Episode 33: Michael Schenker
Michael Schenker is a changed man. With a career stretching back to 1969, the German guitar virtuoso is an artist for whom the term ‘volatile’ has sometimes seemed invented. Recorded with singers and musicians associated with Michael in previous decades, the aptly-titled Resurrection sees Schenker embracing his past to build something fresh and exciting. We had a brief window of time to chat with the legendary guitarist about where he draws inspiration from, the new project and more.
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Michael Schenker was born the 10th of January 1955 in Sarstedt near Hannover, north Germany. He is the 6.5 years’ younger brother of Rudolf, who is still with the Scorpions and 2.5 years older than his Sister Barbara. Michael started playing guitar in 1964 at the age of 9. He joined his first band aged 11. When he was 14, in 1969, Michael got together with singer Klaus Meine and started a band named Copernicus.
In 1970 when Michael was 15 and Klaus 21 they joined the Scorpions achieving instant international recognition with Michael’s unusual talent as a 15 year old lead guitarist and Klaus’s distinctive vocals. This created the platform for International success for the Scorpions with their first album, “Lonesome Crow”. Michael wrote most of the music and “In Search of Peace of Mind” was the very first piece of music that he ever wrote. The solo on this song is still one of Michael’s favorite solos. Michael recorded all his solos and rhythm guitars on this album with a Gibson Les Paul and changed to a Gibson Flying V shortly after the release of “Lonesome Crow”. He has played a Flying V guitar ever since, making the V his trademark throughout his carrier with UFO and later became an Icon as a solo artist with his black and white V design under Michael Schenker Group/MSG and Michael Schenker's Temple Of Rock.
In 1972, aged 17, Michael left the Scorpions after first finding Klaus and Rudolf (both 23 years old at the time) a replacement. Michael remembered a guitar player he saw when he was 14 who was playing very well. That person was Uli Roth and he took the offer to join the Scorpions. Michael joined the British psychedelic band UFO and turned them into a rock band. At the same time Michael was approached to audition for the Rolling Stones. That made him nervous and he never returned the call.
Michael’s departure from the Scorpions turned out to be very beneficial for the Scorpions due to Michael’s enormous International success with UFO that was yet to come.
The age of 17 marked the beginning for Michael to stop copying and listening to music in order to focus on the art of lead guitar with pure self-expression. Michael stayed with UFO for 6 Albums. The first 3 albums were produced by Leo Lyons, the bass player of Ten Years After.
“Phenomenon” was recorded in 1973 when Michael was 18, ”Force It” in ’74, ”No Heavy Petting” in ’75, ”Lights Out”, produced by Ron Nevison (known for work with Led Zeppelin), was recorded in ’76 when Michael was 21. It was their first Hit Album, “Obsession” in ’77 and the Live Album “Strangers in The Night” (also produced by Ron Nevison) in ’78 when Michael was 23 years old and became one of the best live albums of all time.
“Lights Out” and “Too Hot to Handle”, off the “Lights Out” Album, and “Only You Can Rock Me” from “Obsession” became hits and many songs became classics over the years such as “Doctor Doctor”, “Rock Bottom” Shoot Shoot”, “Natural Thing”, ”Let it Roll” and many more.
In the ‘80’s Michael’s guitar style was copied by almost every 80’s guitarist and he continues to influence the metal scene till today. Bands such as Metallica, Iron Maiden and Guns and Roses to name a few.
Michael left UFO in ’78 aged 23. In the same year, while Michael was still living in Los Angeles, he went to Germany to help out Rudolf and Klaus (both were 30 years old at the time) with their ‘Lovedrive’ album. Michael played throughout the whole album and opened the doors to the United States for the Scorpions. Michael also co-wrote “Holiday” and the instrumental “Coast to Coast”. Interesting to note is that Rudolf and Klaus never made it to the States till 1981 when they were already 33 years old. It took Michael 8 years from 15 years of age till the age of 23 to make it all the way to the top.
By ’78, aged 23, Michael had developed into a top guitarist, it was also the beginning of his black and white Gibson Flying V design (changed to Dean in 2004). Experiencing fame and success in its fullest which gave him the opportunity to decide between continuing success in the fast lane or to step back and be free to experiment with music and life. Michael decided to step back but it was not that easy. Michael moved back to London where AC/DC Manager Peter Mensch (now manager of Metallica) was living at the time. Peter found out that Michael was free and sent him straight to New York to jam with Aerosmith to check out the chemistry as a replacement for Joe Perry.
Peter became Michael’s Manager and had big business in mind for Michael which made it even more difficult for Michael to step back. At least he had made a step in the right direction by forming his own Band – Michael Schenker Group/MSG - to musically do what he wanted, when he wanted.
Michael went through a lot of musicians before ending up with his first Solo Album. It started off in ’79 with Denny Carmassi (ex Montrose) on drums and Billy Sheen (later Mr. Big) on bass and Gary Barden on vocals. After 4 weeks of rehearsals Michael became sick and the Band broke up. Next was the formation with Joey Kramer on drums and Tom Hamilton on bass - both from Aerosmith. They booked a studio in Boston and started to rehearse. Steven Tyler who was sick at the time became well again and Joey and Tom continued with Aerosmith. Getty Lee and Neal Part from Rush also offered to help out Michael but finally he ended up recording with Simon Phillips on drums and Mo Foster on bass (both were with Jeff Beck at the time), Gary Barden on vocals, Don Airy on keyboards and produced by Roger Clover from Deep Purple (Rainbow at the time).
“Michael Schenker Group” was Michael’s first solo album and made it to the top 5 in the UK Charts. The album contains many Classics such as “Armed and Ready”, “Into the Arena”, “Cry for The Nations”, “Victim of Illusion” and “Lost Horizons”.
In ’81 Michael recorded the “MSG” album (produced by Ron Nevison) and “Live at the Budokan” produced by Michael and his engineer with Cozy Powell (ex Jeff Beck and Rainbow) on Drums, Paul Raymond (ex UFO at the time) on guitar and keyboards, Chris Glen (ex Alex Harvey Band) on bass and Gary Barden on vocals. “Live At The Budokan” became a favorite .The “MSG” album, which had Steven Stills on backing vocals, is known for classics like “Attack of the Mad Axeman”, “On and On” and ”Let Sleeping Dogs Lie”. Both albums reached the top 5 in the UK album charts. By now Michael, aged 26, was voted Nr.1 Guitarist in the UK, Japan and several other countries and was regarded top 5 within the States.
The “Assault Attack” album which became a musician’s favourite was next with Graham Bonnet on vocals, Chris Glen on bass, Ted McKenna (ex Alex Harvey Band and Rory Gallagher) on drums and Tommy Eyre (session player with Joe Cocker and many more) on keyboards and produced by Iron Maiden’s producer Martin Birch. Classic Tracks include “Assault Attack”, “Dessert Song”, “Dancer” and “Broken Promises” In the midst of this Michael was ask by Ozzy Osbourne to join his band. Randy Rhoads had just died in a Plane crash.
This was also the time that Peter Mensch and Michael separated. Michael recorded the self-produced album “Built to Destroy”. This album was especially known for songs such as “Captain Nemo”, “Rock My Nights Away”, ”Rock will never Die”. It was re-mixed by Jack Dougles (Aerosmith/John Lennon producer). David Krebs (manager of Aerosmith) became Michael’s new manager but it fell apart quickly and Michael’s band came to an end in ‘84.
In ’86 Michael was ready for his next experiment. He wanted to try a 50/50 partnership with a singer to share responsibilities equally. Michael found Robin McAuley. They recorded 3 albums together: “Perfect Timing”, produced by Andy Jones (known for his work with the Rolling Stones and Led Zeppelin) and “Save Yourself” produced by Frank Filipetti (known for his work with Elton John and Foreigner ) They released a bunch of hits such as “Anytime”, “Love is not a Game”, “This is My Heart”, “Gimmie Your Love” and recorded classics such as “Save Yourself “,”No Time For Losers”, “Bad Boys” and “Never Ending Nightmare”. The band’s name for the first 2 albums was now the “McAuley/Schenker Group” which Michael had decided in order to keep the MSG Logo. The band was –Mitch Perry (on Perfect Timing but was replaced by Steve Mann guitar/keyboard for the Save Yourself album), Rocky Newton on bass, Bodo Schopf on drums.
“Schenker /McAuley - MSG” produced by Kevin Beamish was Michael’s and Robin’s 3rd album with James Kottak on drums (ex - Kingdom Come and later Scorpions), Jeff Pilson (ex-Dokken and later Foreigner) on bass.
In his off time Michael helped out Warren De Matini (friend and Michael Schenker fan at the time) with Ratt and did the All Star project – Contraband.
In ’92 Michael and Robin went their separate ways and Michael was finally completely free. He became his own manager and an even more experimental musical life started. He recorded several acoustic instrumental albums -Thank You 1,2,3 and 4. Playing Solos –ONLY- on 2 of Mike Varney’s cover Songs projects – Summit “The Endless Jam and “The Endless Jam continues….” with a great rhythm section - Aynsley Dunbar (ex David Bowie/ex Journey) on drums and Tim Bogert (ex Beck, Bogert and Appice) on bass and David Pattison (Robin Trower) on vocals and later Michael recorded another cover song project playing solos –ONLY- on the MSG album titled “Heavy Hitters” with great musicians and singers of the 80’s.
Throughout Michael’s career he has been asked by many famous, established, successful bands and musicians to join them. It went from a request to audition for the Rolling Stones in ’72 when Michael was 17, to rejoin Scorpions in ‘78. He was invited to a Jam with Aerosmith at age 24, he was asked by Ozzy to join Ozzy Osbourne at age 26, Phil Lynott and Ian Hunter in ‘84, he was asked by Lemmy to join Motorhead, he was asked to join Whitesnake, Deep Purple approached Michael in ‘93 and the list goes on…but because of Michael’s own Vision he declined all of them.
Michael is now celebrating the 3rd stage of his life and the era of Handmade Rock.