More visitations expected from metal legends UFO in 2011

There was something different about UFO when original drummer Andy Parker re-enlisted in 2007 with the long-running British hard-rock champions for a third tour of duty. Michael Schenker was gone.

That raging guitar burn Schenker brought to UFO in 1973 after leaving The Scorpions was just the Molotov cocktail UFO had been looking for as they sought to set the world of heavy metal on fire. Schenker’s furious shred ignited a string of four-alarm UFO blazes starting with 1974’s classic LP Phenomenon on through albums like 1975’s Force It, 1976’s No Heavy Petting, 1977’s Lights Out, 1978’s Obsession and 1979’s Stranger in the Night.

Parker was a key cog in the UFO machine, his rugged, precision drumming providing the muscle in support of Phil Mogg’s distinctive vocals, Pete Way’s thumping bass and UFO’s Swiss Army knife keyboardist/rhythm guitarist Paul Raymond, not to mention Schenker’s frenzied fretwork. But Parker left the band in 1983, returning for a brief early-‘90s reunion of that classic ‘70s UFO configuration that included, of course, Schenker, and then soon bowing out again.

But as the new millennium arrived, so did UFO, with Schenker helping to carry the flag for the metal diehards. Then, 2002 came, and this time, it was Schenker’s turn to leave again, but not before powering UFO recordings that included the double-CD Covenant and then Sharks. Enter Vinnie Moore, charged with the unenviable task of filling Schenker’s shoes. And when Parker came back to the fold in 2006, he found it a little odd not be working with Schenker anymore. It wasn’t long, though, before Parker began to appreciate Moore’s skill and working with him on Monkey Puzzle and 2009’s The Visitor, album No. 20 for UFO, was an absolute pleasure.

“Pretty much most of the albums I’d done with the band before that were with Michael, so Vinnie brings a whole different feel to the band, and I just love the guy,” says Parker. “He’s an incredible guitar player and he’s a great guy.”

Moore wasn’t the first UFO crew member to replace an integral member of the group. Parker himself, who’d been there almost since the beginning, departed in the early ‘80s after 14 years with UFO. Schenker, though, is a special case, his six-string fireworks so spectacular and influential over the years that his profile rose to mythic proportions. Moore has proven to be up to the task, however, as a new UFO greatest-hits package, The Best of a Decade, a hard-hitting, bluesy and often melodic mix of choice live and studio cuts from UFO’s releases in the 2000s, bears out.

As for Parker, he wasn’t sure he’d ever return to UFO. A phone call from Raymond convinced him it was the right move, and now he’s looking forward to a long and bright future with the band he helped build into a metal empire.

“The thing is, they’d asked me several times over the years,” explains Parker. “It’s difficult because life doesn’t always go the way you plan and this is my third stint in the band. I quit in ’83 for pretty much personal reasons. And there was a lot of stuff going on with the band, a lot of problems within the band, and we were just pretty much burned out from constant touring and studio work, and you don’t have any time to deal with your private life. I left and I had a very young daughter when I left in ’83; she was only three years old, and I wanted to spend some time with her. That was the first time. I came back in ’94. The guys asked me to rejoin. I did the Walk on Water album, and that was great. It was a great experience. But there was still a lot of stuff going down in the band that I didn’t really want to deal with. They still had a lot of inner kind of tension going on there, and I chose not to tour, which, in hindsight, turned out to be the right choice. And I’ve said this before, as much as I love and admire Michael - he’s an amazing guy - but there was a lot of problems with him and stability-wise with the band. I just didn’t feel like I wanted to be in a band that was that unstable at that time. They asked me to come back in 2005, and I knew that Vinnie was in the band, and initially, I came back and did one show for them, because Jason [Bonham] had left and they had a show booked in Spain. So the moment I did that show and got to play with the guys again, and with Vinnie, it was just such a pleasurable experience that they asked, ‘Will you stay?’ And I said, ‘Yeah.’ You know, this is really what it’s all about, what I remember UFO being and how it should be.”

Not all UFO devotees might agree. Parker knows that the band’s most recent material has, perhaps, strayed a bit from that powerhouse ‘70s-era sound. For him, though, the return to a more blues-oriented attack, which still packs a mighty sonic wallop, is a welcome one.

“It’s almost like it has come full circle, because what I’ve noticed is I’ve been back in the band the last two albums and there’s a lot of blues influence surfacing in this material, and that’s where we started,” states Parker. “I mean, the big blues boom in the mid- to late-‘60s in England is where I kind of met the guys during that, and that’s what Paul Raymond came out of, with Savoy Brown.”

UFO honed their chops doing blues covers, before expanding their horizons and exploding in a giant space-rock supernova that set the stage for the edgier metallic meltdowns that occurred when Schenker arrived. Getting back to the blues, however, has been a satisfying move for Parker and the rest of UFO in last few years.

“I know there are probably people out there who think we’re kind of, you know, softening up, but I really like the way the band is going,” says Parker. “I don’t think I can sit still and try and kind of recreate what [we] were doing in the past. And then one thing I’ve always loved about UFO is we weren’t trend followers, you know? I mean, basically, what we play comes from the heart and it’s wherever we happen to be at that point in time. So I’m real happy with it, and I think it’s a great direction for us.”

And, as Parker sees it, there is no need for UFO to veer off course, not while the creative juices are still flowing.  “The band’s playing great, and sounding great, so I just hope it continues for as long as possible,” says Parker. “Everybody’s happy to be back and I think the band still has a lot to offer. We’re getting ready to start work on material for another album, so hopefully, in the new year there will be something out again – no. 21. So that’s something to look forward to, but yeah, I mean, we’ve got the greatest fans. They’re so loyal and they’ve stuck with us over the years. Hopefully, we won’t disappoint them.”

Just as working on an album like The Visitor didn’t disappoint Parker, who picked that album when asked which UFO studio LP he likes best – even though he says his favorite will always be the live effort Strangers in the Night.

“I’m pretty happy with the last one, The Visitor,” says Parker. “Yeah, because, you know, I love them all. You know, the fact that we can still turn out and play that good now … and I really enjoyed making the last one. It’s a different experience, these days, you know. It’s a lot quicker, and a lot more efficient, but I just think that after 20 studio albums to be able to turn out an album of that quality … and there are some great songs on it. I’m really happy with it.”

- Peter Lindblad

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