Guitarist Michael Schenker first rose to prominence as a member of The Scorpions; a band formed in his native Germany by older brother Rudolph in the late 1960’s. A teenage prodigy, he left the band in the mid-1970’s to join Britain’s UFO, releasing a string of albums before going solo. Since then he’s been in and out of both acts at various junctures, however for the last few years, he’s been leading his own Temple Of Rock, as a showcase for his remarkable skills. About to hit the road on a U.K. tour, we caught up with Schenker to discuss his incredible career.
Hi Michael, how was your Christmas and New Year?
Oh, it was great, absolutely!
You’ve been very busy with Temple Of Rock in 2015. Was it a good year?
Absolutely. Everybody’s having fun, and I just love to be on stage playing. I enjoy that these days and I’m happy. I’ve been trained over the years to enjoy any kind of venue, any size.
Did you enjoy the shows you played with Judas Priest in the U.K?
Oh yeah, absolutely. At the beginning [of the tour], at a couple of shows, we went on stage when the people were still coming in, and that was a bummer. But being on stage, in general, is an absolute thrill for us. We just love being up there.
Do you have a long history with those guys? – I’d imagine that both UFO and The Scorpions shared stages with them.
I don’t remember actually having had any shows with Judas Priest except for at the very beginning. We kind of started off together. We were recording at the same time. When I did my first UFO album [1974’s ‘Phenomenon’] when I was 17 or 18, they were at the same studio – Morgan Studios [in London].
What was it like playing in the earliest days of The Scorpions?
There are things that I know today, and I must say I’m actually very disappointed in my brother [Rudolph, guitarist] in The Scorpions these days, because I just found out that a lot of things have been incorrect in the past. Me, being seven years younger than the other guys, I think I was taken advantage of right from the beginning.
I wrote most of The Scorpions songs on the ‘Lonesome Crow’ album, and it was credited to all members. The very first song I ever wrote was ‘In Search Of The Peace Of Mind’, and it too was credited to all members. I was focusing on music, and they were maybe focusing on business; I have no idea, but they didn’t know how to write songs in those days.
You left the band to join UFO a short time later.
I was always just very, very keen on playing guitar, and it really didn’t matter who with. I was fascinated with a single string, and what I could do with it. In Germany, people didn’t understand what I was doing, and the people who knew what I was doing and understood it were in England. I told The Scorpions that if I got a chance to go to England, I would do it anytime. The band wasn’t even important. And it happened, so I turned UFO from a psychedelic band into a hard rock band, and The Scorpions, I basically opened the doors for international success. I have been the cornerstone, and refuel station for UFO and The Scorpions. Whenever they were dropping a bit, they got me in to refuel with energy, and then they took off again.
Were they crazy days when things were taking off in UFO?
For me, it was about music. For some it was about sex, for some others it was about money or fame or whatever. And you know, I was still shy – that’s the part I didn’t like, and it was kind of hard for me to go on stage. But I loved to be creative and recording and all of that, and since 2008, since I’ve changed and developed on a personal level, I started to overcome all of that. Now it’s the best thing to be on stage; it’s a one hundred and eighty-degree turn.
You appeared on That Metal Show in 2015 jamming with Metallica’s Kirk Hammett – how was that?
It was great. They’re a big band, and it’s flattering that I have that much of an impact on those guys. I never knew until the early nineties that Slash was a fan and Kirk was a fan, and Def Leppard and all these guys. It was a very big surprise because I never focused on that – I just did what I did, you know? Years later people tell you, and it’s kind of mind-blowing.
You yourself are a fan of Rory Gallagher. Would you like to appear at the Rory Gallagher tribute festival that happens in Ballyshannon every year?
Absolutely. I’ll do anything that comes our way that makes sense, and we can do. I haven’t consumed music for forty years, and everything I enjoyed consuming-wise was from my early teens, and, of course, Rory Gallagher was one of my favourites absolutely. [Sings] “What’s going ooooonnnn!” I love the song ‘What’s Going On’, it’s brilliant.
Your Black and White guitar is so iconic.
The guitar thing to me; I didn’t pick the guitar – it’s all based on circumstances, and if it works don’t fix it. When I did the ‘Lovedrive’ album with The Scorpions, I decided to paint my guitar black and white, and when I left The Scorpions something mysterious happened. My brother called me and asked me if I would allow him to use the black and white design, and I was always wondering; “why the heck is he so desperate to do this?” Today I think I know – I think he wanted to distort and take a bit of my image.
You and Rudolph are quite alike aren’t you?
The difference is one can play and the other one can’t! [Laughs] That’s how you can find out who is who. Or you look at the eyes; his eyes are brown, but he can fake that too by getting blue lenses. Rudolph is the entertainer on a visual level; I’m the artist.
Have you any plans to get up on stage with The Scorpions before they call it a day?
I don’t pay attention to any of that. I focus on what I’m doing. I’m fed up with that, and I’m disappointed in them; they have completely distorted the ‘Lovedrive’ phase. Just a few weeks ago I was confronted with The Scorpions [albums reissue] box, and what I saw there, it really, really shocked me. I can’t trust them anymore. The whole ‘Lovedrive’ story is wrong. They are putting it down as if I begged them to take me into The Scorpions. They begged me to join – I was already doing arena tours with UFO in the States. It’s unbelievable. They asked me to help them, and now I see that the whole ‘Lovedrive’ story is written to their favour; they are the big guys.
I can’t believe it, honestly – they’re just fooling people with their finishing playing, and then they don’t, and then [they continue playing] forever and ever. I guess when you get older you get bolder or something, but I have absolutely no interest because I can’t trust them. If I look back now, it’s unbelievable, little bits and pieces I’m discovering. So putting together the whole picture, it looks like they’re absolutely desperate.
Going back to Temple Of Rock; are you looking forward to the U.K. dates?
Absolutely. Yeah, we’re doing a headline tour, and as we continue, we’re changing our set around. We’ll get to squeeze in a lot more material than on the Judas Priest tour. That was kind of “whoops!” – it was over before it started!
Finally, what’s next for Michael Schenker?
We’re actually getting ready mixing and doing all sorts of things to get our new DVD out, which will be released in April. It was recorded in Madrid in Spain, and it’s working out really good.