Steve Priest of 'Ballroom Blitz' glam-rock sensations Sweet dead at 72

Steve Priest, bassist and founding member of ‘70s glam band the Sweet, has died at age 72. While a cause of death has not yet been revealed, Priest’s health had been failing for some time. On March 12, a post on the Sweet’s official Facebook page stated that he was in a Los Angeles hospital “receiving the best possible care,” but did not offer any other details.

The news of Priest’s passing was confirmed Thursday by the Sweet’s lone surviving core member, lead guitarist Andy Scott, who wrote, "Then there was one! I am in pieces right now. Steve Priest has passed away. His wife Maureen and I have kept in contact and though his health was failing I never envisaged this moment. Never. My thoughts are with his family.” Scott also described Priest as “the best bass player I ever played with.”

Priest was born in Hayes, Middlesex, England, on Feb. 23, 1948, and formed the Sweet (originally called the Sweetshop; later shortened to just “Sweet” with no “the”) with lead singer Brian Connolly, drummer Mick Tucker, and guitarist Frank Torpey. After Scott replaced Torpey in 1970 to solidify the classic lineup, the Sweet went on to become sensations of the glam-rock movement alongside acts like Wizzard, Mud, and Suzi Quatro, scoring 13 top 20 hits in Britain including "Block Buster,” “Hell Raiser,” and "Teenage Rampage.” In America, they had four top 10 hits: “Little Willy,” "Fox on the Run,” "Love Is Like Oxygen,” and their signature song, "The Ballroom Blitz" (No. 2 in the U.K., No. 5 in the U.S.).

“The Ballroom Blitz,” which was sampled in the Beastie Boys’ "Hey Ladies” and appeared in multiple movies including Wayne's World, became a sports anthem that is still heard at stadiums around the world today. Ironically, though, the jock song was inspired by a 1973 riot that broke out at a Sweet gig in Scotland when audience members became outraged by the band members’ glittery, gender-bending image — according to Priest’s 1994 autobiography Are You Ready Steve?, which took its title from “The Ballroom Blitz’s” namechecking intro.

Steve Priest of the Sweet in the early '70s. (Photo: Fin Costello/Redferns)
Steve Priest of the Sweet in the early '70s. (Photo: Fin Costello/Redferns)

While the band members began writing their own material starting with 1975’s “Fox on the Run” as they took control of their bubblegum-pop image, their association with the production/songwriting team of Nicky Chinn and Mike Chapman, who penned their early hits, kept them from being taken seriously by the music press. Connolly eventually left the Sweet in 1979, after which Priest, whose distinctive high-pitched backing vocals had always been a key part of the Sweet’s sound, took over as frontman until the classic lineup’s split in 1982. An attempt was made in 1988 to reunite the original Sweet with Chapman producing, but that project never came to fruition. In the ensuing years, Scott, Connolly (who died in 1997), and Priest all played and toured with their own versions of the Sweet.

The band did eventually receive their critical due. “The Sweet produced five of the most exciting singles of their era. Of any era. The machine made magic,” music historian Simon Reynolds wrote in his glam-rock anthology Shock and Awe of the band’s Chinn/Chapman output. “The Radio Rock pantheon holds high perches for Cheap Trick and Def Leppard … anoints moments from Van Halen, Boston, Billy Squier, and the Scorpions … exalts Nevermind-era Nirvana for producer Butch Vig’s blend of grunge and glisten. But the Sweet remain almost unrivaled in this roll call of honor.”

Priest is survived by his wife of 39 years, music publicist Maureen O’Connor, his daughters Lisa, Danielle and Maggie, and three grandchildren.

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