Lights Out: Pete Way, 1951-2020

Pete Way died last Friday, aged 69 (August 7, 1951 – August 14, 2020). He died of complications following an accident he suffered two months ago.

Way was a bass player and songwriter, and original member of and with UFO through their height of their success. After leaving the band in the mid 1980s, he formed Fastway with Fast Eddie Clarke (ex-Motorhead) but could not stay with the project due to record company contracts. He formed a new group named Waysted and recorded several albums before returning to UFO.

In December 2014, The Concourse (back when Deadspin was worth reading) published this aptly titled article:

Spinal Tap IRL: The Brief, Sordid Reign Of ’70s-Rock Legends UFO

Let’s try something here. Here’s a song called “Hot and Ready,” by the band UFO. Give it a listen.

If this doesn’t rock your ass off—if you’re thinking, “Ehhh, maybe, I’m not sure”—then go back to nursing your IPA and nodding along to the Mountain Goats or Sam Smith or whoever. I can’t help you. But if you have the correct opinion—if you wonder, “Holy shit, that is an amazing solo, and it’s just the opening riff? Who is that?”—then you have uncovered one of rock ‘n’ roll’s greatest secrets.

In the annals of rock history, tucked way behind your Zeppelins and Floyds, just trailing your Big Stars and Thin Lizzys, but just ahead of your Raspberries and Budgies, there resides a band that only die-hards and full-on music geeks seem to truly appreciate (or even know): UFO.

At the height of their mid-’70s heyday, this hard-living, ass-kicking, spandex-wearing quintet rocked like few have dared to rock, even if few dared to rock alongside them. They boasted a haughty, combative frontman with great pipes; a hedonistic, polka-dot-pants-wearing bass player who made Keith Richards look like Debby Boone; and simply one of the best hard-rock guitarists of all time. They should have ruled the era when the amps were loud, the Camaros fast, the mullets magnificent and unironic. UFO put out five good-to-brilliant studio records that stand toe-to-toe with any of the great albums of that era; then, in 1979, they released their masterpiece, Strangers in the Night, a powerful, punishing live album with the visceral impact of a Jack Lambert clothesline tackle.

Emphasis in the last paragraph is mine.

That describes Pete Way and UFO perfectly. UFO had the songs and the talent, but they just couldn’t put it together. Their career highlight was 1979’s “Strangers In The Night”, still one of the greatest live recordings of all time. Here are a few more UFO highlights:

“Lights Out”

“Doctor, Doctor”

“Mother Mary”

“Love To Love”

I saw Pete Way play live once, and he lived up to the reputation. Iron Maiden played in Vancouver in 1986 (“Somewhere On Tour”), and they had Waysted as the opening act. Steve Harris was a huge fan of Pete Way and UFO, the music and sound had a huge influence on Iron Maiden. This was Harris’s way of paying tribute to his hero. I immediately went out and bought the debut album “Save Your Prayers”. The opening track “Walls Fall Down” still stands up, and though I’m not much into “power ballads”, I always liked “Black And Blue”.

Accolades, tributes and obituaries are coming from all over rock music: Ultimate Classic Rock, The Guardian, Music Radar, Louder Sound, New Music Express, and many others. Sea of Tranquility (a youtube channel covering hard rock and heavy metal) provides a thorough, kind and respectful obituary of Way’s career.