When guitar legend Michael Schenker left UFO in 1978, it wasn’t for the first time or the last time. But it was the most significant time.
“Strangers in the Night,” a brilliant live double album recorded with Schenker, made impact in 1979. It hit No. 7 in the UK charts and No. 42 in America. But Schenker was gone. Replacing a talent so prodigious would be problematic.
Enter Paul “Tonka” Chapman.
The Welsh guitarist had filled in with UFO before when Schenker went walkabout, and briefly played live with UFO as a second guitarist in 1974-75. He joined UFO full-time in December 1978 and remained until ‘83 when the group briefly disbanded. Chapman played on four of the band's LPs.
Chapman was later in several other bands including Waysted, the UFO offshoot formed by long-time UFO bassist Pete Way. (After UFO reformed under singer Phil Mogg, Waysted often had more members of UFO than UFO.)
Chapman didn’t quite have Schenker’s wizardry. But he had chops, he had feel, he looked the part, was a good songwriter and fit perfectly with UFO. Chapman was nicknamed “Tonka" – after the toy trucks that are made of steel – because he seemed indestructible despite his rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle.
Chapman and Way played a few gigs together in 2003. I saw one at a small club near Chicago. I had met Pete before and so went backstage after, and got to meet “Tonka.” He was lovely, and very accommodating to a star-struck UFO mark. As his son posted on Facebook, “Everyone he came in contact with loved him…no, adored him.”
Paul “Tonka” Chapman passed away yesterday. He was 66.
I saw UFO at the Stanley Theater in 1979. That was pre-internet, and even pre-“Kerrang” magazine for me. News traveled slow. I bought a UFO T-shirt. Chapman’s likeness had been photo-shopped over Schenker’s in a recreation of the “Strangers in the Night” inner gatefold. That’s how I learned Schenker had left UFO.
But as soon as Chapman ripped into the opening song – “Electric Phase,” if memory serves – I was over it. “Tonka” was brilliant, and served the cause very well.
Paul Chapman, R.I.P.
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