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Pete Way: the life and times of the ultimate badass bassist

Pete Way onstage with UFO in 1977
(Image credit: Armando Gallo / Getty Images)

The bass-wielding, shape-throwing co-founder of UFO, Waysted, Fastway and latterly his own group the Pete Way Band died in August the age of 69. Way’s Facebook page posted that he had “sustained life-threatening injuries in an accident two months ago but fought hard until finally succumbing to those injuries”. 

His wife Jenny later revealed that Way fell down the stairs at their house in Bournemouth, and on admission to hospital was put in a medically induced coma. “The first night [the doctors] told me he wasn’t going to make it,” she told a radio interviewer. However, eventually he regained consciousness. By that point, Jenny revealed, “he didn’t know who I was, or who [his beloved] Aston Villa were”. 

“I thought Pete would outlive all of us,” UFO drummer Andy Parker commented sadly. “I can’t imagine a world without Way.” 

Never a man to turn down a party or an opportunity for high jinks, Pete Way was married six times. He lived several lives in one. His bass-playing style, songwriting ability and explosive stage presence marked him out not only as a colourful individual but also as a hero to a future generation of bass guitarists.

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Born in Middlesex, Peter Frederic Way tolerated school. “I gravitated to the kids who were there to be caned,” he later admitted. He and guitarist Mick Bolton formed The Boyfriends, and then in 1968, with the addition of Andy Parker and rookie vocalist Phil Mogg, Hocus Pocus were born. 

“We had a place in Bounds Green,” Mogg recalls. “Pete and I shared a room and a bed. It was so cold that we wore our clothes at night. We got day jobs to finance the band. I had my gig as a carpet layer, but Pete lasted just three days pumping gas at a petrol station.” 

Renamed UFO, they set out playing pub gigs, but progress at home was slow. To their astonishment, the band’s prototype space-rock sound became popular in Japan, where they visited in 1971 and recorded a live album. 

“We played crap places like the Forester’s Arms in Bermondsey,” Mogg recalls. “Our goal was to get to the Marquee. When we did that it was: ‘Wow! We’ve made it.’ We went from that bedroom in Bounds Green to bigger venues, Japan, stadiums, but nothing really changed. The people involved didn’t change, things just got more excessive.” 

UFO’s personnel changed, though. Bolton was replaced by Larry Wallis of Pink Fairies fame in ’72, and future Whitesnake guitarist Bernie Marsden played with them before the discovery of the talismanic Michael Schenker in June ’73. The addition of the 18-year-old German for UFO’s album Phenomenon helped to take the band to a whole other level. But of course any successful rock band builds a profile and earns its stripes on the road. 

Pete’s wife at the time was less than understanding in this regard. There’s an apocryphal tale of Way going out to buy a newspaper, meeting the tour bus at the end of the road and going to Europe for six weeks, then calling her from Dover to claim that bumping into the boys had been a coincidence and he forgot to tell her. “It’s true,” Mogg confirms. “She actually wanted him to [leave the band and] become a postman. That’s why he jumped ship.”

On another memorable occasion Way bowled up at rehearsal wearing a pair of desert boots that were three sizes too large. 

“His wife had hidden all of his shoes, so Pete walked barefoot for a mile and a half to his pal John Fiddler’s house and borrowed those boots,” says Andy Parker. “Nothing would keep that man from rocking.” 

Later on, in Waysted days and with his passport confiscated by another spouse, Pete headed off armed only with a copy of the band’s latest LP. 

“That’s me,” he would casually tell puzzled border controllers, pointing to his photograph. The disbelieving officials would let him through simply to shut him up. 

“I have it on good authority that it happened,” says a laughing Danny Vaughn, Waysted’s second frontman and later of Tyketto. “They even stamped the album cover. In a funny postscript, Tonka Chapman tried the same thing getting into Switzerland. We had to bail him out of jail.” 

With Way, Mogg, Parker and Schenker at the core, the addition of keyboards (at first by former Heavy Metal Kids member Danny Peyronel, and then, more enduringly, Paul Raymond, who doubled up on rhythm guitar), UFO’s albums grew ever more successful. 

UFO’s 1975 album Force It was plucked from the import racks at a record store in Berkeley, California by a 15-year-old named Kirk Hammett. All these years later and now the guitarist with Metallica, Hammett jammed on stage with UFO in Hollywood on last year’s Last Orders farewell tour. Hammett’s life was transformed by the album’s opening track, Mother Mary

“This was a whole different type of hard rock – it was heavy but super-melodic,” he tells Classic Rock. “Pete’s role was to embellish those songs and make them even more catchy, but in an extremely tasteful way. That’s what made him stand out from the crowd. You knew right away that he had been involved with Too Hot To Handle, Shoot Shoot and of course Cherry. He had real swing and bounce.” 

As well as UFO’s musical prowess, they also looked great. Way sported an eyeball-singeing array of stripes and polka dots as he covered every inch of the stage, sometimes crash-landing and sprawling horizontal for minutes at a time.

By the time of Lights Out in ’77, UFO were making waves in America, where they opened for Rush, who were touring A Farewell To Kings. Although Rush didn’t fully share UFO’s hedonistic streak, the two bands got on famously. 

“On one occasion when we played Xanadu, Pete and Phil snuck up through the dry ice and nailed a pair of slippers to the stage beside my foot pedals,” Geddy Lee says with a smile. “Pete fell off the stage twice during that tour. We were in our dressing room, and his bass just vanished from the mix – ‘Uh-oh, Pete’s gone over the edge again.’ 

“Pete and I spent a lot of time together on the tour and I enjoyed his company,” Lee continues. “He was a very different kind of musician to me – this guy in skin-tight pants with his shag haircut and playing his big Thunderbird bass, with a really heavy bottom end. He described it to me once as ‘three-quarters nice, one quarter not very nice’.” 

Blue Öyster Cult guitarist Eric Bloom recalls being on an internal US flight with UFO, and Way standing up to lead the entire plane in a chorus of Happy Birthday

“And it wasn’t even my birthday,” he says, laughing. “Once, I checked into a hotel and was handed a telegram from a famous actress telling me how she couldn’t wait to meet me… Fucking Pete Way.” 

Obsession propelled UFO further, and had Schenker not quit following their double live album Strangers In The Night a shot at the big time was theirs for the taking. UFO’s hedonism was reaching its peak and Schenker and Mogg had been at one other’s throats. Bringing in ex-Lone Star guitarist Paul ‘Tonka’ Chapman, who had been in the band briefly before, ramped up the excess. 

“On tour, we wrote the drugs off as medical expenses,” Way told Classic Rock in 2013. “No one questioned it, until one month when we tried to claim 28,000 dollars in medical expenses. That’s when someone said: ‘Hang on, what’s all this?’”

Def Leppard singer Joe Elliott had seen the band live around the time of Obsession, but an enduring friendship began when he met Way after a gig at Sheffield City Hall. 

“We ended up in the hotel bar until it closed,” Elliott recalls. “And Pete was hungry.” 

Suffice to say the greasy spoon they visited had not seen Way’s type before. “He was wearing the leopard-skin print coat from the cover of No Place To Run, plastic ‘leather’ trousers and way too much mascara, which was by now plastered all over his face,” Elliott recalls, laughing. 

In 1982, frustrated by a lighter, poppier sound displayed on the album Mechanix, Way quit UFO. At the same time, guitarist ‘Fast’ Eddie Clarke left Motörhead, and the two joined forces. 

Well, that was the plan. Most of the hard work had been done. The band, Fastway, got a contract with CBS records, found an amazing lead singer (unknown Irishman Dave King), enticed former Humble Pie drummer Jerry Shirley out of retirement and persuaded Hendrix/Led Zeppelin associate Eddie Kramer to produce their debut record. 

Ultimately, Way vanished into thin air before a single note of music was laid down. When he reappeared he was in Ozzy’s live band. (Unable to extricate himself from his old UFO contract with Chrysalis, Way had decided simply not to break the bad news to Clarke.) Six years later, Way and Clarke happened to meet outside Clarke’s home in London. 

“Pete came in for a cup of coffee and a chat and it was like old times,” Eddie recalled. “But I thought it best not to ask why he’d left Fastway the way he did.”

Ozzy’s deal was simple: five thousand pounds a week plus daily expenses, and as much fun as you could possibly have. But it was too dangerous to last, and following a short British tour Way left and formed his own group, the aptly named Waysted. He also began to produce music for other artists, and oversaw Twisted Sister’s debut Under The Blade and albums for the Cockney Rejects and Wraith. 

Way once explained his method of production: “Mostly I stood around with a beer, yelling: “Louder!” or “Quieter!” 

Waysted got off to a good start with Vices, although band members came and went and Way felt pressured into making music with an eye on the US market. He certainly had fun in Waysted, where he was eventually joined by Chapman, Raymond and Parker. 

Waysted accepted an offer from Iron Maiden bassist Steve Harris to support Maiden on the British leg of their Powerslave tour. At Hammersmith they were joined on stage by a spectacularly refreshed Ozzy Osbourne – having spent an afternoon on the “waffle dust” with Pete – who sang Paranoid while wearing a dress and a WWII German army helmet. 

Steve Harris believes he first witnessed UFO in 1974, but he and Way didn’t meet until several years later, by which point Harris was on the verge of stardom with Iron Maiden. Harris says that inviting Waysted out with Maiden felt like repaying some sort of debt. 

“I had looked up to Pete, without a doubt, and it was nice to find out that he was a bloody great bloke,” Harris tells Classic Rock. “Of course his style rubbed off on me. I loved the way he used to move on stage. He was such an important part of one of my favourite bands.” 

After Waysted broke up in ’87, Way re-joined UFO for a couple of years. He and Mogg put the band back together permanently in 1991 for the following year’s High Stakes And Dangerous Men.

As a writer for RAW magazine, years ago, across the course of many assignments I was thrilled to develop a friendship with Pete. Once, in a boozer in Carnaby Street, it got to his round. He told a brilliant shaggy-dog story about royalties being paid alphabetically, and with ‘W’ being closer to the end of the alphabet than the start his hadn’t come in yet, but he was expecting them any day. Could anyone lend him a tenner until then? 

On another occasion, as we entered another alehouse, Pete warned: “I’m not really drinking.” When I ordered a pint of strong, ice-cold cider, he announced: “I’ll have one of those.” 

“But you’re not drinking?” 

“It’s only apple juice, isn’t it?” he replied with that twinkle in his eye. 

Then there was the time he invited us all back to a party at his house in Birmingham – after a gig in Bristol. When he lived in Ohio, Pete would call in the middle of the night to discuss the football scores, without a care for the time difference. 

“The Villa were losing three-nil at half time,” he once told me, “so I had to take some heroin.” 

Tesla’s Brian Wheat was another who befriended Way during the 90s. Having caught UFO’s Phenomena tour, Wheat played a Gibson Thunderbird in honour of his hero. Once, at Pete’s house in Birmingham after a few too many, the pair had a competition to see who could throw the coolest rock-star shapes. 

“We were drinking Carlsberg Special Brew, and that shit paralysed you,” Wheat recalls, laughing. “We were playing High Stakes And Dangerous Men at top volume, and Pete got so carried away he fell into a lit fireplace.” Wheat and Hammett’s affection for UFO runs so deep that when Tesla and Metallica shared management, they discussed forming a tribute band together. 

Way remained with UFO for several more albums, including Walk On Water in 1995 and the following decade’s Covenant and Sharks. But for obvious reasons it was getting increasingly difficult to obtain visas for the US. With the band needing to work there, they hired temporary replacements. In the end it was decided that Way should not return to UFO. 

Having been friends since the age of 17, and collaborated together outside of UFO as Mogg/Way, this was no easy decision for Mogg, who freely admits to missing the bassist’s presence in the group. 

“Without a doubt, all of the pranks slowed down,” he says. “And I no longer had cover; I took the full brunt of everything alone. Before the show, Pete used to say: ‘Right, we’re about to take out Cleveland’, or ‘Let’s make the headline band quiver.’ Those were his war cries, and he would announce them in a very dramatic fashion.”

Towards the end of his life Way battled ill health, undergoing treatment for prostate cancer in 2013 and suffering a heart attack in ’16. The following year’s tell-all autobiography, A Fast Ride Out Of Here: Confessions Of Rock’s Most Dangerous Man, was a litany of booze, infidelity and expensive divorces, not to mention the loss of wife number four, Joanna, who died of an overdose while he was on tour. 

I was among those who frowned at an increasingly frail Way touring as a non-bass-playing frontman for the Pete Way Band. Becoming a lead singer isn’t an art you can simply pick up. Although he gave it everything he had, it wasn’t enough. But that was Pete – he loved music and needed to be in the spotlight. 

“If only Pete could have gone out playing bass, but it was eyesight and arthritis that stopped him,” explains drummer Clive Edwards, who along with fellow former UFO man Laurence Archer on guitar provided the backbone of the Pete Way Band. 

“To have played bass and be unable to do so at his usual stratospheric level would have been a crime, but he had to get back on stage or he had nothing to live for.” 

“At the time of Pete’s death he should have been in Japan,” says Jenny Way. “It [the virus] didn’t contribute to his death, but it put him in the wrong frame of mind.” 

Ironically, having spent eight years on Way’s solo album, Walking On The Edge, Guns N’ Roses producer Mike Clink had just completed the project, which features cameos from Slash and Nikki Sixx. A release date has not yet been set. 

During Mogg and Way’s time apart there wasn’t a great deal of contact between the two of them. When Classic Rock’s Geoff Barton interviewed the pair separately in 2008, Pete asked Barton to take photographs, because he was banned from visiting Mogg. 

“There’s a reason for that,” Mogg says with a smile. “I once said flippantly: ‘If you’d ever like to come over…’ and within a week Pete turned up on my doorstep with a suitcase and his wife Bethina. They stayed for nine months."

Quireboys frontman Spike, who became best pals with Way during his latter years, relates a heart-warming tale. “One day I told him how much I missed my son who was living in Canada, and he dragged me into a travel agent and bought a first-class ticket for him to visit. I was choked.” 

Mogg and Way reconnected last year when UFO and Pete’s band both appeared at the Sweden Rock Festival. “It was one of these relationships where we picked up right where we left off. I’m so glad we had that opportunity,” says Mogg. 

“You can’t help but miss someone like Pete Way when he’s not around because he was such a sweet, likeable guy,” says Andy Parker. 

When asked how big a part Way played in UFO’s success, Mogg and Parker are categorical. 

Mogg: “Pete was a cornerstone. He co-wrote some of our biggest songs. Whereas I might go off in another direction, Pete fiercely maintained his rock roots.” 

Parker: “In some ways, and not to detriment Phil, Pete was the frontman of UFO. He was up there laying on the floor, or right up there at the front of the stage. And that presence came naturally.” 

Mogg cannot give his favourite Pete Way anecdote, simply because there are too many. “We had a nice, continuous flow,” he says with a chuckle. 

After a while he recalls: “Pete and I were at the Sunset Marquis Hotel in Hollywood, and we found out [60s skiffle star] Lonnie Donegan was staying. We put some dustbins outside his room and then sang [Donegan’s hit] My Old Man’s A Dustman up to his balcony. Lonnie stuck his head out the window to call us cheeky Cockney gits. Anyway, Pete ended up playing on his record Puttin’ On The Style.” 

The deaths of three key members of UFO in the space of just 16 months, four if you include Larry Wallis, is tough to accept. On the day that Classic Rock speaks to Mogg the singer’s mood is sombre. 

“I’ve been going through old photographs, because Brittany, Tonka’s daughter, asked me to do a tribute for his memorial. And of course there were tons of Pete,” he sighs. “There’s one of us all on a beach together: me, Pete, Paul [Raymond] and the other Paul [Chapman]. Everyone has their arms around one another. It’s lovely.” 

He falls silent for a moment before concluding: “Didn’t we have some fucking great times?”

Pete Way onstage

(Image credit: Armando Gallo / Getty Images)