Former Gamma Ray bassist Uwe Wessel’s interview
Written by Kevin Tanza on September 17, 2021
Uwe Wessel is one of the most veteran journeymen in German Rock and one of the most reliable bassists that you’re going to find in that country. Mostly known for being the first bassist of the legendary Power Metal band Gamma Ray, Uwe has been on the scene since the late 70s, has been in several bands and has managed to leave his imprint and influence in all of them.
It was an absolute pleasure to be able to do this interview with Uwe because his work on the first two Gamma Ray albums, Heading for Tomorrow and Sigh No More, really speaks to me even to this very day. So it was a honor and while it took some time to make our schedules coincide, it was definitely worth the wait and I thank Uwe for this opportunity.
Gamma Ray’s Lust for Life on the Heading for the East live album
How are things going with you during this pandemic?
It’s slowly getting better, at least here in Germany. Unfortunately, a lot of people still want to be vaccinated. In this respect we still have to live with cuts in our daily life.
Let’s start from the beginning: How did you get into music when you were younger?
I learned my first fingerings on the guitar from my mother. She played shanties and all. When I was 12 years old, I got classical guitar lessons from our music teacher at school. When I saw the bands Slade and Deep Purple on TV, it was clear to me that I wanted an electric guitar and wanted to play Rock music. The bands blew me away! 🙂
How did you get into bass playing?
At first, as I said, I played guitar in the band and sang. However, I wasn’t a particularly good Rock singer. When I finished my apprenticeship as a retail salesman, I just wanted to make music and do it professionally. A relatively well-known band called Bullfrog was looking for a bass player and I switched from guitar to bass. It worked amazingly well and I got the job. I was 19 years old when I joined the band and played there from 1979 to 1982 until the band split up.
Who were the bassists that influenced you?
I don’t have a specific idol or anything… but if I should mention any, it’s Jim Lea (Slade), Roger Glover (Deep Purple), Billy Sheehan and some more.
How do you think you have progressed as a bassist throughout the years?
Oh, a lot has happened over the years. I started out as a Rock bass player in the classic sense. Many years later I got into a Heavy Metal band and I had to expand my style. A short time later I joined Gamma Ray and got faster and faster on the bass. That was also necessary with Gamma Ray. I kept my special groove, which is my real strength.
You started in the German Rock scene back in the late seventies. How was the scene back in those days?
When I joined Bullfrog it was really hard for us. Punk and New Wave were hot and it wasn’t easy for a Hard Rock band like us. We went to America and tried it there, but the success was modest and we decided to return to Germany.
Looking back on those years, how do you feel about the period of your career? The eighties.
In the eighties I was looking musically. After Bullfrog I played guitar again and was the lead singer in a mainstream Rock band. After that came a few more, but rather insignificant, bands. In 1984 I opened a Rock pub with a colleague in a small town called Wahlstedt in the north of Germany. That didn’t go well for very long, however, and in 1987 I decided to make music again.
In 1989 I finally met Kai Hansen and he seemed quite taken with my bass playing. In short, I got into the band and was a founding member of Gamma Ray, which was originally supposed to be Kai’s solo project.
You played in some bands during that time frame? Which bands were the most important to you and why?
Of course, Gamma Ray was the most important band in my career. But Bullfrog were also very important. I learned a lot there what it means to be a professional musician. I also felt very comfortable in the band Axe La Chapelle and my last band (before I got sick) Gothic Fate, as there was a very friendly relationship among the band members. Rad Kick was also fun. And with Pow Wow I had my most creative phase, as far as the compositions are concerned.
Music video for Gamma Ray’s Space Eater
Of course, you’re mostly known for your work with Gamma Ray. How did you get to know Kai Hansen?
Kai got to know the drummer Matthias Burchrdt and rehearsed with him and a bass player in the same rehearsal room as us. Matthias also played in our band, which we called Travental, after the village in which we rehearsed. It didn’t work very well with the bass player and so Matthias suggested me. As I said, it worked out very well from the start and I got the job!
A lot has been said about Kai throughout the years. How was he back on those days?
After a few years I can say that he was very fair to the other band members. He laughed a lot and was obviously comfortable at the time.
Uwe Wessel with Gamma Ray in the Heading for Tomorrow tour.
You were also playing with him when he was getting Gamma Ray together for the first time. What can you tell us about the band back in those early days?
First of all I have to say that Kai played the guitar so loud that it almost knocked me out! (laughs) He played so loudly in the small rehearsal room that you couldn’t hear the bass drums and Matthias played very loudly. We got along very well until Dirk (Schlächter) came along. I realized immediately that he would rather have my job as a bass player than start as a guitarist. In this respect there was always a bit of the scent of rivalry in the room. That wasn’t a big problem at first, but it became more and more obvious. I didn’t really have any major problems with the others. The first tour was awesome. We had a huge light show, the PA mixer was great as was the whole crew! And I had never played in front of so many people as in Japan in particular.
How was the process of recording Heading for Tomorrow?
Kai was heading for tomorrow. With one exception (Ralf’s Free Time) all songs were composed by Kai. He had produced an excellent pre-production, so we only had to bring in our own style. The recordings dragged on because Kai was also a producer and he was always dissatisfied with his guitar tracks. but in the end he was satisfied and I think it’s the best Gamma Ray album to date and not because I played on it. Otherwise I would say the same about the Sigh No More record, where I also co-composed some of the songs.
As you got older, did your perception of that album changed? Do you view it differently to when it was released?
At the time the album was released, I think it was perfect. Of course, something could have been done better in some places, but then it could have sounded sterile quickly. I’ll stick with it, it’s good the way it is.
What do you think of your bass work on Heading for Tomorrow?
Hard question… I am quite happy with it. In some places I could have brought in one run more or less, but it grooves and that’s how it should be.
How was the tour for that album? Any interesting anecdote?
As I said above, the tour was awesome! There were some anecdotes… E.g. I fell about 2 meters from the drum riser with the bass, but could fall so that apart from a few scratches on the bass and a bruise. Not much happened to me. Everyone looked at me in amazement and most thought it was a show! (laughs)
Gamma Ray’s Heading for Tomorrow in the Heading for the East live album.
You guys released a video concert of that tour in Japan, Heading for the East. What do you remember of that concert in Japan?
The first thing that comes to mind is that the director said we should not only wear black clothes, but also colorful ones. A point that I regret a little when I look at my clothes today. At the same time we were all full of adrenaline, but had to play the songs as clean and tight as possible. Nevertheless, improvisation was not neglected, as you can hear, for example, in the middle section of the song Heading for Tomorrow. I think you can see how much fun we had playing and recording the video. It was fucking great and the public awesome!
You played with drummer Uli Kusch, who later on joined Helloween. How was the experience of playing with Uli?
Playing with Uli was great. We became more and more a well-rehearsed team and I could guess which roll or break he would then play. He’s a fanatic, world class drummer. After Gamma Ray we played together more often, for example at Ax La Chapelle.
Changes by Gamma Ray
Based on what I read, the process to record Sigh No More was a bit more complex. What do you remember of the making of this album?
The preparations for this album were completely different to Heading… We went to Denmark, rented a house and composed day in and day out. There wasn’t much distraction there. I was able to incorporate two songs that I had already recorded and composed for Travental, as well as a few ideas in other songs.
Sigh No More was a band thing. In retrospect, I don’t like one or the other song anymore, for example Countdown. The production could also have been more “metallic”, but there are great moments on the album! I still really enjoy listening to it!
What do you think of your bass playing in this album?
I really like my playing and the bass sound on this album! I made the recordings with a rather unknown but very noble bass named Vigier. A wonderful instrument. It was very easy to play and had a great sound and that is still what makes it stand out.
Gamma Ray’s One with the World music video
You guys made a video for One With the World. What can you tell us about the experience of making that music video?
It was a lot of fun but very cold! We recorded it in Denmark and I think it’s a funny and very good video.
Eventually, you left the band. What was the reason behind that?
Officially it was said (as far as I can remember) that I didn’t get enough involved in the band. At the time, Gamma Ray were setting up their own studio and, according to Kai and Dirk, I was not sufficiently present. When Kai made the suggestion, I wouldn’t be involved in the studio, but I could stay in the band. Kai and Dirk were close friends even then and so I had to go. That’s it!
Angel of Sin by Gothic Fate
You went on to play in a couple of bands after that, the most important one being Gothic Fate. What do you think about the band in particular?
Gothic Fate was a good band. I really like the voice and the guitars on the album. Only the drummer had his weaknesses, even if it’s hard to say because I like him a lot.
It’s a shame the album wasn’t advertised more. I still enjoy listening to it today.
After having played in so many bands throughout the years, what are the biggest lessons that you have learned?
Practice, practice, practice. And always stay true to yourself and believe in yourself.
You also have your own radio show now, Radio Paranoid. How did that project started?
When it became clear in 2004 that I would no longer be able to play in a professional band for health reasons, I thought “What else I could do?” Finally, the idea came to me to open a web radio and also to act as a moderator and to make my music public. Founded with colleagues in June 2006, there were always minor disputes with my colleagues, so that a few months later I ran the radio alone. We also have a chat where people can exchange ideas, have organized or presented several concerts and have now existed for 15 years with all up and downs. We only play Rock, Metal and Gothic (at least 99%) and if you are interested, you can have a listen. You can find us at radio-paranoid.net 🙂
How is the experience of working in the radio?
As I wrote, there were a lot of up and downs. The best thing about Radio Paranoid is the cohesion of the moderators and regular listeners. We are a small family without using the cliché! I don’t want to miss anyone!
Any memorable experience in Radio Paranoid?
For a couple of years we held open air festivals on a larger area of a biker club. Unfortunately, one day we were no longer allowed to do this because Gema caused us a lot of trouble. Nevertheless, our meetings are always great!
Looking back on your long career, what was your favorite moment as a musician?
Really hard to say… I think the first Japan tour with Gamma Ray.
Thank you so much for doing this, Uwe. It has been a pleasure. Any last words for our readers? Where can we follow you on social media?
Thank you, my friend, and thank you for waiting for me for so long. I am planning a pure studio project with well-known musicians and various singers. I still have some very good songs in store from my past. Whether something will come of it that will be seen, and is up to the record companies.
And yes, you can find me on Facebook under my name Uwe Wessel. Keep on rocking!