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Michael Schenker: “I never really plan anything”

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Michael’s exceptional guitar playing has kept many people spellbound for over 40 years. He has inspired and influenced other guitar players for decades.

Leaving delightful grins on the faces of millions of fans while we still today enjoy his extensive career with the Scorpions, through the immortal classic albums with British legends UFO, to his long going Michael Schenker Group solo achievements.
The six-string axe-slinger is seemingly enthusiastic and eager to be a passenger as he says: “The universe is driving and I tag along”, enjoying the new album “Temple of Rock” and life more than ever.
Tallee Savage went down memory lane in a long chat with legendary Michael Schenker in an exclusive interview for Rocknytt. He talks about the album, Tour, developments and expectations and also explains why he is celebrating the era of “Hand Made Rock”.


All Photos by: © Tallee Savage

You did you first gig when you were 11 years old, recorded your first album with the Scorpions at the age of 15 and emerged to record a lot of classic albums with UFO. You have been on your own since 1980. It is nice to see that you are well and still rockin’. As the majority of us know, life has its ups and downs. I know you have been through a lot. How is LIFE treating you these days? 
– Life has actually always been excellent to me. Even going up and down is not really a problem… Life is full of hurdles. That is the training ground. We need to have crises and situations in order to develop, you know. If there wouldn’t be any obstacles you’d have nothing to train with, so you must have it. I’m having fun doing self programs, things that I think that maybe I can do better, what can I do to improve myself? I love doing those kinds of things. I love development in itself. I love to figure things out and to create. I love the moments of creation. Not so much what comes out of it, but the actual way of doing it. It is so much fun to me. I learn it all wrong, but at least I had fun doing it and something came out of it anyway. They say to me: “Michael the way you play guitar is totally wrong” and I say: “Yeah, I know, but that is not the point” (laughs).

Your philosophy is certainly inspiring! Life is really about learning. Now let’s go down memory lane; Do you remember when you started playing the guitar and about your first appearance on stage?
– I started to play the guitar when I was nine. My brother Rudolf was 16 and he had just gotten a guitar for his birthday and I was not allowed to touch it. But as soon as he left for work, of course I would touch it. I evidently started experimenting right away and I was fascinated with what you could do with the strings. My brother eventually discovered that I was actually developing fast, actually earlier than he was, because I was younger, so he asked me to take a look at some songs that he wanted me to learn and also write material for him. So I was figuring out how to playthese songs and writing material that I would show him when he got back and he would pay me, so I had a little job. But my brother founded the Scorpions even before he was able to play the guitar, so basically with the guitar came the name and so it all started there. Two years later, when I was 11, I was actually onstage with the Scorpions playing a couple of songs, but it was more like a jam. That was my first experience with them.

But eventually you became a permanent member of the Scorpions and recorded your first album, Lonesome Crow (1972) at the age of 15. That is quiet an achievement. Tell me about that?
– Yes, I was 14 and my brother said “You have to meet this great singer” and that was Klaus Meine. scorpions-lonesome-crow-coverWe eventually created this band called Copernicus and we were rehearsing next to the Scorpions. One day the singer and guitar player did not show up in for the Scorpions and Klaus and I were asked to play with them, so I don’t know what happened really, did we just leave those other guys standing there or what? I really don’t remember how it happened. But chemistry was really good with the Scorpions so we decided to join them. We did the first album “Lonesome Crow”… and then we started touring.

You left the Scorpions to join UFO and made five classic studio albums and one live album with them. But after about five years you left UFO to briefly join the Scorpions again.
– Well the scene in Germany was very difficult and weird. People were listening to disco music. I was so into rock’n’roll and I really fell in love with it, you know. I said to my brother that if an English band would ever ask me to join them; I would do so immediately, because I wanted to move on. They were aware of this… and so when the Scorpions were touring, opening up for the British band UFO in Germany, I was offered the position and took it. it was the time!
In 1979 I went back with the Scorpions. But you know, at that point I was, I don’t know, It was like limbo land for me and I kind of felt like I shouldn’t be doing this with the Scorpions. I developed with the Scorpions and UFO, my whole career did, you know. I experienced a lot of success with UFO and I had a little taste of it and I knew what it felt like, etc… and I could relax. 

ufo-album-coverI basically got to the point where I said to myself: “Michael, you should not be doing this! You need to experiment with music and do the things that you want to do and not the things you have to because you are a machine and you have to be on tour, on tour and on tour chasing something you don’t even want.” I can see it now clearly looking back, but when I was there I was in limbo land. I said YES to Scorpions the Lovedrive tour and I could not do it, I let people down and it just didn’t work for me. Plus I had to copy Uli Jon Roth’s stuff and that is not my world, I didn’t want to do that. So I decided to, you know, to create my own little project and do things in my own pace and to experiment. And that is exactly what I did for a few years. I did acoustic instrumental albums and electric instrumental albums, played cover songs and lead guitar on other albums. I experimented… also on a personal level, I did a lot of self improvement programs and did all the things that I felt like I should be doing and that was all basically happening in the middle part of my live. So I did my Lovedrive reunion with Klaus and Rudolf and now I’m doing it with Herman and Francis, so I can complete my cycle here (laughs).

You auditioned for Aerosmith way back 1979 after Joe Perry left the band. But there were also other band invitations, right?
– That was weird, I went there… but you know, I wasn’t in a very good state at all and neither was Steven Tyler. So we didn’t even start to play together, forget it (laughs). I was sitting in a hotel room for five days just waiting, nothing, (laughs) and I was like: “What is going on here?” And so we finally meet and nobody was capable of playing (laughs)… Anyway, “I said, see ya, let’s go!”
But this was all when I was in “limbo land”, you know, it was the time after “Strangers in the Night” and I came back to do the Lovedrive album with the Scorpions and the tour and I had to stop, I could not do it… I had Deep Purple and Whitesnake asking me and I was very temped, you know … but the last word was: “NO, don’t do it!” For the same reason… I mean what was the point? That was not where I wanted to go. Ozzy Osbourne also called me up for help but that was later when I was in the middle of making the new album with Graham Bonnet (Assault Attack). Again … I was tempted but told myself “Don’t to this!”

However Joey Kramer and Tom Hamilton (Aerosmith) were close to join you for your first solo album around that same time right?
– Well, One or two months later I think that Steven Tyler checked in to rehab or something and so they where available and Peter Mensch, my manager at the time, organized it. I went to Boston and we started rehearsing the material from my solo album. But Steven Tyler got better and Aerosmith got back together! But I also could have ended up with Neil Pert and Geddy Lee from Rush, they were friends of mine, but we never got around to do anything with that. The first real line-up that I had was really with Billy Sheehan and Denny Carmassi and then it became Simon Philips and Mo Foster and that was the first final line-up I had for MSG in 1979.

It has been 34 years since you entered your solo career. Can you tell me about the last album “Temple of Rock?” I think it is a great album and your guitar playing is better than ever. There is also an impressive line-up of musicians accompanying you, I must say. Pete Way, Doogie White, Don Airey, your brother Rudolf, Chris Glen, Simon Philips and many many more. How did you get all this progress?
– Yeah I know, it is so weird, I never really plan anything, you know, it was so funny. I was with Herman Rarebell and Pete Way rehearsing “Strangers in the Night” material to put together a live project. Eventually we all said: “Oh, wait a minute, let’s do some Lovedrive stuff too?” But at this point I was not even thinking about having Herman and Pete in the band. In the meantime I also went to see Mike Voss to do a demo in his studio because it was time for me to make an album. I asked him to help me out with the vocals, and then take it from there. Mike Voss started singing and I was like: “Wait a minute, you can actually sing? Why don’t you sing on my album?” Then I went back to the UK and played the demo to Herman and Pete and they were like; “WOW … we want to do this too!” So I had the singer and the rhythm section and that was a good foundation for a start. It eventually all led to Mike joining us on the live project “Strangers in the Night”. There was just a lot of little bits and pieces that were creating the end results.

So it was not an underlying ambition to put together an “All Star Band” then?
– No, not at all. I just finally said to the guys: “Look we have created something here that I never knew that it would shape up like this, why don’t we involve some musicians from the past?” So we made a list of all the possible musicians and most of them were available. That is how I ended up with all these different musicians. I really didn’t know I would be doing this, what it all meant, really. michael-schenker-templeWas this closing the cycle? So I was kind of reviewing myself, figuring out where I was in my life. I had developed an extreme liking for playing live. I never liked to play live before. Out of the blue I love being on stage. I have no idea how it happened (laughs). So I figured there must be something good about this. I realized that I have been staying away from the music scene all this time, all these years, just focusing on creating, creating and creating. It was something like the “holy scripture” and it was coming from here (touches his heart). So I felt that this is my temple and that is how we developed the title the “Temple of Rock”.

The “Temple of Rock” album was very easy to like. Everything is very “Michael Schenker-ish” and you are the master of hard rock when it comes to melody and catchiness. I really couldn’t say what song I like the best. But I really fell for Miss Claustrophobia because of the guitar-pattern in the beginning.
– (laughs) Yeah you know what it is? Is the “Michael Schenker Howler” (Michael picks up a very weird round guitar pick from his pocket and gives me a lesson on air guitar picking). I use the howler live to communicate to the audience, for instance on “Armed ‘n’ Ready”  I play “hoooouuwl” and the audience goes “Haaalloo”. I invented this sound, I was walking down the street and I had this vision of a particular sound in my head and I got home to try it and it was there. It creates a very unique sound and it was something new. So I call it “The Michael Schenker howler”. But it is very difficult to put things together with it because you are limited, very limited… but it creates an original sound and that is the advantage.

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The album has an intro with a very familiar voice. Captain Kirk (William Shatner). Are you a Star Trek fan?
– Mike Voss created this very nice intro and I was thinking that it would be great to have a voice on it from a famous actor. But the funny thing is that a few days later, I get a phone call from William Shatner’s agent, asking me if I can play on his record. I said: “You must be joking… Shatner? That is the guy that we need for our record. Can you please ask him to do those words on the intro for our album?” So it all worked out that I played on his record and he spoke a few words on the intro for my album. The timing was unbelievable and it was really more than meets the eye stuff.

How did the “guitar-battle song” come about, with Leslie West and Michael Amott?
– Well you know, the music that I fell in love with has been going on for generations after generations now. I am a fan of Leslie West and Michael Amott was a fan of mine and also of Leslie. I just thought it would be unique to have three generations and put them down together in one song.

Another song I wanted to ask you about was the title of the song “The end of an Era”. Is there is an underlying meaning behind the title?
– Funny, because I don’t write lyrics and I don’t like lyrics, I grew up not understanding what people were singing about, so I’m purely into sound, but it is an interesting question and I now ask myself the same thing. schenker-5-foto-tallee-savageMaybe Michael Voss is singing similar to the way I’m thinking when it comes to the song “End of an era”. At this point in my life I’m back in the loop of rock ‘n’ roll. Out of the blue I suddenly love being on stage and somehow I feel like I’m celebrating the era of handmade rock, you know. Handmade rock is the rock that I fell in love with, bands like Deep Purple, Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath etc. They built the foundation of that building and sooner or later it’s just going to be a memory. People are already passing, great people like Ronnie James Dio, Gary Moore and John Lord. It was quite a remarkable era to be honest.  But it’s interesting about your question because it keeps popping up in my mind and now I’m calling it the “roofing of handmade rock”. My dad used to be an architect and every time he completes a house, before they finish the roofing, they would celebrate, so I’m looking at this era as a house and we are coming to the roofing and before we put the roofing on we celebrate for the next few years – Celebrate the Era of handmade rock, because it’s distinguishably different than the era of computer technique!

What’s your opinion on downloading?
– I don’t really understand all that stuff to be honest, and I don’t focus on it either really, to tell you the truth. I’m really not that much into getting microscopic into the computer world, because it takes me away from my creative world. I don’t spend time thinking about it… But sure, I mean if you bake something and you have a restaurant, you sell this to people, right? You just don’t expect that everything is handed out for free. It is a shame that it happens and of course I guess it is something that a lot of people do. I think maybe I have taken music from the radio and put it on my tape recorder in the early days, you know. But hey, it’s someone’s property… it is something that has been created, put time and effort into it and it should be rewarded… the same way we pay for clothes or anything else.

And now you have a new tour going on “Temple of Rock & Lovedrive Reunion Tour” in Europe, with different musicians from the album depending on where you are. Who will do us the honor here in Sweden? Is the original Scorpions rhythm section with you?
– It’s kind of interesting how we all came to be together, I said to Herman: “What is Francis up to? It would be great to have Francis involved and the more original members to do Lovedrive the better it would be. So now both Herman Rarebell and Francis Buchholz are on board and that has now really formed into a stable and fun type of band. But the best thing… or well… I don’t know what you want to call it, but I called Michael Voss and asked if he was ready to go out on tour and he said: “Oooh nooo, I can’t, I’ve just signed a solo deal”. So I thought: “What am I going to do now?” So luckily we had Robin McAuley on the album and we also had Doogie White, so I said: “Wait a minute”, if we do the tour with Robin in America and we promote the song “Love of Sinfony” that he sang on the album, then Doogie White is available for Europe and he sings on “Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead” and we have Michael Voss doing the song “Hanging On” for Japan. So we had three singers that participated on the album “Temple of Rock” and they would swap places depending on which part of the continent we all were on. Well it just kept getting better and better and that was pretty much the story of how it all got together. I said: “We better do a DVD before something happens, I want to capture this moment” (laughs).

Is it mostly old Scorpions, UFO and MSG? Can we basically expect to hear the best from your career?
– I have put together a fresh set, even though this is a continuation from the last years tour, some people have seen it already on the DVD so I thought I would fresh it up a little “. Of course there is going to be stuff from the Scorpions “Lovedrive”, “Strangers in the Night” (UFO 1979), “One Night in Budokan” (MSG 1982) and stuff from “Temple of Rock” and one song from the upcoming album. We have a really good set together!

Well we are all excited to have you back in Sweden in May. Stockholm, Malmö, Jönköping and Sundsvall, right?
– The North, South, middle and the capital (laughs).

There is a DVD – Live in Europe?
– The DVD was recorded in May 2012 in Tilburg, The Netherlands and at London’s High Voltage Festival in 2012 with special guest; Rudolf Schenker, Jeff Scott Soto etc.

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Can you tell us a little bit about the new album?
– Yes the new album is called “Bridge of Gap” and it will be finished by the end of this month, to be released in November. It will be featuring Doogie White (Rainbow and Yngwie), Herman Rarebell, Francis Bucholz, and Wayne Findlay, who has been with me on keyboards and guitar since 1990. But we will be playing one new song all ready on this tour. I was in a radio station earlier and I was tempted to let them have a brief listen but unfortunately it is a rough mix… which I don’t mind, it is actually a good version but all the other songs are on there and I can’t not afford to have it leak. So we are figuring out when and how to make this available. It would be nice to play a little teaser from it to build up some curiosity (laughs). The song has not been mastered and a minor change will happen to it, but it is very presentable. It is a very good song and it gives you the picture of what the new album will sound like. There are some very heavy and fast stuff on it.

You have recorded almost 40 albums. Can you list three of you favorites. Is that even possible?
– No it is not possible because I see it all as a development, one thing leads to the next and no moment is ever the same and with different circumstances, so I cannot even compare. I can say that I play better today than I used to, because I have developed but then again maybe some people would say: “Nooo, but I like you the way you play there”, so it’s all very artistic. You can’t say what is better or worse, it is all a matter of taste and development, you know.

Fair enough! Now… are you from a musical family?
– Well I think that my mother and father were very passionate. There was a piano at home but none of them could actually play it really, but they loved to hear the sound, even if it was nothing, they would enjoy it and my father had a violin and it sounded like you were stepping on somebody’s tail, but he would have that big smile (laughs) it was incredible the passion that he had. There was also a small electric piano and violin there and I would touch them and do something, well I was only nine years old and that is when I discovered the guitar.

You got the “ROCK GUITAR LEGEND” AWARD not so long ago. Very well deserved! There are only a few guitar players in the world that can be called “Guitar Legends”, you are certainly one of them. How did that feel?
– Thank you! Oh yeah, I never expected anything like that and here it was, after all these years out of the blue… “No way, Really?” It felt fantastic of course. Like icing on the cake. Nothing you expect, but there it is!

Two of our well-known domestic guitar players, John Norum and Yngwie Malmsteen have spent many years studying and listening to you. You can certainly hear where John’s influence comes from. With Yngwie is something different but I know that he really admired your “Assault Attack” album and would listen to it all the time.
– Yes, I know this about John Norum and also about Yngwie., but only because people keep telling me (laugh).

Can you tell us what your own influences are, growing up? I know you like Leslie West and Rory Gallagher, any other guitarist or bands?
– I started when I was nine and of course everything that was on the radio was great but when I was 14 I heard the Deep Purple, Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath stuff and that was it, then I knew exactly what I needed to do! And then you know, all the great guitarist from the 60’s, Jimi Page, Rory Gallagher, Johnny Winter, Jeff Beck, Leslie West, you name them, there are so many of them. And by the time I was 17 I said Ok, I have heard enough, now I do it my way and that is how I’ve been focusing on developing.

Your brother plays on the tracks “Hanging On” and “With You”. Must be nice for your parents to have their two sons playing songs together. How is it to work with your brother Rudolf? Do you bicker like brothers sometimes do?
– Yeah that was fantastic, (heart filled laughter) the thing is my brother was 6 years older than me. schenker-1-foto-tallee-savageWhen I was 6 he was 12, when I was 9 he was 16 and already working. He had to replace my parents once in awhile, but we didn’t grow up together basically because of the age difference, he was always one step ahead. The only time we actually spent time together, solid, was for the two years I was with the Scorpions when I was 15-17 years old. It was the only time, other than that, I was on this side of the planet and he was on that side of the planet. So anyway we invited my brother over to the “High Voltage Festival” and it was great, it was so funny and so weird, me starting “Rock You Like A Hurricane” and him coming up on stage (laughs).

Well your brother and you were certainly responsible for getting the Hard Rock scene happening in Germany. There was nothing else going on there in the 1970’s before the Scorpions. Today there’s a big Heavy Metal industry in Germany. Any band that you like from your country or do you have your own world of rock ‘n’ roll and don’t pay much attention to what is going on?
– That is exactly right! I knew very early in life that I needed to protect myself and I was purely focusing on self expression and that was the most important to add my colors to the world and also to stay fresh as long as possible because if you consume, it could consume you as well, you know. I need the energy to create and so I made it very clear to myself and it was important… today I know it was extremely important.

For the diehard guitar nerd; I know you have your signature model from Dean Guitars since 2003. So the Gibson Flying V is long gone. What did they do to make “Michael happy”, when it comes to technical stuff pick-ups and so on?
– (Laughs) Yes, by now I have like about seven or eight different models (laughs)… Well it was like this actually, Uli Jon Roth was on stage with me when they approached me to introduce Dean Guitars for the first time. I liked it, Uli liked it too and we both went “oooh wooow” so Uli ended up with his own version and so did Leslie West… and Michael Amott. Sooo anyway it’s a very solid guitar, heavy, the first one was extra heavy with very solid wood and very well made, couldn’t brake it and I kind of noticed straight away that it played very good in oppositions, it was singing everywhere. It had a very long sustain and the strings where coming in from the back and be connected to the wood. They introduced this to me and I thought that was kind of impressive. They where going to be 100% behind me, wanted to support me and go all the way in life and we have been together ever since.

Turned out to be a great relationship then?
– It turned out great! Absolutely incredible it’s over nine years now. And when it comes to the sound and pick-ups and so on, I will ask for a specific sound and basically tell them what I’m looking for and they introduce different arrangements and I approve or don’t approve and we take it from there. So each guitar has a little twist to it somewhere. I’m ending up now playing at least five models on my set. They all got developed at different times so I kind of relate the guitars to a particular era. For instance; The black and white retro guitar is the MSG guitar, the color guitar, the kaleidoscope, I kind of decided was more like a Lovedrive and the Ying and Yang which is the latest model is for the new stuff and for the “UFO and Strangers in the Night” stuff, I just use my strangest guitar. All the guitars have different sounds and different looks and I don’t have to have only one guitar always on. If one goes out of tune I just pick up another. So I’m having my fun with it on that level and it entertains!

You did however play a Les Paul on your first album you ever recorded (Lonesome Crow), right?
– I started out with a Framus … I always got the next guitar from my brother yes, and his suit and so on… well not his underwear and socks but a lot of other stuff (laughs). So from the Framus guitar to putting a pick-up on it, to a Fender jazz master, Jaguar Fender and I think even a Burns whatever that was. From there I really felt I needed a Les Paul Deluxe and from the Deluxe I went to the Les Paul Standard and then I bumped into the Gibson Flying V and so on…

I’ve read about two different “Personal VIP Packages” that have been announced. What is the difference between them?
– Yes I know, we are getting confused about that too at this point and we are going to sort it out so that people can understand more clearly. One is a Michael Schenker VIP Package that includes unreleased recordings from 1979. It is a 14 track Demo that I wrote and recorded at Scorpions producer Dieter Dirk’s mobile studio. It is old stuff that was put together and was going to be material for my first solo album. It also includes songs that I’m singing on with a very, very high voice (laughs) that could be kind of interesting and entertaining for people. I even got chocked after I heard it again after 30 or 40 years, I thought “wow, this is incredible”. It also contains an instructional CD showing how to play the “Howler” and the tool I use to create that distinctive sound and a bunch of other goodies, things like that to make it worthwhile. The other VIP package is more like a “Meet & Greet” where some people have access to the sound check and then after the show I hang out with them again, I sign some things and so on.

Well Thank you for your time and sincere answers. We will see you back here on tour in May then. Now it’s time for our photo shoot!
– Oh yeah, let’s do it! Thank you!

Ron Dahlgren

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