Interview with Leo Lyons by Batttttty       www.strangers-in-the

Batttttty goes on safari with
Leo Lyons
Leo Lyons is best known for being the bassplayer with Ten Years After, and also for producing three of the finest albums ever made in the history of the universe - Phenomenomemonemonenom, Force It and No Heavy Petting.

He now lives in Nashville and is 'working on the road' again with Ten Years After - so as well as talking to him about Ten Years after, and Ten Years After almost thirty years after, we also discussed UFO which was about twenty-five years before. Then we talked a bit about the years in between and then we ended up talking about the future.
It's not as complicated as it sounds - it's just a space in time....
To start with, how did you get involved with UFO in the first place, and did the whole of your life up till then prepare you in any way for what The UFO Experience was gonna be like? I recorded Frankie Miller for Chrysalis Records in my home studio. On the strength of that and my work with Ten Years After I was given an afternoon in Chipping Norton studios with UFO to see what we could come up with. Chrysalis’s only interest in signing the band at that time was that they’d sold a few records in Germany. After the session UFO left to catch a ferry to a gig somewhere in Europe. Phil called me that evening from Dover to say they’d like me to produce their next record. The next day I paid for two extra hours in the studio myself, to re-mix the track. The song we cut was I believe ‘Give Her The Gun’ or something like that. You know I’m not at all certain if Schenker was in the band on that session or if it was Paul Chapman or Bernie Marsden. Errr.... well, they do all look alike, I suppose....

What was UFO like to work with?
I like working with children and animals and UFO were really pussycats at the time. By then I’d done thirty US tours and had already experienced or been through the excesses they were about to get themselves into. I enjoyed working with them.
Tell us some funny stories or nostalgic reminiscencisciscisisisisises of working with that sorry bunch of losers (we love 'em really) Pete Way’s elaborate excuses for being late would take up the whole interview! Excuses? From Pete? For being late? Surely not .... I remember tales of old ladies falling off of buses, him being witness to crimes and having to help the police, road accidents, alien invasions etc. Hahahhahaha, yeh, that's Pete!

Musically, did you feel they improved with each album you worked on with them?
I think the band's studio technique improved with each album. Whose idea was it to bring in a keyboard player for NHP? I suggested using Chick Churchill (TYA) on keyboards for a couple of tracks on ‘Force It’. UFO decided it was a good idea to have Danny in the band.

Did Danny really write On With The Action?
If Danny says he wrote the song, then I expect he did. I know I didn’t write it. Hahahahaha. OK then, Danny wrote it - it's official.
Did you all arrive at the studio with pretty much the finished product ready to record - or were there a lot of changes made to many of the tracks? I allowed for songs to evolve in the studio but we rehearsed a fair amount before going in. We had to. The recording budget was tight. We had only ten days to make ‘Phenomenon’. Fifteen for ‘Force It’ and probably only twenty for ‘No Heavy Petting’. We couldn’t spend the first week talking about getting a drum sound. We had to average three backing tracks a day. As the producer, what input did you have into the arrangements of the UFO choons? You were part of UFO's greatest era, putting together the classics such as Let It Roll, Shoot Shoot, Mother Mary etc. As UFO fans, we are proud of you for being part of that. How was it for you? We all worked on the arrangements and I never had time to keep a book on who suggested what. The band had lots of ideas, riffs and grooves. I’d take the rehearsal tapes home, listen to them, make changes and we’d move things around. I had them play the songs over and over until they felt right to me. The most important thing I wanted to capture was energy and excitement. Phil never finished lyrics until the last minute. Often we had only a working title for the song. It was like producing instrumentals and hoping it would all fit together later when we added the vocals.
If Phil were to ask you to work on the next UFO album... would you? Yes, maybe if I had the time. I wouldn’t let any of UFO near my daughter though if I had one! You think they would borrow her make-up and wear her clothes? Oh, I see what you mean. Yeh, best avoided, I agree... I produced a ‘Waysted’ mini album some years ago with Pete and Andy. It was nostalgic.

What was your favourite UFO album to work on? And what is your favourite to listen to these days? If you could go back and re-work any of them, what (if anything) would you do differently? What stopped that from happening? ‘Phenomenon’ or ‘Force It’ I played the ‘ UFO Anthology’ the other day. Some of the songs I can hardly remember recording. I enjoyed them with a fresh ear. Once completed, I can’t bear to listen to records I’ve worked on. I get too close to them and always feel I can do things better or different. I have to let things go for a few years. The records were as good as we could get them at the time. There’s no point looking back. Maybe one day someone will ask me to do a digital remix. That would be interesting.
Would you like to have produced Lights Out? Yes. At the time I was disappointed not to be not asked to produce ‘Lights Out’. UFO’s chart success notably in the States had taken Chrysalis by surprise. They’d under-shipped the records and had not committed to any real promotion. The impetus was lost. I was on tour with TYA and tried to do some radio promotion myself but it was too little, too late. In private, Chrysalis executives admitted to me that they’d "fucked up". To save face in public, as is the way with the music business, Chrysalis decided that the key to further success was to replace me with an American producer. Future recording and promotion budgets were increased astronomically and I understand that the ‘Extras’ bill on ‘Lights Out’ was larger than the money I’d been given to make the three previous records. Put that in your pipe and recoup it!


Schenker has that 'you-hear-one-note-and-you-know-it's-him' kinda quality. How easy was that to capture in the studio? What did you think of Michael Schenker as a guitarist? Schenker is a great musician and stylist. I think he’s one of the best melodic rock guitar players I’ve heard. Michael was a perfectionist, a precision player and worked everything out. For a solo to be memorable and a classic you have to be able to hum it. We’d spend many hours piecing together a definitive performance. After many, many passes I’d say "That was a great take Michael" and he’d reply "For you maybe, but for me it was shit" The rest of the band would go to the bar, we took the time to get it right.

What about as a person? Was he difficult to work with, apart from the language problems?
I’ve worked with many difficult guitar players but had no real problems with Michael. I liked him a lot. When we first started working together we spoke in German. I’d learnt it in school. Blimey (Gott in Himmel).

How do you feel about the way his life has turned out?
I’ve heard all the wild stories and I’m sorry it’s turned out that way for him and those around him. I think he must be a very frustrated person.
As a bass player yourself, what do you think of Pete Way's technique? (Technique??? Well, Pete reckons he has a technique!) He’s an exciting player and one of the foremost innovators of the heavy metal style of playing. I particularly admired the way he used spandex pants to enhance his live performances. Come on Nigel Tuffnell. Give credit where it’s due. Pete and I were the best of pals. He stayed with us many times at our farm in Oxfordshire where he greatly enjoyed drinking all our booze. Did you know Pete played my Fender Jazz bass on all on the records we made together? Wow!

Who are your favourite bass players?
I don’t know. There are so many good players around these days. When I first started playing I aspired to play like Elvis’s bass player Bill Black or emulate jazz bass players Ray Brown or Scott La Faro. What is your opinion of Bazzle Sparkypants, the lil blond bassplayer who has worked with Uli, Yngwie, Michael Schenker etc, and is now slumming it with Dokken even though he is capable of so much better and can play those Dokken choons with one hand tied behind his back - or even both hands tied behind his back. Even if you think he's a crappy bassplayer, what do you think of his excellent website ? Sorry I’m not that familiar with his playing although it seems he must be very good looking at his web site. He probably knows nothing about me either. Now you’ve shamed me into checking out some of his recordings. Result! There, I knew this interview wasn't gonna be a complete waste of time, hahahaha.

OK, tell us about Andy Parker..... Shadow? Will-o-the-wisp? Did you ever notice him in the studio? Did he ever speak?
Andy was an underrated drummer and a really nice guy. Way/Mogg used him as the butt for their unique sense of humor. It must have pissed him off at times. He and Pete worked well together as the rhythm section. They did indeed - a great team!
What about Chrysalis? Do you feel they did enough to promote UFO? Did they give you a proper recording budget? As I’ve stated earlier, no, not when I was involved with them. I thought that the band was way ahead of its time, and they deserved much more success. Did you know that some years after I finished producing UFO they asked me to manage them, which I considered for a week or two, but maybe that’s for another story. OK, we'll save that one for Part Deux! Talking of Ten Years After - how do you and the fellas all get on now, these days? Alvin doesn’t speak to me and won’t work with TYA. The rest of the band Ric, Chick and Joe our new guitarist/singer get on well and are touring, recording and having fun.

When you got back on the touring circuit with TYA was it like picking up where you'd left off? What major differences were there to the first time around?
It’s like the first time around, just as hard and even more exciting. We’re playing to a wide age group of people. Many young fans know us only from our records, film or TV appearances. We’re not an ‘Oldies Band’. We’re moving forward and intend shaking things up a bit.
How did the Ten Years After reunion come about? Purely by chance last April Ric, Chick and I were asked to do some Italian shows with American blues guitarist Carvin Jones. Double Trouble were to have done the tour but dropped out at the last minute. I like Italian food and readily accepted the gigs. At the request of the many TYA fans who came to see us we decided in August of last year to reform TYA. That's something all of us in TYA aside from Alvin have wanted to do for years. We have a new guitarist/vocalist Joe Gooch who is sensational. As you can see from the fan sites it's an ongoing thing. We're trying to reach all four corners of the earth and also the bits in between. We've a studio CD in the making which will be released in the autumn and a live DVD is scheduled for release in May when we embark on our first UK tour in twenty-five years. The FLASHBACK TOUR moves on through Europe and early signs are that it will end up in the USA just before Christmas. We want to thank everyone out there who has given and continues to give encouragement and support in our endeavors. I plan on touring at least for the next five years. It's not for the money. It's for the Hell of it.

What happened with Alvin? What caused the feud? From my point of view there's no 'Alvin feud' although I understand that Alvin and a number of people in his Fan Club are very pissed off at me, in particular, and the other TYA guys too for going out and gigging without him. Ric asked him many times to work with TYA. He didn't want to do it but he doesn't want us to do it either! Tough! Ric, Chick and I love playing together and fans wanted to see TYA out there touring and recording. We left it for over twenty-five years before taking the initiative. Life's too short and it's certainly 'About Time'. I'm doing what I want to do. I wish Alvin every success in what he wants to do.
What were your favourite TYA moments? And your favourite TYA tracks/albums? I’m almost ashamed to say it, but probably it was being the support band and blowing off the headline acts. I like a challenge. Favourite album? I hope it’s the next one but right now it’s the previously un- released ‘Live at The Filmore 1969’ CD which came out this year. I think it captures the band when it first had the fire lit under it.

The tour schedules you had were pretty gruelling back in those days - how did you survive all that?
I doubt anyone who dreams of being in a successful rock band would have any sympathy for me if I said how hard it really is being paid obscene amounts of money to tour the world. I consider myself very lucky. What’s the secret for survival? Balance out your life. When you’re not rocking - sleep, and when you’re not sleeping - rock. Don’t take yourself too seriously, keep your feet on the ground, consider other people and ‘Don’t do drugs, kids!’ Were there any hairy scary moments? The scariest moments have been the prospect of sitting at home falling to sleep in front of the television. Hahahahha, yeh, and having people draw on your face.
Talking of hairy scary moments, I see from your website that you are interested in the paranormal. Blimey. Does that include the 'other' kind of UFO? Bring us up to speed on some of this paranormal stuff - it sounds pretty interesting, even to a bunch of UFO fans who are used to seeing what could be taken for hallucinations. I’ve seen ‘ghostly phenomena’ all my life. As a child it bothered me. I thought I was going insane. In my late twenties I came to terms with my experiences and I’m in the final stages of writing a book called ‘The Reluctant Psychic’. You could call it ‘My Exorcize Book’ Groannnnnnn (and that wasn't the sound of someone walking through a wall). It does sound fascinating though - I do believe in all that scary stuff, and not just from waking up next to Mr. Bat all these years. You recently worked with Leslie West. How did that come about, and how was he to work with? Leslie telephoned and asked me to produce a blues record. He’s a very talented singer and guitarist and I agreed. He was recovering from a serious operation, which meant he was absent from the studio a lot of the time, which put extra pressure on me. When he was there our personalities clashed. I didn’t expect to be playing bass on most of the tracks. There were also label issues I was unaware of. It was not the most enjoyable experience of my life and I quit before the end of the project requesting my name to be taken off as producer. Would you like to give it another go? I enjoy Leslie’s music, I like him, but there are no plans to do any more work with him.
Did you choose to live in Nashville cos of the music scene there, or was it mainly because of the publishing deal? As a staff songwriter I was expected to live and work in the music community. There are some great players and studios in town and I’ve learnt a lot in the five years I’ve been here. It has been a worthwhile experience. Are you particularly into the 'Nashville sound'? I’ve always loved country music considering it to be, in its purest form, white man's blues. My first introduction to country music as a kid was the Jimmie Rogers record ‘He’s In The Jailhouse Now’. Who were your favourite bands Back Then.... and Now? I like all the classic country artistes Hank Williams, Patsy Cline, George Jones, Willie Nelson, Merle Haggard, Dolly Parton etc. Newer country acts I like are The Dixie Chicks, Patty Loveless, Trisha Yearwood, Travis Tritt - in fact too many to mention. I don’t like the ‘worst of the eighties pop country’ or the cutie girl and boy band epidemic that’s swept over from the pop world recently. I find it too homogenized. One A and R man recently told me that he was looking for ‘Honky tonk songs but with no drinking or cheating lyrics. I like songs that are about real life, bars, birds, booze and lost love. That's most of the UFO catalogue then, hahahaha.
What about the internet.... you broadcast your Day In The Garden gig to.....(did I read this right????) 57 MILLION people over the internet! Blimey! Do you think the internet is used to its fullest potential by people in the music business. The music business has been too greedy for it’s own good and the thought of losing control scares the hell out of them. It’s early days but I’m sure the big players will eventually find ways to tie up the loopholes, control the media, and safeguard their copyrights. Maybe we’ll end up with an un-crackable Internet jukebox that gets its dividends by subscription. What other ways do you think the internet could be used to promote music? I believe right now the web can be used to great effect by musicians with an established fan base to promote their own music and cut out some of the greedy middlemen. New acts still need the promotion that the record label advertising dollar buys.

How do you feel about this whole AudioGalaxy/Napster thannnnggggggg? Historically someone has always ripped off the little man. Downloading product is just another way of doing it. The minstrels of old played for shelter, food and a wench. And then God invented the agent and it all got too complicated. Hahahahahaha, yes indeed!

What's next on the Leo Lyons work/music agenda?
Right now my priority is working on the new TYA album and upcoming tours. The audience reaction so far has been great and the band has the enthusiasm it had in the beginning when we had something we wanted to prove to the world. Touring and playing live was always my first love. I retired from that at the age of twenty-seven considering myself too old. I thought I should to settle down to a proper job. A bit of a joke really the way things have gone round in a complete circle. Now twenty-seven doesn’t feel old at all. 27 feels old to me, darlin - I've been passing myself off as 23 for the last yhgrhghfdjvhdfknvf years. I still enjoy songwriting but not seven days a week and I’m always looking for recording projects that excite me. I’ve got the best part of two books written and started on a third but they’re on hold for the time being unless Hollywood calls or my agent reads this interview. I'll make damn sure he reads it!


Well Leo, many thanks, and good luck to you all on the Ten Years After tour. Boogie on!



Pictures from the Jaycats, through the Jaybirds and Ten Years After to the present day

Check out the TEN YEARS AFTER website with details of the new line-up and tour information
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All photos on this page are the copyright of various Ten Years After fans and fan-sites - big thanks for letting me use them here!
Also, thanks to my friends in SITN for contributing to the questions for Leo, especially Dicksy, Magnus, Padge etc.


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