Wednesday, August 15, 2012

UFO - One More For The Rodeo?

I keep having a recurring dream. I'm sitting in a tall, comfortable chair in the control room of a recording studio. My ears are ringing, and I'm pleasantly laughing at a mix of a track that has just been finalized. Also laughing beside me is my friend, producer Fabrizio Grossi, who has just done the mix. I look up at the glass that separates the control room from the studio, and in the reflection I see the members of UFO's classic lineup, and they too have large grins upon their faces. Then I wake up - with a smile on my face.

Now, this could be wishful thinking on my part, or it could potentially be prescience. Let's consider the possibilities.

The story of UFO goes back more than four decades - after knocking around Europe semi-successfully for several years, they one day found themselves without a guitarist. In a moment of show business tradition, they opt to not cancel a gig, but to soldier on, and they do so by shanghaiing the guitarist from their opening act, a band of German upstarts called The Scorpions. The guitarist is a seventeen year old man by the name of Michael Schenker. Things went so well that the band asked him to join up full time, and the young guitarist took the plunge.

Now, here we are, and 2013 will mark the 40th anniversary of the rather unholy, but glorious musical marriage of Phil Mogg and Michael Schenker. I'm glad to say that both are healthy and happy - Mogg is leading UFO into yet another American tour beginning in October, and Michael is continuing a year of very successful touring with his year's second trip to the colonies. Both are wrapping things up in December and heading back to their neighborhood in England - yeah, they live in the same neighborhood. Even wayward bassist Pete Way is in the same enclave. Had this occurred twenty years ago it may have resembled a war zone, or at least an opium den of inequity.

Today, things are much different than they were, and it is all for the better. Mogg and Schenker are both relatively sober and content. Hell, even Pete has finished a new record and appears to be doing well.

For several months, the Internet has been rumbling with rumors of a possible classic lineup reunion for UFO - both camps still rely very heavily on UFO's 1979 live album, Strangers in the Night, for their set lists, and for the first time Mogg and Schenker are not just sober and sane, they are both remembering the good times not the bad, and smiling when one another is mentioned. The potential for a reunion that would actually be done for the right reasons is finally a real possibility. Not for the money, not for contractual obligation, but for the fans, the players, and the legacy.

One could easily argue that things are fine just as they are - that perhaps it might be well advised to let sleeping dogs lie. I've heard this argument many times, and while I see the point, I also see it as the cowards way out. Nothing is every gained without a risk being taken.

Michael Schenker's last album, Temple of Rock, was a solid effort, and certainly showed the guitarist to be in great form. However, nobody called it a great record, and it suffered from a lack of cohesion and the inevitable piecemeal result of having a melange of singers on board.

Seven Deadly is UFO's latest album and it showed the band to be in good shape, especially Phil Mogg, but it was noticeably weak in the riff writing department. What made the classic UFO lineup great was always Schenker's guitars, mixed with Mogg's lyrical sophistication and melody writing. Not to detract from any player - it is simply a fact that Michael Schenker is one of the most gifted composers in the realm of rock.

What we are left with is the fact that when together, Phil and Michael were very synergistic. Neither has ever matched the brilliance they share as a team. I don't know exactly how they feel about this, but by a huge margin, their fans favor and fervently hope for another reconciliation.

The time is right. Both are still creatively strong, they've lessened their dependence on intoxicants, and both are coming off a very successful year.

Pete Way. One thing I really did love about Schenker's Temple of Rock was Pete Way's bass playing. Pete is at best the wild card - he's been down a long road of debauchery that has left him to be seen as a rock and roll untouchable. He did sound great on the Schenker album, though, and I have to think that the chance to dance once more upon the boards of glory would be enough to wake him up sufficiently. Way wrote some of UFO's most heralded riffs, and his bass playing has always been just right for the band. I also understand that his past has made his very presence on American shores an issue. Even if he could not tour, he would be essential for a new record, and his performance on Schenker's last album shows that he can still play some fiercely melodic bass. In the event he can't tour America, that can be faced later.

I've spoken with a lot of people who are close to either Schenker or Mogg, and I have yet to hear the word no when possibility of a reunion is discussed. In fact, I'm being told that this is very much being considered. Some have bandied about the possibility of the UFO song Waving Goodbye being Mogg's swansong, but I don't think that's the case, at all. If Mogg was saying so long, I think he'd do it in a splashier way than another jaunt up and down the California club circuit. His legacy deserves better than that, and I think when he hangs up the mic for the final time, I hope it will be worthy of his brilliant career, and his wonderful fans.

UFO is a band which is still bristling with positive energy, and more than capable of flexing it's musical muscles. Michael Schenker is playing as well as he ever has, and seems poised for a creative rebirth that has amazing potential - with his brother wrapping up his touring obligations with Scorpions, the possibility of the two brothers working together again is almost guaranteed, but Rudolf has many projects to be completed and he will surely require some time off after several years of road work. In the meantime, there will never be a more perfect moment for UFO to create another batch of brilliance with Michael Schenker. Neither the band, nor Schenker has ever recreated the glory of Strangers in the Night, and the fans of both seem to be rooting very heavily for this to happen.

In the first paragraph, I mentioned a scenario that occurred in a dream I dreamt. I mentioned producer Fabrizio Grossi - wonder why? I'll tell you. I've been going back and forth with Grossi of late on some very interesting projects, and I am of the opinion that his career is about to explode into the stratosphere. There wasn't a record released last year that sounded better than his production of Leslie West's Unusual Suspects. The guitars sounded huge, in your face, and literally jumped out of the speakers. West's vocals sounded simply amazing - even the raging guitars never once got in their way. The rhythm section of Grossi and Kenny Aronoff resembled the brutal beauty of Bonzo and John Paul Jones. Cameo appearances by diverse group of superstars such as Billy Gibbons, Joe Bonamassa, Zakk Wylde, and Steve Lukather all came across wonderfully, and never once clashed with West's performances - they all fit perfectly. From beginning to end, the record relentlessly demanded to be heard. Grossi is as good as anyone currently twirling knobs in the realm of hard rock. Wait until you hear his mix of Glenn Hughes, Steve Vai, Chad Smith, and Lachan Doley doing Highway Star for the soon to be released Re-Machined album celebrating 40 years of Deep Purple's Machine Head. You'll be amazed. Plus, he is beholden to neither UFO or Schenker via previous engagement, and is said to be a delight to work with, being a player himself. Then there's the fact that this strange dream really did occur, and I'm not usually given to such things.

There you have it. I've been bombarded over the last two months by questions related to the possibility of a classic lineup UFO reunion, and I have had the pleasure of having little birds whispering about such possibilities in both my ears (read as: from sources very close to both camps). I must say that I have not spoken directly with any of the principals concerning this issue, but again, all talk from both sides has sounded very promising.

In the meantime, drop me a line here in the comments letting me know your thoughts, and as always, thanks for reading.

Apologies to all I have named and rumored about - I am always a fan first, and willfully admit to greedily wanting to hear what I think would be something wonderful. In any event, I wish every success to all, and great thanks for a lifetime of great music.

What say fellas, one more for the rodeo?  

1 comment:

Christian Henry said...

Good write-up. I wish UFO would do a "Strangers in the NIght" tour with just those songs and line-up. LIke Judas Priest did a "British Steel" tour. Bad-ass.