Back With A Twist

By Andrew Gilhooley / 411

Local classic rock station The Hippo 104.3FM is presenting a show by British rock legends UFO this Saturday at the Catalyst club in Santa Cruz.  If you are not familiar with the band, whose hits include “Too Hot to Handle,” “Only You Can Rock Me” and “Lights Out,” UFO was one of the seminal British rock bands of the 1970s and 80s, and elevated Michael Schenker to guitar hero status.  The band celebrates its 35th anniversary this year.

The London music scene of 1969 was the setting for the founding of the band.  Vocalist Phil Mogg, drummer Andy Parker, bassist Pete Way and guitarist Mick Bolton got together and formed UFO, taking the band’s name from a London music club popular at the time.  This was a very experimental incarnation of the band, playing cover versions of classic rock and roll songs by Bo Diddley and Eddie Cochran in addition to original numbers which sometimes clocked in at over 20 minutes long.  They released three albums with this line-up, “UFO” (1970), “Flying” (1971) and “UFO Live” (1972), which featured live cuts from the first two albums.

In 1973, Bolton was replaced on guitar by German 18-year-old Michael Schenker, who had spent the previous two years as lead guitarist for the Scorpions.  This addition to the band turned out to be the one that would make UFO world famous.  Schenker and Mogg proved to be a crack songwriting team, and UFO’s next five albums would all come to be regarded as classics. 

After releasing “Phenomenon” (1974), “Force It,” (1975) and “No Heavy Petting” (1976), the band was firmly cemented as one of the world’s top rock acts, with their combination of strong songwriting, dazzling playing and distinctive album covers.  Paul Raymond was added to the band on keyboards and rhythm guitar for their next two albums “Lights Out” (1977) and “Obsession (1978).  The final release by this incarnation of UFO, the 1979 live double-album, “Strangers in the Night,” is still regarded by the music press as one of the best live albums of all time and captures the band at its finest.

Following Schenker’s departure from the band in 1980, UFO underwent numerous line-up changes, but never stopped recording and touring.  The original line-up reunited briefly in 1993 and recorded an album “Walk on Water,” but Schenker left the band again during the album’s promotional tour to pursue his own group MSG. 

The current line-up of UFO consists of Mogg, Way and Raymond, plus guitarist Vinnie Moore and drummer Jason Bonham.  Moore is a veteran of the British rock scene; Bonham is the son of the late Led Zeppelin drummer John Bonham, and recently filled his father’s drum stool at the Atlantic Records anniversary concert, where Led Zeppelin reunited for a one-off show.  The band has released a new album this year, titled “You Are Here,” which the band describes as “typical UFO with a twist.”  The album is being hailed by fans as a real return to form for the band, which is currently on the US leg of a world tour.

First published in “411”, The Salinas Californian, November 18, 2004

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