British rockers, UFO, grow better with age
BY PATRICK DOUGLAS • FOR THE TRIBUNE • MAY 29, 2009
You could use the term, "aged like a fine wine," to describe British rockers UFO, but it might be misleading. Yes. They're making some of the best music in their long history, but they're not ready to pop the cork and call it a career.
These musicians have a youthful exuberance thanks in large part to 45-year-old shredder Vinnie Moore. Considering that the band formed when Moore was just four years old, you get an idea as to how seasoned the musicians are.
Marking the band's 40th anniversary, the group also is celebrating its 20th studio album in "The Visitor," which is due out June 2.
"It's extremely exciting for me," said drummer and co-founder Andy Parker in an interview with the Tribune from his home in Texas. "For the rest of the guys in the band, 40 years after the conception to still be doing it and still have a chance to make an album and put it out, for a lot of bands, that's not an option anymore."
On UFO's latest effort, they take a trip back to their earliest influences, including American blues. Featuring slide guitars and vocalist Phil Mogg's bluesy vocals, the album sometimes conjures loose comparisons to Coverdale/Page mixed with the occasional dip into Black Crowes flavored riffs and keyboards. Not something you'd expect from a band with such classic rock roots.
"I'm really enjoying this because this is where the band was born. We came out of that blues boom in the '60s in England," said Parker. "When bands like Zeppelin and that were getting started ... and the Yardbirds and all this kind of blues. American blues influenced British musicians and that's kind of where we started. It's almost like we've come full circle and we're revisiting that. It's great for me."
It's a reality that most bands from the era in which UFO was spawned were either forced or consciously tried to create the perfect radio songs in an effort to sell a ton of records. It's nice to get played on the air, but UFO has never made it a goal to smash the charts.
"Even back in the late '70s the record label was trying to steer us that way to have a crossover sort of track," said Parker. "If they decided there was a track that was more commercial, absolutely, we'd go for it (but) we never really, consciously as a band decided that we were going to do this ... or that (to get on radio)."
These days, it's a moot point. Radio formats have become limited, leaving classic bands like UFO only viable in terms of what they did in their past and out in the cold when it comes to new music.
"We're not going to get any airplay, we already know that. It's almost impossible to get any airplay these days," said Parker. "The one thing about this band as far as I'm aware is, it's never been about money. We don't aim things at what's gonna be a commercial hit. We don't take ourselves too seriously."
The band was named 74th best of all time on VH1's "Greatest Artists of Hard Rock" and is known for the on again, off again antics of guitarist Michael Schenker. Schenker, whose brother Rudolf is the lead guitarist for the Scorpions, was notorious for leaving during sets and causing tour cancellations.
He also helped inspire a generation of guitarists like Megadeth's Dave Mustaine, Metallica's Kirk Hammett and even Pearl Jam guitarist Mike McCready.
Despite Schenker's guitar contributions, UFO is happy to have Moore in the mix and aren't spending too much time lamenting the Schenker days.
"There are a lot of people out there who think UFO is Michael Schenker and you can't blame 'em for that," said Parker. "Mike is an amazing player, a great guy and a real talent. It's easy to stand there and point fingers and say Michael Schenker's not a good guy 'cause he doesn't care and he doesn't finish sets and doesn't finish shows. It's very easy."
"The problem is, being a musician, your personal life gets in the way of your professional life," he continued. "That hounds a lot of people. It's not like you can phone the office and say, 'I don't feel right. I'm not coming in today.' I just got to a point in my life where I've got better things to do than sit on the stage and watch a guy throw a tantrum and walk off. That just wasn't for me."
"I think the band is stronger, not only with Vinnie as a player but Vinnie as a person."
Parker and Mogg are the only remaining original members as founding bassist Pete Way is recovering from a liver condition. Keyboard-ist/guitarist Paul Raymond, who joined the band in 1976, rounds out the current lineup with Moore, who joined in 2003.
Parker has left the band and returned three times, the most recent being in 2005 after Jason Bonham, son of the late Led Zeppelin drummer John Bonham, left to join Foreigner.
It's been 50 years since Parker first learned to play the drums. In addition to keeping him physically fit, the latest stint with UFO has been mentally rewarding as well.
"I just eat right and get my sleep and walk my dogs and get on the practice pad as often as I can and it seems to be working," said Parker. "I think the (new) album stands out. It stands out from everything we've done in the past and I think our stage show stands up too and judging by our reaction since I've been back, the fans think so too, so that's really encouraging."
If the band is a fine, aged bottle of wine, it might be wise to keep it in the cellar a little longer. They're not ready to celebrate a done career just yet.
PATRICK DOUGLAS - The Tribune - copyright 2009