June , 1984
By Greg Garrett
Michael Schenker Striking the Right Chords
Rarely does a musician, who singlehandedly helped create fame and fortune for a band, walk away from the entity they helped create to simply start over. What makes the situation ever more intriguing is the fact it didn’t happen once, it occurred twice. Ladies and gentlemen, introducing Mr. Michael Schenker.
The German-born Schenker, brother of Scorpions founder Rudolf, is a guitar prodigy. The talent he possesses is indeed rare. At age eleven, he joined his brother’s band and toured clubs throughout Europe. the Scorpions, a band in West Germany founded by Michael's brother Rudolph. At age 18, he found himself asked to join UFO.
Schenker wrote the music for most of UFO's major label debut album Phenomenon. In totally, he participated in five studio albums and a live LP. His time with UFO was often quite turbulent with him sometimes walking off mid-song during concerts. Despite having a series of successful albums and tours, Schenker finally left UFO in 1978.His playing with UFO attracted attention from music critics and especially from the guitar community. Many music critics have gone on record saying the only reason UFO is notable in hard rock circles is the presence of Schenker in their ranks.
"I disliked Phil Mogg,” said the guitarist of the events leading to his final departure from UFO. “I was having serious problems getting along with him. Also, I was having tremendous problems with alcohol at the time. I saw the itineraries we were supposed to play, and I thought the only way I could make it was by using alcohol. Finally, I just decided to leave."
Schenker rejoined The Scorpions who were in the studio working on the album Lovedrive. In 1979, he toured with the band in the U.S. in support of the album, but left the band three months later, following occasions when he could not perform on stage due to fatigue and alcohol problems. He was permanently replaced by Matthias Jabs. Despite his erratic behavior, the talented guitarist had made a name for himself. He was briefly considered for the Aerosmith job when Joe Perry left the band. The German guitarist and his iconic Flying V were also mentioned as Ozzy’s first choice after the tragic death of Randy Rhoads. Neither, obviously, came to fruition. Schenker was Michael was philosophical about the entire thing.
"I think you learn something from everything in life," he said quietly. "The mistakes you make, you learn from. Sometimes it only takes you recognizing your mistakes after you’ve repeated the error again, but still, you are learning something."
Schenker’s distinguished career with UFO paved the way for his solo career. Having written or co- written some of UFO's biggest songs, including "Doctor, Doctor," "Rock Bottom," and "Only You Can Rock Me," proved the artist with a ready-made audience for his solo career. MSG was formed in late 1979 and has been going strong for a few years now. The list of musicians that have participated with MSG include former Rainbow drummer Cozy Powell, vocalists Gary Barden and Graham Bonnet and former UFO guitarist/keyboardist Paul Raymond. The group has become somewhat of a revolving door for musicians with varying reasons for the turnover in talent. .
"I was sick and tired of working with Paul Raymond," stated Schenker quickly. "When Gary Barden left after recording the second album and doing the tour, it was simply a management decision to get Paul. Cozy Powell has signed a hefty contract for a year's work, played on the second album and a world tour. Then Cozy decided he wanted to join the group for real, as an equal member. The only problem was he wanted a lot more money than the rest of us. I told him he could not be an equal member and make an unequal amount of money.”
Powell left to join Whitesnake after drummer Ian Paice had left to reform Deep Purple. Current singer Gary Barden rejoined MSG after the guitarist and Graham Bonnet agreed that he should seek greener pastures. The new group also features drummer Ted McKenna. Changes, apparently, are still ahead.
“I want to keep changing people,” remarked Schenker, “until I have the perfect sound I'm looking for. There will probably be some changes made after this tour, even."
Despite that somewhat ominous admission, the current MSG tour supporting the Built to Destroy release throughout the world last fall, is going well.
"I'm not drinking or doing any drugs,” offered Schenker without prompting. “I feel very strong. You know, you often hear how difficult touring is. It's not the touring that is difficult. It's the drinking. If you stay up partying all night, then of course touring becomes hard. If you're taking care of yourself, touring simply becomes a matter of getting up in the morning and going to work. People all over the world do that every day, right?"
MSG has made tremendous inroads with fans around the world. However, the U.S. has put up quite a resistance to the Schenker charm – more specifically, Michael Schenker’s charm. Despite the ringing endorsement of critics and glowing praise in guitar magazines, it’s brother Rudolf and his band The Scorpions that are garnering universal praise. MSG is somewhat of an afterthought.
"I'm in no hurry for success here," he said matter-of-fact. "To be honest with you, I have a history of always running away from success. I actually don't want success until I fell that I can handle it.”
Until the musician can settle on a band, and management, then his career is always going to be in limbo. Schenker knows that.
"I've changed my management three times in four years,” he admitted. “It's hard to find someone who really wants to be committed to you. We're concentrating on England and Japan now. The U.S. will come someday. I'll just keep changing things until I find what I'm looking for."
Schenker is one of the most highly respected rock guitarists in the world. He has been cited by many of today’s artists like James Hetfield and Kirk Hammett of Metallica, Mercyful Fate’s Hank Shermann and Dokken’s George Lynch often cite the guitarist as a major influence in their life. He was the late Randy Rhoads favorite guitarist. Def Leppard's Steve Clark and Iron Maiden's Adrian Smith call Schenker one of the rock and roll greats with a style that a lot of guitarists try and copy.
Michael Schenker’s influences go back to Cliff Richard and the Shadows, Eric Clapton and Cream, Leslie West of Mountain fame, Jimmy Page and Jeff Beck.
"When you first begin playing,” he said, “you copy everything from everybody. That goes from the beginning to a time when it's fifty percent you and fifty percent other people. When you start putting your soul into it, that's when it becomes your style. I think that started happening to me after I first joined UFO."
There is no question that Michael Schenker has put his heart and soul into his work. Not only is he technically superb, but there is a feeling about his work that transforms it into something special. One of his most outstanding traits is the construction of a solo. Often he will begin with a beautiful melodic line (roughly analogous to a theme in classical music), which he will then play off of with different melodies.
Schenker's main guitar is his Gibson Flying V, which he typically played through a wah-wah pedal (used as a parametric equalizer to strengthen the ‘sweet spot’ and Marshall amplifiers. His unmistakable midrange tone emphasized by the partially engaged wah, as exemplified on the song "Rock Bottom" from the UFO album Strangers in the Night, was listed among the 50 greatest tones of all time.
Michael does not consciously listen to music anymore because he tries to avoid copying others. It’s impossible to avoid in America, he says, because of all the radios and time the band spends travelling. Thus he has managed to pick up on some guitarists he enjoys listening to. A sentimental favorite, of course, is his brother Rudolf. His big ‘bro’ writes the music for the Scorpions, but prefers playing rhythm to lead.
"You can tell that his heart is really in it,” critiqued the better known sibling, “but sometimes his fingers don't seem to cooperate with him. Matthias, however, is technically very good, although he seems a bit confused sometimes. I don't know if that's the right word. It's just that he doesn't seem to be putting much of himself into it. I do want to say The Scorpions new album is very good."
Schenker’s list of guitarists he greatly admires runs the gamut of styles. He particularly likes the playing of Thin Lizzy’s Gary Moore, Eddie Van Halen, Journey’s Neil Schon and Toto's Steve Lukather. He also professes a grudging admiration for Dire Strait's Mark Knopfler.
"He plays very nice melodies,” observed Schenker, “and has a very distinct style, although if you listen too long to him he can give you a headache.”