The untimely passing of Paul “Tonka” Chapman, the former UFO guitarist, on his 66th birthday has sent shock waves throughout the music world. Perhaps no one stated it more eloquently than his daughter, Brittany Jean when she posted the following statement on his Facebook page
“It is with a heavy heart writing this, today is my dad’s 66th birthday. He passed away earlier this afternoon. He was a brilliant, energetic, loving and most carefree person and the first man I ever loved. Everyone he came in contact with loved him – no adored him. I will keep everyone posted on his celebration of life. I appreciate everyone’s thoughts and prayers as his family grieves and processes everything at this time. I love you Dad. So much.”
In early 2015, I had been invited by Tracii Guns to go on tour and photograph his new band with Rudy Sarzo, named Gunzo. The planned 26-date tour included BulletBoys and Killer Bee from northern Sweden. Gunzo and BulletBoys shared a bus while Killer Bee traveled separately in their own motor home. The first show was at Club XS in Tucson on July 6th, which is where I first met Paul Chapman. When our bus pulled up, Killer Bee had already been in the venue awaiting our arrival. At this point I had no idea that Paul was in Killer Bee, in fact I didn’t know any of these Swedes. When I found out, I immediately sought him out just to say hi and introduce myself. Paul was with Andre Haggelund and Anders Ronnblom, the other guitar player and bassist in the band. Paul and Andre were known together as Batman and Robin. They may have been 30 years difference in age, but no doubt brothers. I could see that Paul was quite the mentor to these young musicians, and set a wonderful example with his patience and humility.
He was stringing his guitar when we met. I introduced myself as the tour photographer and shook hands. I think he could see the excitement in my eyes at meeting him. I’m sure he got that a lot. But I didn’t dwell and let him have his space and we began a month long tour that night that. I don’t think it took long for me to explain how big a UFO fan I was. My very first concert was the California World Music Festival at the LA Coliseum in the summer of 1979, where I saw UFO perform for the first time. Mind you this was shortly after the release of their classic double-live album Strangers In The Night featuring Michael Schenker. Thirty six years later, I shared with Paul that I saw this show and felt fortunate to see Michael perform that day. Paul then told the story of how he had replaced Schenker, had to step into those monstrous shoes, and it was he who played all Schenker’s parts that day and for the next 5 years as lead guitar for UFO. I was dumbfounded to say the least and felt extremely privileged that he would share this story with the “teenage boy” that watched him perform that day, so many years ago.
The tour got better and better as we moved across the country and into Canada, a second home to Killer Bee. Two members, drummer Morgan Evans and singer Brian Bee Frank, were Canadian citizens originally from Toronto. The tour continued back through to the Southwest U.S. , until the three bands’ alliance came to a fragmented end with bus issues on a Colorado highway. Regretfully, I never got to say goodbye to Paul on that tour.
My relationship with the Killer Bee band members continues to this day. While our paths never crossed again, Paul and I continued to correspond via social media and e-mail. It is with a heavy heart and the utmost respect that I share this story with you.
R.I.P Paul, my friend. You will be missed. My deepest condolences to your loving family, and the many friends you made around this world.
This story has been updated: 6/11/20