THE ULTIMATE FREEDOM
THE ULTIMATE FREEDOM
By: Tess DeFlori
Opening for bands such as, The Sex Pistols, Alvin Lee, Pat Travers, Blackfoot, Legs Diamond and other major rock groups, ULTRA is a home grown hard hitting classic rock band from San Antonio, Texas. Mixing southern blues, psychedelic rock and pro-metal, the band ULTRA rocked fans and friends on Friday night October 25, at one of San Antonio’s best known venues who hold on to the Armadillo World Headquarters tradition of promoting and featuring the best local talent.
Well-known, ULTRA had its beginnings with “Homer”, who was made up of some of San Antonio’s finest musicians. They continue to amaze audiences and players alike after 30 plus years. They are part of the Texas musical elite that found success as musicians, recording engineers and writers. Being a success in the industry even for a short time is difficult. To pass into legend status, is rare. In the 70’s when rock n roll was still exploding, they, as many bands do, went through changes. When Ultra’s line up and signature style evolved to its final incarnation a rich music heritage was born.
ULTRA, did not want to be known as a “cover band”, so they sought after management services that would maximize their opportunities to establish a national following. At that time, concert promoter Jack Orbin of Stone City Attractions was the “Go to guy”. Stone City had UlTRA exclusively as the opening act for many of the era’s most popular bands. Actually, Jack continues to promote! He re-united with UlTRA when he introduced them at the concert Friday night.
Between 1975 through 1978 ULTRA released one 5 track EP and recorded several demo tracks, which were never made public. Being an opening band can sometimes be a stepping-stone to stardom but this was not the case for these musicians. The band was never under contract and their roadies were receiving more pay than the band. To make matter worse, Disco had climbed to the forefront. The band members needed to get on with life, marrying, having children and earning a living. By 1978, the band had finally had enough and they decided to disband.
In 2000, Monster records acquired their demo album and contacted them. They re-mixed and put out a new album, which did great in Europe, China and in the Latin countries. Scott said that when visiting China, he found that they had hijacked their songs. Curiously, a song that was a foreign style to the band, “Hot and Cold”, was the most downloaded song for ring tones! The band has yet to see residuals on those downloaded songs!
During my interview with Scott Stephens, the Bass player, he said that in 2011, they received The Texas Legacy Music Award. I was present for this event and they sounded as if they had never stopped playing. Scott gathered the band members; they practiced and played at a local club before their induction. Scott said they were surprised when the club owner said the venue sold out and that the night would be standing room only. They felt prepared at last to perform in front of the two-thousand people, which took place at the Legacy Music Awards. This ceremony took place at a local venue in San Antonio and they played with The Bubble Puppy as well as other inductees on that night.
In writing this article, I decided to go to a friend to get more information about this band. Gary Hull a local stand out 70’s musician with the band “Thumb” and an author, who is currently working on his second book, provided me with some further insight on this great band. Gary said that he first saw Galen Niles, guitar player of ULTRA, at the Jewish community center. If you are a San Antonian you know that back then the center was located on a different side of town. Gary was 14 years old at that time! He said that the first song they played was a spot on version of the current top ten Led Zepplin hit “Communication Breakdown”. It was immediately obvious to Gary that he would need about 100 years of practice and some faster fingers to come close to Galen. Many players in town shared his same sentiment of Galen’s outstanding guitar playing. Even in the early 70’s, Galens fret work, and tonal command was daunting. He was to all the rest of the guitars players in town, their idol. Gary said that not much has changed where Ultra is concerned. Gary talked about how Ultra’s band members set the bar high for other musicians.
As the current line up demonstrates, Galen always attracted the best of the best to compliment his guitar work. Since the 70’s and currently, the ULTRA line-up consists of Scott Stephens (Bass), Galen Niles (Guitar), Larry McGuffin (Guitar) and Tom Schleuning (Drummer). These musicians have played together so long, they could change instruments and I doubt anyone could tell.
Getting back to Friday night October 25, Ultra was one of the co headliners with Bubble Puppy and The Krayolas. Ultra remains a local favorite. Tonight they brought the house down with Don Evans comic interludes and perfect vocal timing. This time we did not see Don ducked taped to a dolly and rolled on stage nor did we see him in a kimono…Too much to explain here, you just had to have been there. As usual, Galen delivered as promised. Larry is always a perfect compliment to Galen’s guitar work. The bottom end being the base and drums, made it possible for the rest of the members to soar on their musical selections for the evening.
As a rule, ULTRA is one of the only remaining San Antonio based rock bands that play all original material. Most of the audience can sing right along with the band. Just watch the audience at a concert and you will see their heads bob back and forth in perfect time with each tune. Ultra songs can be downloaded on I Tunes; CD Baby; and Sonic Bids. Take a listen back to the days of good old rock n roll!
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