INTERVIEW AND LIVE PICTURES BY MARKO SYRJÄLÄ
German born guitarist Michael Schenker is one most inspirational and respected guitar players from the 1970’s. Michael started his career in early 1970’s being one of the founding members of The Scorpions. With the Scorpions he recorded their debut LONESOME CROW in 1972. In 1974 Michael was asked and joined the U.K. band UFO. The classic UFO line-up of: Phil Mogg, Pete Way, Andy Parker and Michael Schenker released a string of highly successful albums like: PHENOMENON, FORCE IT, NO HEAVY PETTING and LIGHT’S OUT before Michael decided to leave band in 1978. Michael was next offered gigs with such bands as Aerosmith and Ozzy Osbourne, but excluding a brief reunion with THE SCORPIONS, he decided that he wanted to play his own music and not be a hired gun in another group. MSG (Michael Schenker Group) was thus formed in 1979. The band’s self titled debut was released 1980 and it became an instant success. The history of the Michael Schenker Group has been strewn with personality conflicts and “incidents” between band members. In 1982, original vocalist Gary Barden was fired in favor of Graham Bonnet (Rainbow, Alcatrazz) who lasted for one album (ASSAULT ATTACK). Gary Barden was enticed back to the band for M.S.G. for the recording of a new studio album BUILT TO DESTROY and a live album ROCK WILL NEVER DIE. After the second departure of vocalist Gary Barden, Michael reorganized the band around himself and vocalist Robin McAuley under the name McAuley Schenker Group. After three albums Michael and Robin parted their company in 1992.The classic UFO line–up resurrected in 1995 and WALK ON WATER was released later on that year. Although the band managed to release two more albums in the following years, Schenker finally quit the band in 2002. Since then, Michael has released a bunch albums with different versions of M.S.G and toured around the U.S., Europe and Japan. 2005 was the 25’Th Anniversary of Michael Schenker Group and album TALES OF ROCK’N ROLL. Singers from each incarnation of the group were enlisted to sing on a track or two. That album did lead Gary Barden and Michael to rejoin their forces and as a result MSG released its finest work in decades called THE MIDST OF BEAUTY in 2008. In December of 2009 band finally arrived to Helsinki to play their first show ever in Finland. In Helsinki, we had a chance to sit down with Michael….and here are the results of that interesting chat. Read on!!!
30’TH ANNIVERSARY OF MSG
2010 will be very special year for you because it’s the 30th Anniversary of MSG. Doesn’t it feel any strange that it’s really been thirty years since you formed this band?
It feels like yesterday.
When you first started this band, what kind of goals you had in your mind with this band?
It must say that basically MSG was designed for my freedom. It was originally designed for my freedom of expression, my freedom of everything.
In January you’re going to a series of Anniversary shows in Japan with special lineup including Gary Barden, Neil Murray and Simon Philips. Do you have any plans to do more shows with this special line up?
Well, if I can afford to then yes. I mean… I will be doing… Ah umm umm (etc) the next year is going to be the 30th anniversary period, no matter who is playing with me it’s going to me 30 years….no matter what I do. Even if I play in a sandbox, it has been 30 years. But who is going to be playing with me? That is another question. I don’t have the answer for that. But for now, definitely this is the lineup for Japan.
Did you also ask Don Airey to join this Japan tour?
Yes I asked him but he wasn’t available. He was busy with Deep Purple then.
So Wayne (Findley) will be doing those shows?
Yes. It was going to be both Wayne and Don Airey but don wasn’t available this time. Maybe Don will be available some time later, who knows? You win some and lose some. Maybe not Simon Philips but Don Airey "laughs"
Simon, Neil and Don also played on your latest studio album THE MIDST OF BEAUTY. Do you have plans continue working with them in studio wise in the future as well?
We kind of… It’s just about getting close to do another album but we are also doing a DVD live recording from Japan with that special line up. I think that if everything goes well with that we probably will be releasing that first but it still might be too soon for electric album so I’m not sure about it? But if that, the DVD, for some reason does not happen then we do another studio album which will be then released around the end of year, late autumn maybe? The line up … It’s quite possible that it’s going to be similar to THE MIDST OF BEAUTY?
THE MIDST OF BEAUTY
In my opinion THE MIDST OF BEAUTY is your finest work since the early 80’s albums. How did you managed to recreate that old “spirit”? I mean there’s certainly something on that album what was missing on some previous MSG albums but I can’t tell what it actually is?
I think it has to do with… chemistry. Basically it’s the first album I have done with Gary and … all the original fans from the 80’s, of course they are happy to hearing that chemistry and I think it’s pretty logical that many people prefer something that they really want and what they like a lot and they now are able to hear it again. I think when you have different singers in the band, the music changes, it really does. I do the same thing all over and over, you know, more or less. I do play different solos and stuff like that but I have a style of how I write. I’m a color and when you put two colours together it becames a different colour.
Many MSG fans do say that Gary Baden’s voice is the voice of MSG. Do you agree with that?
Yeah and that’s because that’s the only they fell in love with and that’s it. There are other people who have only heard MSG with Robin McAuley and they don’t even know Gary and for them Robin’s voice is the voice of MSG so it depends on… The fact is that MSG with Gary Barden was the first thing I did after leaving UFO and all fans over the world who were buying the album get used to that and they created a relationship with that chemistry. Then once you’ve created relationship you need to change singers which was one of the main instruments on the album … it’s like "oh what have you done for my singer" but it’s a kind of… people are happy to hear that they once fell in love with. Does that answer your question? "laughs"
There was such a long break since you’ve last time worked with Gary, something like 25 years. How it is to work with him again after all these years?
It was the same as with UFO, it makes no difference. The gap and between, they’re still the same people, they’re still doing the same things "laughs". You are who you are, the moment you are mix with the people that chemistry will always be the same because it’s a same colour you put together and it becames the same result.
When you actually started to rebuilt your relationship with Gary Barden?
We have started something over already in…. I think it was in 1997 or in 1998? Then I did something on his album and he did somethign for my album and so it was kind of … then finally "Why don’t we do something together?" and that was it "laughs"
There was a rumor telling that Glenn Hughes ( Deep Purple, Black Sabbath) was originally asked to play bass on the album but he refused. Is there any truth behind that rumor?
He was asked but he said "I can do it only if I can sing as well?" and I already had Gary Barden so that was about it. He didn’t want to do only bass. He wanted to do it only if he could sing on album as well.
On this current tour you have Gary on vocals, Wayne Findley on keys and second guitar, your old pal Chris Glenn on bass and Chris Slade on drums. Whatever happened to Ted McKenna who was also a part of this tour in the beginning?
We did play with Ted i n Japan some time ago and so… he was available for Japan, he’s a lso a professor or something at the University College in Scotland so… maybe he prefers some more stable income? "laughs"
THE GYPSY LADY
Your latest album release is an acoustic album GYPSY LADY which was released under SCHENKER/BARDEN –banner. Tell something more about this release?
I was curious what my instrumental music would sound like with Gary’s vocals. So near instrumental, acoustic, I have been very keen for a long time. The first time I did it was in ’91 and ’92. But I have always had the element of acoustic in all my recordings as far back as the Scorpions THE LONESOME CROW. Actually, the first song I wrote was “In Search of Peace of Mind” which was written on an acoustic guitar, and played on an acoustic guitar. With UFO we always had acoustic guitar behind it, but then one day the curiosity was, “what would it sound like all acoustic?”. I heard other acoustic and I love the sound of acoustic so for an easy listening kind of thing… I have two sides you know. So why shouldn’t the consumer get two sides as well. I thought this is an area that hasn’t been…like rock guitars playing acoustic music could be interesting. So I did an instrumental, it was really good, it was absolutely amazing. People thought I lost my mind because they thought I was going that way now but it was only another way of expression. That’s the peace you have when you have your own thing and do that kind of stuff
From fans perspective I do understand that they were worried. Many Deep Purple/Rainbow fans can’t still get Ritchie Blackmore is doing only acoustic material today and…
Right, I know what you mean here but it’s a desire you have. You are the artist and you want to explore and you want to express all these hidden elements tah tyou would like to see what it does when it comes out. Anyway, I did four acoustic instrumental albums and eventually I wanted to know how it sounds with vocals on it. Actually I even asked Rudolf (Schenker), in the very beginning, I asked from my brother if Klaus (Meine) wants to do something on it but I guess they were busy doing things with Scorpions then. Klaus has a very good a ballad kind of sound but Gary is very good too. They both are really good on ballad type of singing with a lot of feeling. Gary just did say "Okay, let me try" and he did. He was absolutely amazing and I said "This is so good, we have to release this" and that’s how we did it.
MICHAEL SCHENKER AND FRIENDS
Tell something about you Michael Schenker and Friends project?
Michael Schenker and friends is basically gonna be there if nothing else is there. It’s like, I look at it as a very unique project because with Michale Schenker and Friends I can do all sort of things and sometimes I feel like doing that tour you know? It is something totally different with different musicians. I can pick what I want and it’s not restricted to the industry… you know, there’s alot of space to do something with it. It’s a good thing to have.
Well, because you have so many different bands, projects and tours running all the time, how people can be sure what kind of material they will hear once they purchase a ticket for your show? I mean, there’s MSG, there’s SCHENKER/BARDEN, there’s Michael Schenker and Friends etc?
Well, that should be very specific. If I do a tour in a West Coast in America it goes under SCHENKER/BARDEN -acoustic project and then it’s obvious that I’m going to play acoustic guitar. If it’s advertised under… if people decide to advertise under name Michale Schenker I must say YES. I would not know what to expect? If Jeff Beck would go out (and he had The Jeff Beck Group) and if the poster says just Jeff Beck I would not know what to expect but I think that most of times people use MSG on advertising and if it says MSG I’m gonna turn up with MSG material. I would say that if poster says strictly Michael Schenker it will most likely be … it could be anything "laugsh". But you know, having said that, sometimes promoters have their own preferrences how they want to advertise and it’s very often beyond my control but when I make records I will let people know what it is. I always make it very clear.
THE TALES OF ROCK’N ROLL
THE TALES OF ROCK’N ROLL was a great collection of songs with many different singers including: Gary, Robin McAuley, Graham Bonnet, Kelly Keeling, Leif Sundin, Chris Logan and Finnish guy Jari Tiura who did the majority of album songs. What actually did happen for Jari after THE TALES OF ROCK’N ROLL –tour in 2006?
He is finished? He’s not singing anymore? I’m just joking here “laughs”
That’s what I was thinking as well “laughs”
Well, that album. The concept there was that I wanted to do… I think it was 25’th Anniversary for MSG and I wanted to make it special but I didn’t want to choose any of the past singers to sing because it would be unbalanced so I keep having tapes, you know demo tapes, coming in from other singers all over the world and Jari’s tape was really good. I went like “He’s the guy to sing the main songs on the album” and then I have the other singers to sing just one song each and that way it made sense. Then, like it said before, Jari’s vocals were really good and what happened for him was that… Don’t know how it exactly happened but I think it was the timing because Gary was singing on THE TALES OF ROCK’N ROLL. That’s how Gary and I really connected again and then we decided to make an album together.
Like you said you kind reconnected with Gary again when you were working on THE TALES OF ROCK’N ROLL. How about some other former singer of yours? For example have you now stayed in touch with Robin McAuley or Graham Bonnet?
With Robin I played, he was singing on a show in NAMM –show last year. He was singing, we had Ozzy Osbourne’s drummer , Ratt’s bass player, Wayne (Findley) was helping out then it was I myself and we had some guests on stage and stuff like that. With Graham Bonnet, he was actually for the same concert…“laughs” he was invited to our rehearsal room. I think he came to the rehearsal studio but I think he was a bit ill or something? He was not well and so but the plan was to have him on stage but he couldn’t make it. Bits and pieces happen all the time all over once in a while “laughs”.
One thing came in mind… I remember when I last time interviewed you in Stockholm in 2005 or 2006 and that was actually after the last show you did with Mr. Chris Logan. Would you now tell what happened in the tour bus after the show? There are so many stories flying around about what really happened there?
I have no idea? I wasn’t even there, I was already on the bus and there was stuff going on outside. I stayed away from it and the next think I know is that out tour manager comes in with black eye and then people, again, everybody had their own story but I don’t know what the real story is because I didn’t see it.
Tell something about THE ODD TRIO –album?
ODD TRIO is basically an album I always wanted to do. I wanted play all instrument by myself at least once and it was the period in my life where I thought “Okay, now it would be good time to do it?” I purposely, I didn’t wanted people to know that it was all me so I gave every “person” a different name and put different pictures there. It was such a fun thing to do. I was having fun with it. I even recorded it by myself and I did the engineering. Everything on that album is done by me. But, I’ve done it now… And I don’t really need to do it again “laughs”
There are some great pictures of the “band members” on the booklet…
Yes, but the funny thing is that all the pictures are done in the same day, the funny pictures “laughs”
Which photo was taken first on those sessions?
The one without the beard “laughs”
Some years ago it was strongly rumored that you were going to take part to German version of G3 –tour. If I remember correctly it was you, Uli Jon Roth and Wolf Hoffmann who were supposed to do that tour but it never happened. Would you tell what really did happen there?
I got tricked there some way there. That was something mentioned… I really can’t remember what happened there… It was Gabi, Wolf Hoffmann’s wife, who made a press release saying something what wasn’t true but anyway I was in a meeting with a Peter Knorth, Wolf and myself and we were discussing about it. Then something happened, I can’t remember what it was, but there was also false statement made where they blamed me and I didn’t even know what they said but because it was bullshit I thought “I guess they didn’t want to do that tour happen? Why would they say something like this?” because I thought it was going to happen. There was that statement. Maybe he (Wolf) just changed his mind but he used his wife to make that statement? I don’t’ know?
There are many different stories around about why it didn’t happen?
Well, I was really confused by myself when it didn’t happen but anyway…
THE SCORPIONS AND SESSIONS
You have often mentioned that after UFO you didn’t want to join permanently any other bands but you still decided to rejoin briefly with SCORPIONS for LOVEDRIVE album recordings and tour. Was it obvious that you were not going to stay with band and that was just temporary thing for you?
I had just finished with UFO and my brother got me into the Scorpions to help them out. I put my stuff down and it worked out so amazingly that everyone was trying to get me to stay. I had just come out of all this touring and did it for my brother. In the midst of this, I forgot that I had just come out of the same situation and I was putting myself back into it again. I had refused Ozzy Osbourne and I had refused Aerosmith and in the beginning I wanted to say yes but then I realized I would be copying other peoples music and I that wasn’t what I wanted to do. I could play with the Scorpions if I play my own songs but if I had to play other songs then it was boring and not fun.
You just mentioned band Aerosmith. Would you tell some more about the sessions you did with them?
I think that one with Aerosmith came first… I think, yes. They were looking for a guitarist and Steve Tyler was totally gone. I wasn’t in the best shape and everyone was just going through the motions so there was really no point in meeting period. Then a half year later Peter Mench said to me, after I had started MSG with Denny Carmassi and Billy Sheehan, that Tom Hamilton and Joey Kramer were interested in doing my first solo album. I flew to Boston, we were rehearsing there, and even Brad (Whitford) came in to have a peek. We were sounding good and everyone seemed to be enjoying it. Then Steven Tyler came back so they reunited with the original lineup. In the meantime, I approached Neil (Murray) and Gary and I came over to London to hang out with them. I told them that I would be doing a solo album and asked if they were interested. They were going to do it but they went on tour again. Peter thought it would be too complicated so then we found Simon (Philips) and Mo (Foster) who had just finished recording with Jeff Beck. That line up sounded like it does on the final album “laughs”
In early 90’s you also did such an interesting appearance with band RATT for MTV Unplugged –show. How that thing came about?
That was just something … Warren De Martini is a fan and we were having the same management at that time. Their guitarist Robbin Crosby had just died and Warren just asked me to do it. I didn’t do anything at that time with Robin McAuley because we were on hold for the next album so when the management approached me to do it I said “Let’s just do it and see what happens?” It was like a filler kind of a thing but it was ok.
UNIDENTIFIED FLYING OBJECT
I have some questions about UFO as well. Is it ok to ask about your old band as well?
Yeah for sure!
Have you heard any of their never albums with Vinnie Moore?
No I haven’t heard any of them.
This is a little same kind of situation when you first time left UFO in 1979, did you ever listen their Paul Chapman era albums at all?
I never listen to… Personally I don’t listen to music so why should I listen to UFO? It would be the last thing I listen to but I’m not interested to… I’m here to create. I’m not here to listen. I want to create, I want to have space to create. I don’t need any stuff that “zzzzzzzzzz”… I just create. I have fun creating.
In 1994 SCHENKER/McAuley was slowly disbanded and you then decided to rejoin UFO. In brief, what made you to go back with your former band mates back then?
OK, they have asked me many times over the years and I always said “No, no, don’t even ask!” Eventually, they even asked my sister to join them. I have no clue regarding what goes on in their heads but I think they may think the name is important or something, I don’t know?! But, she only lasted seven days. (laughs)
That’s was hilarious story! “laughs”
Yeah, and so I said ok, in ’94, they came to Los Angeles, actually it was ’92 or 93’s even, somewhere around that time. So I said, “Ok I’ll do it.” But also, at that point I had experienced… I never got paid by the way for touring until ’91. All my life I didn’t get paid for playing concerts, only the management were paid big time. I disconnected from the machine and did my own company. All of a sudden, I became rich. The money was coming my way instead of theirs. A light went on, I went like, “We have all been robbed (laughs). Everyone’s been robbed.” I said, “Look, I tell you this now, because I want you to experience what I’ve just experienced. The money that you were supposed to have went into somebody else’s pocket.” It’s still out there so I kind of tried to convince them that “if we do it ourselves, our own record company, we can make everything back that we lost.” It was that kind of a thing, but somehow, they were relieved, but somehow they didn’t accept it because they wanted to be with the machine, with everything around it, with the top album, “blah, blah, blah” and so on. They felt the way of doing it is in a big way. My way, I kind of do it more for freedom. The freedom counts for me more than the money. But when I found out that there was money to be made, that was just icing in the cake. The foundation was the freedom which did lead me to that insight. So I think people who depend on commercial success, they have very little chance to do it their own way, because they don’t get the recognition that they would get in the machine. It stumbled, it kind of started to work ok, but again, it was not for them because their expectations are on a different level. Anyway, I just simply said to them, in order to make sure that you don’t abuse UFO again, meaning that in ’79 I went out and they were riding on my name until it went to nothing. When it went to nothing, they came to me to fill it up again. I came back, but I said we have to make a rule that UFO can only exist if at least, Phil, myself, or Pete Way is in the band. We agreed on that basically between Phil and me. I had 50% of the name and Phil had 50% of the name, so we carried on. In 2002 it finally was over. Phil didn’t want to tour anymore, and Pete was totally drunk all the time. It was just…bad. There was no point. I wanted my distance. Then Phil called up and asked me: “Michael I need to move on. I need to keep working. I need that name back.” I said “Listen Phil, you can have it.”
So that was in 2002?
And Phil Mogg owns the name now?
Yeah Phil owns the name now, all by himself, I think? So now it’s all up to him. (laughs) He’s in charge now.
How is your opinion of UFO now carrying on without Pete Way in the band?
It’s sad. It’s sad that they have the name UFO and they really don’t have Pete Way with them. He was the main person of the band but anyway it’s like… it’s up to the audience, if they want to see band that way or not? It is nothing anybody can do. I don’t even know how Pete Way is and is actually happening with his life?
Some years ago you had that great project band called THE PLOT with Pete. Tell something more about that?
His wife had just died and he was really lost so I said to him “Come over”. I had a studio and he had material and I knew he needed to be focused because otherwise he would go crazy, you know? He came over and we started to record his material and it shaped out really good. I went like “Wow”. I didn’t know that he had such great stuff and it was actually lot of fun. The chemistry kind of was interesting because my guitar playing actually fits there in a different ways. I don’t know how to describe it but it was just another example how different chemistries make the guitar sound different depending on who else is in? Anyway, I realized he was shaping up in a really interesting way and so we decided to take make a team work, a kind of a project. I even took him out on the road with me but it was disastrous. It didn’t work out
When you have last been in touch with Pete Way?
I have trying to have been in touch with him but… I don’t know how he is doing and is he actually capable of playing and stuff like that? I would like to know just in case that we want to do something more special in the near future?
What if someday there was a chance to do something again, under any circumstances, like a one show for an anniversary, would you do any show or not? Like in 4 years it’s going to be the 40th Anniversary of classic PHENOMENON –album. Would you even think about doing something with them again in the future?
Well you know, it takes two to tango…in this case, five. You know, I’m open. I know that I like to ummm…. you can only do something when everybody’s in tune. So anything is possible, when everybody wants it to be possible.
MORE PICTURES FROM MICHAEL SCHENKER GROUP’S HELSINKI SHOW IN DECMEBER !!!