Back in the 1970s when UFO rocked hard, the low-end was supplied by bona fide bass legend Pete Way. Gareth Morgan dissects the means, the methods and the sometimes surprising influences of a man who could pump those eighth-notes with the best of them
Let’s be honest: we can all witter on about classic bands and great rock albums from the 1970s, especially when the clock is nearing last orders, but when you get home and drop needle on vinyl you’re more likely to be cringing in a corner than punching the air. UFO‘s Strangers In The Night, however, is one album that’s worth revisiting again and again. There’s an added bonus: you get to listen to wildman rock god bassist extraordinaire, Pete Way.
Peter Frederick Way was born on 7th August, 1951 in Enfield, Middlesex, and started in bands while still in school, forming Hocus Pocus with vocalist Phil Mogg, guitarist Mick Bolton and Andy Parker on drums. When Noel Moore saw them and signed them to Beacon Records the band changed their name to UFO in honour of the London club in which they’d been spotted.
After two albums of blues, boogie and space rock, Bolton left and UFO recruited 18 year-old German guitar prodigy Michael Schenker. The band also jumped ship to Chrysalis Records and recruited Ten Years After bassist Leo Lyons as producer, all of which culminated in a heavier, guitar-driven sound and 1974’s Phenomenon album. Sales of UFO albums grew steadily and peaked with the release of Strangers In The Night in 1979, but the old problems of internal squabbles and personal differences had already started, especially between Mogg and Schenker, leading to Schenker’s departure in October 1978. The late ’70s was the peak of UFO‘s commercial success but the band have soldiered on with various line-up permutations (with and without Schenker) and are due to release their twentieth studio album, The Visitor, in 2009.
Pete Way was cut from the classic old-school rocker’s mould, from his low-slung bass to his kinetic stage performances and his willingness to grind out solid, supportive bass parts that created the perfect platform for Mogg’s rich vocals and guitar pyrotechnics (currently provided by Vinnie Moore). If doing the Way thing sounds like an easy ride, think again. You need a sound that’s fat but has enough definition to drive the band; you need to come up with cool high-register intros, be able to handle 16th-based rhythms at searing tempos, and nail wicked unison riffs with perfect phrasing. All of this needs to be achieved while running around like a complete nutter, wearing a super-heavy Gibson Thunderbird (or Ibanez Iceman) and remembering when to use a pick and when to use fingerstyle. Easy!