This year marks the 40th anniversary of the classic UK rock band UFO. Still featured in the ranks are two founding members, vocalist (and the only constant in the bands event rich history) Phil Mogg and drummer Andy Parker. For the past few years the lineup has in addition consisted of two other members of the bands perhaps best loved (”Lights Out”) incarnation, namely bassist Pete Way and keyboardist Paul Raymond, with Vinnie Moore on guitar since 2005 who is filling the shoes of the mad axe man Michael Schenker. UFO’s newest record entitled THE VISITOR is their 20th studio album and the first one since 1988’s AIN’T MISBEHAVIN’ without the wild man Pete Way on board. Filling in on bass for the album is Peter Pichl, and on this summer’s tour, Barry Sparks. For this interview we sat down with Andy Parker to learn more, not just about Pete’s predicament, but many other things relating to the past, present and future of UFO.
Interview by Marko Syrjälä and Jarno Huovila
THE EARLY DAYS
If it’s okay for you we would like to start this interview with some old stuff at first?
Okay, no problem.
Before UFO became an international success you were really famous in Japan and especially in Germany. Is it true that the first two or three if you count the live album, UFO records actually sold millions in Germany?
You know, that’s very hard for us to know because the record company didn’t tell us how much they sold, but we never got any money for those at all. All I know it that based on the amount of people that I’ve seen that had those albums, they sold pretty well. Not only in Germany, but also in Japan too. We did the first album, UFO 1, then we did FLYING – ONE HOUR SPACE ROCK and people have asked me why and I don’t know why, because we could? Thing about this band is that it always come the heart, this band has never ever, that I know of, set out to make a hit album or an album that appeals to a certain demographic. That is not where this band comes from. It’s genuine, it’s not manufactured. The space rock album was just we were at the time, the record company told us to go do it and we just did and it was different. So yeah, I think those album sold a lot, I think. The first album came out in 1970 and I remember this because when we recorded it was 1969, I was seventeen years old. Beacon Records gave me the recording contract to sign, but I wasn’t old enough, my parent had to sign it for me. My parents refused to sign it because they thought I was going to get ripped off. So I had to wait until my eighteenth birthday to sign the contract myself. So it came out in 1970 and I did get ripped off. But if I hadn’t done that album no one would have every of me. This is the whole thing, sometimes you’ve got to get ripped off to get your foot in the door.
You did your first real headlining tours in Japan in early 70’s. So how was it like to tour Japan in those early days?
We were amazed. We drove our van to the airport at Heathrow, our old van with all the gear in back. But when we got off the plane we got all those limousines waiting for us there, it was just so bizarre. We were stars on the other side of the world. We got no money from Beacon Records at all, so we told them they’d broken the contract and then there was a period from like 1972 to 1974 when we didn’t do anything. Then Chrysalis signed us in 1974. What happened every time we made a Chrysalis album, Beacon would remix and re-release those records with another name on them. So when people would ask for the new UFO album in the shops, they’d not get what they were looking for. It was just bad, but eventually that faded out. I think we got ripped off really badly, but it did lead to as you see me now, forty years later.
What would you say is the biggest difference playing with your current guitar player Vinnie Moore compared to Michael Schenker?
They’re both incredible guitar players obviously, but for one thing Vinnie is not crazy. Vinnie is a solid guy, one thing I could not stand in UFO with Michael you did never know if you’re going to finish the set, or the tour or whatever. With Michael it’s one thing and down goes the guitar and he’s gone, I can’t deal with that. The whole thing about music for me, because I love to play, is that it’s got to be enjoyable and when you’re worried about if something going to happen it isn’t. That’s what happened when they toured for WALK ON WATER with Michael; they had a lot of problems. He disappeared two or three times in that period. With Vinnie you know that he’s going to do the set and that’s kind of a good feeling.
Was Michael always behaving like that, even in the beginning, or did he become that way more as time went on?
You have to understand that from 1974 to 1979 he got in there and he worked. We toured continuously, we toured the States and he did a lot of work. It just got too much for him, I think, and I do understand. It’s not the life for everybody, being on the road for months on end away from your family, it’s not easy. So I do understand the problem, but when you’re in a band there are a lot of people relying on you, it’s not just the guys in the band, it’s the crew, it’s the lights, it’s the sound, it’s the agents, it’s the managers, the people that pay to get the ticket. It’s a serious thing and you’ve got to make a commitment. I have to say he got worse over the years. I can’t remember when it was when he first disappeared, in 1978 perhaps, on the eve of an American tour and we had to get Paul Chapman to do it. He’d done god four years, when we had PHENOMENOM, FORCE IT, NO HEAVY PETTING and all those albums and we had toured with them continuously. Michael worked really hard and he was great. I’m gonna tell you one thing, and I don’t tell this to many people, he’s the only guitar player, and I can’t remember where the show was, but I remember that we were playing and he was soloing and his solo was so amazing that I stopped playing, I kind of lost it because I was listening to him on the monitor and that tells you just how good the guy was.
Although you played on the record, Simon Wright (DIO, ex- AC/DC) did the tour for WALK ON WATER back in the mid ’90s. Why did you decide to quit UFO at that time, especially after putting out such a great album?
I used to live in California for 20 years and in 1994 I moved back to England and started to work for my family, out of the music business. Then the guys called me and said there was a Japanese label that wanted us to make an album and asked if I could do it, so I took my all my vacation days for one year and went to do the album. It was great, the guys were great and I hadn’t seen them in maybe ten years or more. It was a great album, Michael [Schenker] was really good and everything was great. Still to me coming back, having been away from them for ten years, there was this weird kind of tension, like unresolved stuff going on. So when they asked if would do the tour I just felt that it was destined for trouble, I just had this feeling. I went back to England to work for my family and so for eleven and a half years I didn’t play drums virtually at all. Once in a while I would play with some friends of mine, just covers and stuff, but basically I was completely out of the business.
Danny Peyronel, Phil Mogg, Michael Schenker, Andy and Pete Way in late 70’s.
PAUL CHAPMAN ERA
At a certain point in the ’80s you had a bit of a similar situation to the present in regards to the lineup, with only yourself and Phil left from the classic lineup. How does it affect the dynamic not having Pete in the band?
I miss Pete. He’s such a larger than life character, especially on stage. He always was. He’s this crazy guy in striped pants running around and lying on the floor. Yeah, you do miss him, but when that lifestyle starts to intrude on the music, then there’s a problem. We’ve always been known as a crazy bunch of guys, we had a reputation in the ’70s and that was okay, because the music was still there. However when the craziness starts to outweigh the music, then there’s a problem. This has happened with this band at several points, with Michael, with Phil, with Pete… maybe even with me, back in the late ’70s at some points when I wasn’t playing as could as I could have. People deserve to hear decent music and if Pete’s not well enough to perform, then you’ve got to make a decision. That’s what I admire so much about Phil; he doesn’t drink at all now. When you’ve got used to doing something a certain way for so long it’s difficult to change that.
Danny Vaughn [ex-WAYSTED] told us that as bad as Pete Way’s habits may have been, Paul Chapman’s were ten times worse. What’s your view on that?
Yeah, Paul got the name "Tonka", because you couldn’t destroy him. He had his demons too, but Danny probably saw more of than I did.
Before Paul Chapman joined UFO permanently in 1978, he had already played with you in different occasions as a second guitar player, didn’t he?
Exactly, he was in the band first as a second guitar player. After we recorded the PHENOMENON album and Michael had "Doctor, Doctor" with a double lead guitar, when we had to take that on the road he said it was going to be difficult for him to do it, so maybe we would have to think about getting another guitar player to play the rhythm and the extra lead. So we did auditions and we got Paul Chapman. As it turned out it didn’t work out very well, because it was like putting two cooks into one kitchen, it was a bit too much. After that we went back to a four piece and decided that maybe a keyboard player would be better. That’s when we got Danny Peyronel and did NO HEAVY PETTING. Danny was great, but he had more of an ego of a solo kind of guy, so that’s when we got Paul [Raymond] and Paul worked perfectly. He’s so underrated, the guy sings, he plays guitar, he plays keyboards, he’s just great. The lineup with Phil, Pete, Michael, Paul and me, I think it was just a great lineup. Paul Chapman he came in again when Michael disappeared overnight, because we knew him. Paul did that American tour for us, for which we were all very grateful. Then of course Michael came back and did the STRANGERS IN THE NIGHT album. He said he’d come in and do the live album and then he’d be gone. The last part of the tour was the British tour and then Michael left. Paul came back in and we did some good albums, you had NO PLACE TO RUN, THE WILD, THE WILLING AND THE INNOCENT, MECHANIX and MAKING CONTACT, great albums.
Some of those albums that you’ve just mentioned used to be pretty hard to get a hold on CD until recently. Do you happen to know why that was the case for so long?
You know, I’ve kind of wondered about that too. They’ve done these re-mastered now. I think what happened was that Chrysalis was bought by EMI and they just got forgotten. The re-masters are good, I think you’ve got some extra stuff on there, which is nice.
Phil Mogg, Pete Way, Paul Chapman, Neil Carter and Andy in 1982
THE MONKEY PUZZLE
Having bailed out on the ”Walk on Water” tour, what made you decide to return into the music business once again this side of the millennium?
In 2005 my [American] wife and I decided that we were going to move back to America. I had had enough of England, too much taxes, etc. I had already reapplied for my green card and received it, but hadn’t yet told my family that I was going. It was a bank holiday on a Monday in August 2005 and I said to my wife that on Tuesday I was going to tell my brothers that we were planning to leave. Two minutes after I had said that the phone rang. I picked the phone and it was Paul Raymond who told me that Jason [Bonham] was leaving to join FOREIGNER and UFO now needed a drummer for a gig in Spain in November and asked if I would be interested. I said I absolutely was, but hadn’t planned it at all. As far as I knew Jason was in the band, it was like a cosmic thing, like the universe wasn’t finished with me yet. Once I’d agreed it occurred to me that I hadn’t played for eleven years, so I practiced. We did the gig and it was so cool with Vinnie [Moore] because there wasn’t that tension anymore with Michael not being there. I love Michael, he’s a great player, a great guy, but there was always this kind of thing with Michael. Then they asked if I was interested in staying and I’ve been here since.
Last time that we saw a UFO show was on "The Monkey Puzzle" tour, and you had just broken your ankle so Simon Wright was filling in for you. You’re all back to full speed by now, aren’t you?
Yeah, 2007, that was very bad year for me. I lost my mother earlier in the year and then I broke my ankle, it was a BAD year. It was just a freak accident, wet floor and I just slipped. But it’s good now, it’s fine. Sometimes when the wheatears cold or damp, it aches a little.
Andy, Paul Raymond, Vinnie Moore and Phil Mogg are UFO in 2009
THE VISITOR AND THE FUTURE OF UFO?
As you said there’s a brand new UFO album out right now called THE VISITOS and you’re currently on tour to promote it. Compared to any other UFO album this one is a kind of a bluesy album, isn’t it?
Absolutely. If you think when I did WALK ON WATER, it was still that kind of like hard rock UFO. I then came back and did THE MONKEY PUZZLE, first album I’d done in ten years with them and all of a sudden there’s still blues creeping in. You have to understand that when I first joined this band that’s where I came from. Before I joined UFO, I was in a blues band, late ’60s in England it was the blues boom. LED ZEPPELIN came out of the blues thing, there’s so much WILLIE DIXON stuff on their first album. That’s where we were born from, Phil [Mogg] was a huge blues fan, and he turned me on to like HOWLIN’ WOLF, MUDDY WATERS and all these guys. So for me it’s going all the way round and back, so I love it. The interesting thing that I find is that if you listen to Vinnie Moore as a solo artist you wouldn’t think that guy would play the blues. Paul [Raymond] obviously has a total blues background, CHICKEN SHACK, SAVOY BROWN, etc. You put this whole thing together and I love the way it’s going. You don’t want to stay in the same place; unless you keep reinventing yourself it’s going to get very stale very quickly. When we were younger we were angrier or whatever, with something to prove, but now it’s kind of like been there, done that. The way Phil’s voice is maturing, the way we’re playing now, it still has balls and it makes sense to me. It’s a very good place for a band to be. It still sounds UFO, but its UFO now, not in the ’70s, the ’80s or the ’90s.
This latest UFO album is also coming out on vinyl, the first time this has happed in a long time, isn’t it?
I never thought I’d make another vinyl album. There’s a different sound obviously. It’s a bit weird since the album was recorded digitally and then they put it out on vinyl. It would be kind of cool to do a totally analog album again, but it’s a lot harder. I have to say it’s a lot easier to record digitally for a drummer especially. In the old days we would spend months in the studio, now we don’t do that. When we did this album I just played until we found a track with a really good feel and then like if a fill wasn’t so great, we’d just repaired it. It’s very easy, and it’s not really cheating, it just saves you money basically, which means you can put the album out for less money. But there’s something about the analog sound that a lot of people are really looking for.
On this tour you now have Barry Sparks (Dokken, Ted Nugent) playing bass for you. This is of course due that Pete Way is having some serious problems with his health. Can you tell us more about that?
Pete has a serious problem with his liver. It’s not just alcohol, he has another problem. It’s not cancer, it’s a liver disease. For years Pete has not been able to go to America because of his problem with the immigration people, so we’ve had to use other bass player. In August last year we played our last show for the year, in Spain, and Pete was not well. We talked about it and told him that he had to get his problem fixed. When you get to our age, you can’t leave things like this, you’ve got to sort it out. Pete agreed and that started in about February or March when we started the album. This treatment that they have to give him is apparently physically very demanding, kind of like chemo. I spoke to him in March, when I was recording the drum tracks, and he was sounding great, very positive and going to the gym and getting fit. The doctors were giving him some tablets but hadn’t started the treatment yet, so I thought everything was good. I live in Texas, so because of the time difference it’s kind of weird and I don’t talk to him a lot. So as far as I knew everything was going well and at some point he would be fit and would come back, which is why we didn’t say we had replaced him. We used a German bass player for the album [THE VISITOR], the guy from NECTAR, Peter Pichl. But last month [May, 2009] I started getting emails from his wife and friends saying he’s not doing good, he’s depressed. The doctors had him taking anti depressant pills and then he started drinking again, which is not good for your liver. To be honest, I don’t know what’s going to happen to him now? This sounds very brutal, and I love the guy, he’s like a brother to me. I’ve known him for so long, but there comes a time when you cannot help someone if they don’t want to help themselves. I’ve got a feeling that it’s got to that point that when unless Pete decides to help himself, none of us can help him. It’s very hard for all of us.
Well, we’re all rooting for Pete and wish him only the best. But since the show must go on, what do you think the future has in store for UFO in the next year or so, more touring for sure at least?
Absolutely, we’re touring right through this year and into, I think, the early part of next year. So we’ve got like good nine months of touring for this album, then I don’t know.
Thank you for your time, Andy. Cheers!
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LIVE PICTURES FROM SWEDENROCK 2009 SHOW !