I interviewed Pete Way just three times: Once by phone for a newspaper article, twice on radio. I met Pete in person on only five occasions, each time backstage.
Yet I have a fistful of stories about Pete. He made an impression.
*Pete had perhaps the best opening line of any interview in my program’s history: “Are we on the air right now? I’m kind of wrecked.” We were, and Pete was. But the interview was still great. Pete was often wrecked, and I wisely prepared for that contingency.
*In February 1984, I had a conversation backstage at the Civic Arena with Pete and Motley Crue’s Nikki Sixx:
Sixx: “We should form a band, Pete, just me and you, two bass players, that’s it, and they could pay us in cocaine.”
Pete (turning to fresh-faced 23-year-old me): “I’m not sure you should be hearing all this.”
Me: “Why? Are you afraid I’ll steal the idea?”
That night's backstage experience might be my height of cool: Some fat kid from Reserve Township hanging out with Pete Way and Nikki Sixx. I was in the photographer’s pit with Fin (the singer for Pete’s then-band, Waysted) and Motley’s Tommy Lee watching headliner Ozzy Osbourne. A few unspeakable things happened. I helped Motley get krell (slang for cocaine), so it was good for them. Put all that in my obit.
*In November 2000, guitarist Michael Schenker’s relationship with UFO disintegrated (again) onstage in Manchester, England. I went to the UK and saw that explosion (and the prior night’s show in Newcastle, which was fantastic), and found myself backstage afterward huddled with Pete and his wife, Joanna. Pete was jovial given the circumstance. (Pete was jovial given just about any circumstance.) Just another day at the office, I suppose. UFO was nuts when Schenker, Pete and singer Phil Mogg were all present.
A month later, Pete found Joanna dead from a drug overdose. Joanna was a doctor and former Playboy model. Pete’s orbit could be dangerous, not just fun.
*In 2003, Pete and guitarist Paul “Tonka” Chapman (who also played in UFO) played a small club gig just outside Chicago. I travelled from Pittsburgh to see it, UFO stan that I am. It was a brilliant show, and I sat backstage with Pete and Tonka after. No excess, no crazy stories, just a nice moment and a few beers with two musicians I had long listened to and enjoyed.
Tonka left us two months ago. Pete joined him Friday, passing at age 69.
Pete Way was a founding member of UFO and their bass player from 1969-82, 1988-89 and 1991-2008. He was one of the band’s key songwriters, composing the music for “Too Hot to Handle,” UFO’s biggest hit and the opening theme for my program. Pete also had his own band, Waysted, and played with Fastway, the Michael Schenker Group and Ozzy Osbourne. He was a dedicated fan of Aston Villa FC: His bass was emblazoned with the club’s logo.
Pete’s dress, playing style and stage mannerisms influenced countless rockers, including Sixx and Iron Maiden bassist Steve Harris. (UFO’s “Doctor Doctor” has been the introductory fanfare for every Maiden concert ever.)
Pete’s primary legacy is being the epitome of rock ‘n’ roll. For better or worse, nobody lived the lifestyle like Pete. Nothing exceeds like excess.
Pete got fired from Ozzy’s band by Ozzy’s wife, Sharon, because she felt Pete was a bad influence on Ozzy. Let that sink in.
Pete once featured on Hollywood Squares as “Mr. UFO.” It likely wasn’t the first time cocaine got used within the confines of those squares. But here’s betting Pete did the most.
One final story:
*My favorite vacation ever took place in 2006. The itinerary:
Tuesday, Nov. 21 – UFO at Carling Academy, Liverpool.
Wednesday, Nov. 22 – Liverpool 2-0 PSV Eindhoven, UEFA Champions League. (On the Kop!)
Thursday, Nov. 23 – UFO at Manchester Academy.
Saturday, Nov. 25 – Liverpool 1-0 Manchester City, Premier League.
Sunday, Nov. 26 – Manchester United 1-1 Chelsea. (A Liverpool FC fan’s delight: Neither wins.)
I won’t ever top that trip.
At UFO’s Manchester show, Pete irritated guitarist Vinnie Moore throughout. Not sure how – getting in his way, perhaps – but Vinnie’s aggravation kept growing. At one point, Mogg said, “We’re having a contest, and the winner gets to spend a day with Pete.”
“A day!” exclaimed Vinnie. “They wouldn’t last a ***kin’ hour!”
I could post dozens of videos featuring Pete with UFO and Waysted. But let’s go with UFO doing a studio re-recording of a song co-authored by Pete, “Cherry.” A pseudo-“live’ version from English TV show “The Old Grey Whistle Test” accompanies, as does “Too Hot to Handle.”
“Cherry” has a great bass line, especially the intro. It provided a nice moment at live shows: Pete got out front and in the spotlight for the start.
Pete Way, RIP.
I’ve often said that I wouldn’t fear dying if I knew for certain that I’d see my mother when it happens. I hope to see Pete, too. He’ll know where the fun is.
Thumbnail courtesy of Getty Images