There are few guitarists in the rock industry that tout the extensive history held by German guitarist Michael Schenker.
Often cited by many guitar legends as one of their biggest influences, Michael Schenker is arguably an underrated musician. But while he often doesn’t receive the same credit as many of his peers, any fan worth their salt understands his huge contribution to the genre of rock. Whether it’s his work with the Scorpions, UFO, Michael Schenker Group (M.S.G.), or now Temple of Rock, the guitarist has a sound that is recognizable in an instant.
Schenker is one of those artists who’s demonstrated immense musical talents alongside a few moments of reckless abandonment.
But along the way, Schenker has also laid down some of the most killer solos in rock, and been part of at least a couple of the most popular bands in the world.
Throughout the 80’s, Schenker made some brilliant records with rising vocalists Gary Barden, Graham Bonnett, and Robin McAuley.
In 2016, he returned to Japan to record Michael Schenker Fest Tokyo, a special Blu-ray/DVD, 2-CD set that features all three vocalists and covers material from Michael’s first 20 years in rock. The DVD is set to release Friday, March 24. The official trailer can be found on the inakustikPR YouTube page.
This week, Screamer Magazine caught up with Schenker in England to chat about the upcoming DVD, his career, and what happens next for the guitar legend who helped shape the sound of heavy rock music.
Schenker began making his mark on rock and roll when he began playing guitar as a teenager. The younger brother of Scorpions guitarist Rudolf Schenker, Michael had an innate sense for creative and inspired fretwork, which was highlighted on the band’s first album, Lonesome Crow.
But before the fame and the glory, Schenker was just a boy who loved music.
“If I wouldn’t have been playing guitar, it would have been something else,” said Schenker. “I was drumming on stuff when I was five, singing when I was three and it was always about music for me. I was playing the piano with my mom, violin with my dad. One day, I noticed there was a guitar in the room and I was curious. I put my finger on the guitar strings and I was amazed what came from it. I was very active and listening to the radio and I started copying songs on the radio and I started to teach Rudolph, my brother, and I developed incredibly fast. When I was 15, Rudolph and myself, we joined the Scorpions along with Klaus… joining the Scorpions made it possible to record their first album when I was 15-years-old and it became immediately recognized internationally. Because of Klaus and me being 15-years-old, the guitar was almost bigger than me. And actually, some of the songs, like In Search of the Peace of Mind, I actually wrote all the music and never got credit. So I guess, being seven years younger than the others didn’t help. But, that was the beginning of the Scorpions,” said Schenker.
He quickly took an uncommon stance in a music market which was often oversaturated with common sounds and developed a way to write a more genuine brand of music—the kind of music which parted from the trends and fads of the time.
“The thing is, I stopped listening to music when I was 17,” said Schenker. “I knew I had to stop listening to music and copying people and should do it the way that I see it and focus on the art of lead guitar and self-expression. I knew that that’s what was important. If you have something to share with the world… it comes from you and only you know about it. If you don’t open up and share it, nobody will ever find out about it. Individual people, we have our own colors. If we don’t share those colors, they will stay inside. So I knew that if I do things more based on pure self-expression, meaning the way I see it, I’m the only one that can let that color out because I’m the only one who has that color. Everybody has their own, so I make sure I’m adding new colors to the world for the last 43 years. I don’t listen to music anymore and so every time I make a new album I sprinkle new fresh things that come from the infinite world that’s endless. It’s like a kaleidoscope. You can shape it. There’s always a new combination and so it’s from the spirit within yourself. You can always come up with something new if we decide to go there. But many people decide to copy trends and use that until the trend is dead and then they move onto the next one. I never run out of stuff because if you do what I do you automatically create your own style… Everyone else was in the machine copying each other. Making sure they stayed on top of the competition. I’ve never been part of the competition. As an artist, you don’t compete. Music cannot be used as competition, as far as I’m concerned because art is just an expression.”
In 1972, he moved on to join British up-and-coming band UFO, which had been largely a progressive band up to that point. With UFO, Schenker became an international sensation, steering the band away from their early leanings towards an edgier hard rock sound.
Schenker’s arrival at 17 years old helped launch the band on the strength of iconic hits like Doctor Doctor, Rock Bottom, and Lights Out. After recording UFO’s live Strangers in the Night album in 1978, Schenker returned briefly to the Scorpions for their Lovedrive album, but he ultimately shied away from the spotlight to focus on his own music.
Schenker rejoined Scorpions for a brief time after leaving UFO, but soon realized he wanted to focus on his own thing. He left again the following year.
“Some people are in the music business to make money and to become famous, but that’s not my place. I tasted enough of it from my time in UFO and I left and I knew that it’s nice but I don’t need to be there. I’d rather have fun with playing guitar and do what I want to do and when I want to do it. I want to experiment with music and have fun with it, you know? Instead of changing things and making it how other people want it to be when you’re not even into it. That’s why when I left Scorpions… I was not interested in anything big because anything big means pressure and it has to be done in a certain way… With UFO I had enough of a taste of the success and all of that and I’m grateful that I was able to taste some of it because I was able to let go of it. I knew it wasn’t for me. Some people chase that kind of stuff and when they get there it’s not really what they wanted. But, for me, I made a decision and decided I’d rather be free and just focus on the music and I basically opened the door for the Scorpions for America and then I split up and started my own thing,” Schenker explained.
But even when Schenker wasn’t looking for fame, fame had a way of finding him. Despite his wish to escape those high-profile projects, Schenker was approached by many notable artists throughout the years, such as Ozzy Osbourne, David Coverdale of Whitesnake and Deep Purple, and AC/DC’s Music Manager Peter Mensch, in efforts to organize joint projects.
“Every time I wanted to do something small and be humble, people were looking for me, trying to make discs with me. Ozzy Osbourne, Whitesnake asked me and it never stopped all the way until 1991. That was the first time I really found a way to escape from everything,” said Schenker.
In 1979, Schenker formed The Michael Schenker Group, later changed to McCauley-Schenker Group. He moved away from the commercial sounds of his past and began embracing his experimental side.
Schenker later shifted his focus towards various other projects including a brief reunion with UFO, M.S.G and other endeavors.
In 2011, he was ready to embrace his hard rock past and released a debut album for Temple Of Rock.
The band has had several lineup changes over the years, but the most recent features Schenker joined by former Scorpions members Herman Rarebell (drums) and Francis Bucholz (bass), plus guitarist/keyboardist Wayne Findlay and powerhouse vocalist Doogie White (Tank/La Paz/Rainbow).
More recently, Schenker joined forces once again with former M.S.G. vocalists Barden, Bonnet and McAuley— a feat which produced the footage shown in his upcoming DVD.
“We started off three years ago, Temple of Rock, when I was playing in Japan and promoted the idea of M.S.G. opening up in Japan with Temple of Rock and the idea was that Graham would sing a couple of songs with us… and I was like this could be possible with Gary and Graham and they were more than happy to join… We have very, very unique connections between all of us. It was pretty difficult in the beginning, you know, you have to fly people around. It’s so expensive. I keep driving up to make sure that they have their stuff together and I kept double checking with them. I would be driving up and down the UK. I just put my amplifier in the back with the guitar… and when we’d play I’d always feel good because I know that everybody knows their stuff… It’s started to get a momentum going. At first, it gave me more anxiety, but now I’ve become more comfortable with it and I have confidence because my organization is running well and it’s all going into a good direction,” said Schenker.
Much like his fans, Schenker said he can’t wait to unveil some of the footage from the reunion. The DVD features footage from one of their sold-out shows, August 24th, which was held in Tokyo.
“It’s going to be fantastic. It’s taking all my most popular music and especially UFO stuff and Scorpion stuff, as well. The main thing is it’s a fantastic album, it was a fantastic night. The audience was happy, it was recorded really well and we played really well. There’s so much stuff there, it’s unbelievable,” said Schenker.
According to Schenker, he has enjoyed the creation of his history as a musician up to this point and can’t wait to see what the future has to offer.
“We are already putting tours together for October in Spain and, in America, there is something developing, as well. We can get a really big group tour together, bigger promoters and the same here in the UK and France and Spain and Germany. We’re working on and I just want to make sure everybody is in great shape… Hopefully, we’ll get more stuff to start a European tour. I’m very happy with the development of everything. I’m celebrating my life. I’m celebrating the third part of my life. The first part was the unconscious part the second part is to learn and now I have learned and now I’m ready to celebrate. Sooner or later, this is all going to be just a memory so I also want to take my guitar playing to the next level and I think people understand guitar playing… now worldwide, my fan-base is getting bigger by the minute. It’s amazing that right now everything is speeding up,” said Schenker.
Schenker will be joining forces with McAuley, Barden, and Bonnet and other artists of his past for several rock festivals, starting in May.
All show dates will be posted to Schenker’s website.