The first time I ever saw Paul Chapman, he was the size of an ant — playing to a capacity crowd in an Orlando football stadium with the legendary British hard rock band, UFO. While he was on-stage, shredding through a wall of Marshall amps and slinging a slew of B.C. Rich guitars, I sat way off in the distance, perched up in row ZZZ of Section 512. That was March 1982. I was all of 19 years old. Paul was a “kid” too, still only in his 20s.
A few months later, Paul was larger than life as we stood face to face one afternoon when he entered the Melbourne, Florida record shop where I worked. Long story short, Paul was in town visiting friends and they’d all popped in that day to show him the coolest joint in town. I found the Welsh-born guitar phenom to be an unassuming, easily likable chap, and we connected immediately. Yet, despite his charming demeanor, Paul WAS a bona fide international rock star — sporting real leather pants AND great hair. The accent was pretty cool too.
Paul first had a brief stint in UFO back in 1974, playing alongside guitar icon, Michael Schenker. After spending a couple of years in his own band, Lone Star, Paul returned to UFO in late 1978 — replacing Schenker. He remained with the band until 1983. During that time he appeared on four celebrated UFO studio records, No Place to Run (1980), The Wild, the Willing and the Innocent (1981), Mechanix (1982) and Making Contact (1983). Following his final tenure in UFO, Paul joined former UFO bassist, Pete Way’s new project, Waysted — playing on the albums, Waysted (1984) and The Good the Bad the Waysted (1985). By the late ‘80s, Paul had relocated to Melbourne to raise a family with his (then) wife and develop his next band. As a means of making ends meet, in the interim, he taught guitar at various area music stores.
Paul’s first noteworthy Florida-based project was a high-energy, melodic hard rock outfit called, Circus Circus. It now was 1989 and my band, Dead Serios, had become a top draw on the hometown club and concert scene. What impressed me most about Paul was his sense of humility. He never played the “rock star card.” To me, he was just another guy (albeit a really cool one with amazing stories), sloggin’ along with the rest of us locals. Paul came out to see Dead Serios many times. He even got up on stage and played with us occasionally. And in those instances, you could count on any random three-minute Dead Serios song actually being extended to ten minutes or more, as Paul loved to jam.
But whether it was at a Dead Serios show or just a casual “civilian’s” night, I always was psyched to see Paul out in a club. And if you happened to bump into him in the men’s room (very late) on any given night, you’d probably be the recipient of a sloppy kiss, a heartfelt bear hug and a couple of insider rock n’ roll tales. Truth be told, several descriptions that were used for years in Dead Serios press releases were Paul-breathed personal insights offered during our drunken nights sitting at the bar.
As a wide-eyed wannabe, I was in awe of the impressive gold albums displayed prominently in the foyer, the first time I walked into Paul’s house. He’d invited me over that morning to check out the new Circus Circus demo. Like a real-life episode of The Osbournes, Paul greeted me at the front door donning a bathrobe and perfectly coiffed “bed head.” These were the days before home CD burning was a thing. And as Paul ran off promo cassette dupes of the Circus Circus demo, he’d turn up the volume on his modest home hi-fi to the point of the speakers distorting. I was assured recently by a Chapman family member how that wasn’t an indictment of Paul’s hearing loss, he just really, really LOVED loud music. After previewing the demo, Paul led us into the kitchen where he fixed me bacon and eggs — kind of surreal, given how this story started out.
Paul remained very much in the game during the ‘90s. Circus Circus had morphed into Ghost with current Nazareth frontman Carl Sentance and Paul was back out playing live again and making frequent personal guest appearances at various Florida music events, all while continuing to give guitar lessons. In the 2000s, he was pursuing new ventures, including an ill-fated Waysted reunion and a stint touring with Gator Country, an all-star southern rock revival featuring original members of Molly Hatchet.
In 2010, I signed a publishing deal for my first memoir that recounted my unique exploits while touring as a personal assistant to a world-famous rock band. The initial concept was that the narrative would portray me as an ageing, bubbling buffoon, struggling to survive on tour in the rock and roll “big league.” Hence, I thought it would be a riot to reach out to a few of my rock star friends and ask them to contribute concise back cover quotes in which they’d “roast” me. So, I called my old pal Paul. In short order, he offered a six-word quote that was so hilariously graphic, my publisher put a kibosh on the whole idea. “Classic” Paul Chapman!
“Humbled” and “honoured” best describe my emotions when I learned that Paul was to be playing on my band’s 2015 tribute record, THEY’RE NOT JOKING: A Tribute to Dead Serios. The vision of Florida-based indie label, Ghoul Tone Records, the project was a charity effort to raise money for the Melbourne, Florida women’s shelter, Genesis House. The ten-song set included many of our best-loved tunes covered by an array of local and internationally-known music artists. Paul backed up popular Florida hard rock frontman, Ty Oglesby on our 1985 classic, “Harbor City.” In Paul’s honour, the song now is being released as an iTunes exclusive and can be heard currently on YouTube. All royalties from the single will be donated to Genesis House.
The tragic 2018 death of his wife Debbie dealt Paul a massively heartbreaking personal blow. And his 2019 stroke ushered in additional dark days. But they didn’t call him “Tonka” for nothing — the man was virtually indestructible. Despite losing significant use of his left arm, Paul endeavoured to make a complete recovery. Following extensive rehab efforts, he finally was able to resume doing what he did best — destroying a freaking guitar! I assumed naively that all now was well regarding Paul’s health — that is until I received a call the other night, apprising me of his passing, just a few hours earlier on June 9th, 2020, his 66th birthday. According to a Chapman family member, the official cause of death was cardiac arrest.
To legions of fans worldwide, he was a magnificent rock star — a guitar legend. To me, Paul Chapman simply was a cool guy on the local music scene, a genuinely sweet man and — my friend. I miss him already and I’ll miss him forever.