Guitar legend Michael Schenker needs no introduction. He has had a storied career over the years and never fails to amaze fans all over the world with his skillful playing. He’s famous for playing his signature half black half white Gibson Flying V guitar. There are many guitar players over the years who have cited him as being a great influence to their playing such as Kirk Hammett (Metallica), Randy Rhoads (Ozzy Osbourne, Quiet Riot), and Dimebag Darrell (Pantera, Damageplan).
The latest album from the iconic guitar player is from a group he put together which is called Michael Schenker Fest. This first studio album from the group is Resurrection (Nuclear Blast Records) and features guest appearances from guitarists Hammett, Wayne Findlay (M.S.G., Slavior) and Michael Voss-Schoen. The album was released worldwide on March 2nd. The first and second song releases from the album are Warrior and Heart and Soul. Both singles are strong with a magnificent showing of Schenker’s natural talent.
Schenker rose to fame during his time in UFO by writing hits like Doctor Doctor and Rock Bottom, as well as Scorpions classics such as Lovedrive, Coast To Coast and Holiday, among others. In 1979, Schenker formed The Michael Schenker Group aka M.S.G. and released the following: Assault Attack and Built To Destroy, the live legacy One Night At Budokan as well as the McAuley Schenker Group’s Perfect Timing and Save Yourself. M.S.G. featured some of the best vocalists in rock including Gary Barden, Graham Bonnet (Rainbow) and Robin McAuley.
Screamer Magazine sat down with Michael Schenker to talk about a new album and all things music. Believe it or not, he did not ever set his sights on making a career out of music. “I never ever thought about making a career out of my music. I was simply having fun playing guitar. I never wanted to be famous, I never wanted to do anything other than have fun playing my guitar,” he said. All he ever wanted to focus on was the art of playing lead guitar, which has definitely paid off. He’s one of the most influential guitar players of our time. The first song he ever composed was with Klaus Meine, lead singer of Scorpions, when he was just sixteen years old.
Fame wasn’t something that came easy to Schenker. “I did Lights Out with UFO and it became a hit. I ran away,” he laughs. “All of a sudden I thought that maybe the fun is over now. It’s becoming a hit and now it’s becoming a must.” In 1978, after Strangers in the Night, he talked about how he had achieved both fame and success. It was time for him to decide which direction he wanted to go in his career. “I decided that I did not need that life of fame and success. I wanted to be in the spirit of music and focus on life…That time in my life was very rewarding because it was teaching me a lot.” That’s when he left Scorpions and created the Michael Schenker group.
When talking with Schenker it’s obvious that he is passionate about the art of music. “I had my own band and I was able to do things…to relax with my own vision. I did things that I wanted,” he said. In 1992, he moved to Arizona and dropped out completely. He worked in a recording studio and spent time creating music and jammed with other musicians. Schenker said that these were some of his most rewarding years, which he calls his experimental years.
Schenker’s guitar playing has evolved over the years. Ever since he was nine years old, his fascination of the guitar began. “When I was seventeen years old I made a conscious effort to focus on the art of lead guitar with full expression,” he said. He can hear his development over the years from the first time he picked up the guitar until now. “I decided to get out of the loop of rock ‘n roll and experiment,” he said. “My experimenting commercially was just me exploring. It really didn’t make me any money. It was just personal – getting things out of my system. Because of those experiments I have developed consistently. I still develop,” he said. When he lost his stage fright in 2008, he said that he started to develop even faster. Instead of practicing, he calls it play and discover. “I just have fun playing guitar. I don’t score. I don’t expect anything. I don’t compete. I do anything. I just create and I just have fun, and once in a while I bump into something that I love. I record that piece and put it on the side,” he said. “All of the music is fresh because I write from within,” he said. For Schenker, creating and exploring is something that he never stops doing. He is glad that he chose the path that he did. Schenker is definitely one who has been an original trendsetter for all these years. The fact that he has influenced so many guitar players speaks for itself.
Most people wouldn’t know that Schenker suffered from stage fright all of his life. “In 2008, all of a sudden something changed dramatically and I wasn’t scared to be on stage. I took that as a sign that I should be on stage playing rock ‘n roll,” he said.
Michael Schenker Fest came together when Schenker decided to bring all the musicians back who had played in M.S.G., particularly the different vocalists throughout the years. “I wanted to bring them all together…a band who stays together for forty years, they put all their energy in one name,” he said. Over the years there have been different musicians in the band, but that allowed for so much variety and diversity it helped catapult the band to international fame. “After taking a break from Temple of Rock, I decided to get all of the singers together and so I could perform a lot of my stuff with the original vocal sounds and if I put them all together into one center, it’s like having one band,” he explained. This is where the idea for Michael Schenker Fest came about. He has remained good friends with Meine and said that there might even be something that he will do with the Michael Schenker Fest in the future. Schenker is very excited for fans to see the group live. “We have a fantastic musician lineup,” he said.
Schenker spoke candidly about his composing and songwriting process. He really took the time to hone in on his craft and his guitar playing sounded like no other. “I became a trend maker when I was seventeen because of that…in the 80’s the sound was copied by a lot of musicians…my focus is on the art of lead guitar…I want to do the things as I see it and not like the recycled sounds that are out there,” he said. When creating music he says that he tries to paint the picture as clear as possible so people will know what he is trying to do. Songwriting is “the personality of the musicians,” he explained. “It’s a very unusual album with four singers…it’s something poetically that shouldn’t really work but it was meant to be. It was a lot of work because everyone lives all over the place, but it’s worth it and a lot of fun. It turned out excellent.”
One of the special guests on the album was Hammett, who has publicly called Schenker one of his biggest influences. “AC/DC’s manager had told me that Hammett was a big fan, and he always wanted to jam with me and connect with me but he never had the courage. So, eventually, they invited me to a T.V. show with Eddie Trunk and we jammed together and interviewed together. Two days later he came to a show and jammed with us live. Kirk became a friend,” he said. They performed on a song together and Schenker said he received a photo of Kirk Hammett looking like a 19 year old boy with the biggest smile. It’s amazing….it’s worked out great.”
Schenker wants people to know that “it’s a very colorful album…the singers who sang the most popular songs from Michael Schenker group, as well as all new songs. There are a couple of songs where singers sing together. Warrior is one of them and it turned out fantastic – I love it…there’s a lot of energy on this album…it’s a very refreshing album because you have these different singers…and you have combinations of the backing vocals, which gives the songs additional color and a different kind of chemistry.” He continued, “For the hardcore fan, it must be a blast listening to that.” He is very proud of this album because it is something new that no one else has ever done with the different lineups.
Michael Schenker Fest just wrapped up its first leg of touring by playing two and a half hour shows which included classics as well as new songs. Hopefully there’s more to come!
For more information:
Michael Schenker Fest (featuring three original singers) plus Michael Schenker’s Temple Of Rock Doogie White.
Michael Schenker – Lead/Rhythm Guitars
Gary Barden – Vocals
Graham Bonnet – Vocals
Robin McAuley – Vocals
Doogie White – Vocals
Ted McKenna – Drums
Steve Mann – Guitar/Keyboards
Chris Glen – Bass