The Michael Schenker Interview (2019)

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One of the most consistently recording and touring guitarists of recent times has to be Michael Schenker. Case in point, he’s leading the Michael Schenker Group (MSG), Temple of Rock, or most recently, Michael Schenker Fest — who issued their debut album in 2018, Resurrection, and have a sophomore album ready to go this summer, Revelation.

And what makes the Michael Schenker Fest shows a must-see event for fans of the guitarist (who remains one of the most name-checked by seemingly every rock or metal guitarist as an influence) is that it touches upon all eras of his career, and features four vocalists from Schenker’s past — Gary Barden, Graham Bonnet, Robin McAuley, and Doogie White.

The former UFO and Scorpions guitarist spoke to VintageRock.com shortly before the launch of MSF’s springtime tour of North America.

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What can fans expect from the Michael Schenker Fest tour?

The Michael Schenker Fest had a great success with the first studio album, Resurrection, released in 2018, and a great US tour, with the original MSG singers Gary, Graham, and Robin, and Doogie from Michael Schenker’s Temple of Rock. So, we combined the past and the current. We are still on the Resurrection tour – the second leg. And we haven’t covered all of the States, so we’ve added new places to the list, and we’re playing some of the venues we’ve played before — we’re playing three nights at the Whisky A Go Go (April 15, 16 and 17) . The show is the most popular music of Michael Schenker — from the beginning to end.

Most of it being sung by original singers. We’re playing new songs — not “new new” songs, because we’ve already made the second Michael Schenker Fest album —  but we are still focusing on Resurrection. So, we are doing a two-and-a-half hour show, and can turn it into two hours and 45 minutes. It’s very refreshing, because you have these four different vocalists, and each one is completely different, and from a different period. And they’re all great singers. We also play instrumentals — with the variety, it’s very difficult to get bored. I can’t get bored. For me, I’m very busy — I have to do all the talking. It’s bang-bang-bang. It’s a funny thing – as I get older, I have to work more than when I was younger. It’s just interesting how life’s design takes its course. You never know what is going to happen next. But now, it’s a fest, it’s a big show and an undertaking.

Sadly, the band recently experienced the passing of one of its members.

Our dear friend and great drummer, Ted McKenna, had passed away on the 9th of January this year. We got Simon Phillips in, who has done Jeff Beck, MSG, and Toto, and Bodo Schopf, who used to be in the McAuley-Schenker Group. So, both of them helped us with a lot of teamwork, because it was right before the tour, and we had to complete the album, because Ted passed away in the middle of recording. But Simon Phillips is such a professional drummer. An unbelievable job he did. We were rehearsing with Bodo in the UK for about a month or so, and we got everything sorted out. We’re very fortunate — even though it was an absolute shocking thing, you just don’t know what is going to happen next.

I don’t dwell on it too much, because it could be me next, anyway…or somebody else. That’s life. That’s how it goes. You’re born and you die. But Ted is going to be watching, and he is going to cheering us up. So anyway, we have put together a fantastic new album, which will be released on the 23rd of August this year. We are steaming full power forward. It’s a show that just keeps staying fresh. The thing is, in my middle years, I’ve played a lot of my most popular music — but always with other singers. So, having the original singers on stage brings everything back to the forefront. It’s a lot of fun.

It seems like Stateside, you’re the most popular you’ve ever been. What do you attribute this to?

It’s like this — in my middle years, I consciously dropped out of the commercial machine. I had experienced what I needed to experience with UFO and Scorpions, and I wanted to carry on being true to myself — through true self-expression and experimenting with music. So, I took MSG out of the scene, completely. I couldn’t have done what I did with Ozzy Osbourne, Aerosmith, or the other bands that asked me to join them. So, in the middle years, it was all about learning. In the beginning, I didn’t even know who I was. All of a sudden, I was a major influence. People were saying “Schenker is God,” and I thought, “What is this? This is rubbish.” After Strangers In The Night and Lovedrive, I had enough of that, and I wanted to continue focusing on music. And out of that, I actually missed out on the commercial success as many had in the ‘80s. But I’m making up for it now. I’ve been staying true to myself for half a century, and I got rewarded — I found fulfillment. I experiment and I get everything out of my system. There’s nothing left that  I wanted to do.

I followed my heart, and as a result, I have built a house on solid rock. I have done what I needed to do, and that is such a good, fulfilling feeling. And since 2008, all of a sudden, I had this urge to be on stage. I never wanted to be on stage, and all of a sudden, I had this urge to be on stage. I take it as a sign that something…it’s time for the third part of my life. So since 2008, I started having one leg in the machine, and now, there are two legs. Basically, step by step, I developed myself back to the place where I used to come from — where I was with UFO, and where I was with Scorpions. Going up and up. That is my life design. In the beginning, I didn’t even know who I was — I was just having fun playing music, and I didn’t even know why people were saying, “Schenker is God.” In the middle years, it was all about learning, I wrote the song “Into the Arena,” and I guess that was a sign — it must have started, the learning process, understanding, and digesting.

I’m grateful for the middle years, that I now consciously understand who I was in the beginning. It’s a fantastic life design. In the beginning, you get a taste of something and you don’t know what it is. In the middle, you are actually making a conscious effort to understand who you are and what you’re doing here. And then you’ve got the third stage, where you actually start honing what you did in the beginning, when you didn’t even know what you did. And now I can enjoy everything so much because I know what is happening, and I know who I am. And I have done what I needed to do in the middle years. These are great feelings. And everything else that comes to it now is icing on the cake.

So, basically I’ve given people in the middle years a lot of material — to keep rock fresh. Because most people, they go after trends, and trends wear out. Because everybody keeps feeding off of trends, and if nobody plays something from the heart, and then there’s nothing left — it becomes stagnant. And I’m sure the musicians — many of them — knew I was consistently doing fresh, new stuff. And I expect people throughout the years to keep rock – in some way – putting in a fresh sparkle, so one could continue. Otherwise, if you just keep feeding from the recycled stuff, there is nothing left. And I’m sure there are some other people who did what I did, so we keep that thing alive. If you think about it, for half a century, I did not listen to other people, and being true to myself, and writing and experimenting. It’s a long time. So, the reward is big, and I get a lot of icing now (laughs).

2019 is the 40th anniversary of both UFO’s Strangers In The Night and the Scorpions’ Lovedrive. What do those two albums mean to you?

The release, maybe, but for me, it’s always when it was recorded. And that’s when it really happened. So, for me, it’s 41 years now. Last year was 40 years. For me, it’s been 41 years since the recording of Stranger In The Night, “one of the best live rock albums of all time!” That’s my speech! And…it’s been 41 years since the Scorpions asked me to help them with their Lovedrive album. So, I call it 41 years, maybe for the release date it’s 40 years…I don’t know. I always go by when it was recorded.

But what do those two albums mean to you?

They mean that that was basically the end of my development – the first step of my development. I started recording when I was 15, I started playing guitar when I was nine. From 16 years old, Lonesome Crow contained my first-ever written song, which was credited to all the Scorpions, but they had nothing to do with it. I was only 15, they were already 21, and they kind of ripped me off. But “In Search of Peace of Mind” was the very first music that I ever wrote – and it still has one of my favorite solos in it. So, from then on, until Strangers In The Night or helping the Scorpions with Lovedrive, which opened the door to America for them, that was basically the end of that era. And then, I started writing the song called “Into the Arena,” and that meant, “OK Michael…it’s time to work on understanding what life is all about, and who you are.” That’s what it means. It’s basically development fulfilled. And the next step was focus on life itself, and since 2008, it has been about understanding what happened, and celebrate.

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