, ‘British Hustle’ gave us equal success both here in England and in Europe. What my band didn’t know until today and as you read on, the bass line that I played on ‘British Hustle’ was inspired by Ashford & Simpson’s bass line from their song ‘Solid’ from their Solid album.  In addition, the bass line that I played on ‘Peace On Earth’ was inspired by EW&F’s song ‘Fantasy’.  Listen for yourself!  Our first album ‘Hi Tension’ was produced Alex Sadkin from Miami and Kofi Ayivor which had moderate acclaim. We actually recorded 2 albums with Island but only one was ever released. Just like I didn’t initially connect with EW&F’s earlier albums, maybe Island records didn’t relate to our music sufficiently well enough because bigger and better things were in the pipeline.  Who knows! As I said, we pushed boundaries!

 Verdine White EWF Ken Hi Tension

 With the huge success of our first single,
I bought myself my second bass guitar
which was a Fender Precision, inspired by Verdine White from EW&F. All the energy that I delivered on stage since my first performance at my school Aylestone with Hott Wax and subsequent performances with Hi Tension was definitely inspired by seeing Verdine White of EW&F perform live.

I believe that I had a duty to give our fans or audience something more than they get from just listening to the record.  This is a principle that Hi Tension lived by and practised i.e. not just to replay our recorded songs live but to rearrange our music, add a little spice, give it flavour and make it more interesting and be entertaining.  

Following the success of our first single, we then recruited the services of Papa Mensa (our second drummer).  Although having 2 drummers in a band was not unusual in America with the likes of James Brown, EW&F and currently Beyonce, it was certainly unique for any UK funk band to have this set up.  As I said, we pushed boundaries, wanted to be different and wanted to entertain our audience both auditory as well as visually.  That was a dynamic feeling and experience for me.  Personally, I believe Hi Tension’s music sounded better live than any of our recorded material and that’s because we had complete control how it was played and rearranged.  Recording in a studio is a different discipline where control can be taken away from you or reduced for commercial reasons.  Personally, I prefer live performances because I get that immediate feedback from an audience that you can’t get from studio recordings, record sales, radio or television alone.  I do appreciate and recognise that each category of creating music and marketing is important but my preference was performing live. 


 ken hi tension hammersmith odean  ken david joseph hammersmith odeon  paul phillips david joseph kenneth on stage

 See me extending my gratitude to our fans at Hammersmith Odeon in 1980 and backstage with my brother in Hi Tension’s dressing room before going on stage.  Also see David Joseph, Paul Phillips and me giving a speech of gratitude at Hammersmith Odeon after receiving the ‘Best New Disco act Award’ which you can see on this website.

The proudest moment for me during my music career was doing a UK Tour and returning home to London to perform at Hammersmith Odeon before our parents, and friends and a ‘sell out’ audience.   

For those of you who never got the opportunity to see us live, what can I say!  

I guess it goes without saying that EW&F were my inspiration and I was fortunate enough to meet Maurice White, Verdine White, Ralph Johnson, Larry Dunn and Don Myrick whilst they were touring here in England at Wembley Arena.

 maurice white ken hi tension  ralph ewf ken hi tension

larry dunn ken hi tension ewf 

 dom myrick ewf ken hi tension


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