INTERVIEW AND LIVE PICTURES BY MARKO SYRJÄLÄ
German-born guitarist Michael Schenker is one most inspirational and respected guitar players from the 1970s. Michael started his career in the early 1970s, 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 the 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 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 in 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. to record 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 the album WALK ON WATER followed soon later. 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 many albums with different M.S.G versions and toured around the U.S., Europe, and Japan. 2005 was the 25’Th Anniversary of the Michael Schenker Group, and then the band released the album TALES OF ROCK’N ROLL. The album features vocalists from each incarnation of the MSG. The album led 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 in 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 a great year for you because it’s the 30th Anniversary of MSG. Doesn’t it feel any strange that it’s 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 a special lineup including Gary Barden, Neil Murray, and Simon Philips. Do you have any plans to do more shows with this impressive lineup?
Well, if I can afford to, then yes. I mean, I will be doing. “Ah umm, umm” (etc.) the next year will 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, 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 sometime 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 to continue working with the in-studio wise in the future as well?
It’s just about getting close to making another album, but we are also doing a DVD live recording from Japan with that special lineup. I think that if everything goes well with that, we probably will be releasing that first, but it still might be too soon for an 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 the year, late autumn maybe? It may be 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 manage to recreate that old “spirit”? I mean, there’s certainly something on that album that was missing on some previous MSG albums, but I can’t tell what it is?
I think it has to do with chemistry. It’s the first album I have done with Gary and … all the original fans from the ’80s; of course, they are happy to hear that chemistry, and I think it’s pretty logical that many people prefer something that they want and what they like a lot. They now can hear it again. I guess 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 play different solos and stuff like that, but I have a style of writing. I’m color, and when you put two colors together, it becomes a different color.
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 one they fell in love with, and that’s it. Other people 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. Once you’ve created a relationship, you need to change singers, which were one of the album’s main instruments. 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 is it 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 the same color you put together, and it becomes the same result.
When did you start to rebuild your relationship with Gary Barden?
We have started something over already; I think it was in 1997 or 1998? Then I did something on his album, and he did something for my album, so it was kind of a start. 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 the only bass. He wanted to do it only if he could sing on the album as well.
You have Gary on vocals on this current tour, 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 in Japan some time ago. He was available for Japan. He’s such 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, released under SCHENKER/BARDEN –banner. Tell me 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, was in ’91 and ’92. But I have always had acoustic elements in all my recordings as far back as the Scorpions THE LONESOME CROW. The first song I wrote was “In Search of Peace of Mind,” 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 acoustic sound, 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 area hasn’t been like rock guitars playing acoustic music could be interesting. So I did an instrumental; it was terrific. It was 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 the fan’s perspective, I do understand that they were worried. Many Deep Purple/Rainbow fans can’t still get Ritchie Blackmore is doing only acoustic material on these days.
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 that you 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. I even asked Rudolf (Schenker). In the very beginning, I asked 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 perfect 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 me something about your Michael Schenker and Friends project?
Michael Schenker and friends are going to be there if nothing else is there. It’s like, I look at it as a unique project because with Michael 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 a lot 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 on 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 the name Michael 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 the times people use MSG on advertising, and if it says MSG I’m going to turn up with MSG material. I would say that if the poster says strictly Michael Schenker, it will most likely be; it could be anything “laughs.” But you know, sometimes promoters have their preferences 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. They did the majority of album songs. What did happen for Jari after THE TALES OF ROCK’N ROLL –tour in 2006?
Is he finished? Is he not singing any more? 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 the 25’th Anniversary of MSG, and I wanted to make it special. Still, I didn’t want to choose any of the past singers to sing because it would be unbalanced, so I keep having tapes, demo tapes, coming in from other singers worldwide, 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 sing just one song each, and that way, it made sense. Then, as it said before, Jari’s vocals were really good, and what happened for him was that I 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.
As you said, you kind of 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, 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 to mind. When I last time, I 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 me what happened on the tour bus after the show? There are so many stories flying around about what 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 thing I know is that our tour manager comes in with a 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.
Say something about THE ODD TRIO –album?
ODD TRIO is basically an album I always wanted to do. I wanted to play all instruments by myself at least once, and it was the period in my life where I thought, “Okay, now it would be a good time to do it?” I purposely didn’t want 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. I do everything on that album. But, I’ve done it now, and I don’t need to do it again, “laughs.”
There are some great pictures of the “band members” in the booklet…
Yes, but the funny thing is that all the pictures are done on the same day, the funny images “laughs.”
Which photo was taken first on those sessions?
The one without the beard “laughs.”
Some years ago, it was strongly rumored that you would take part in the German version of the G3 –tour. If I remember correctly, you, Uli Jon Roth, and Wolf Hoffmann were supposed to do that tour, but it never happened. Would you tell me what did happen there?
I got tricked there some way. That was something mentioned, and I really can’t remember what happened there. Gabi, Wolf Hoffmann’s wife, made a press release saying something that wasn’t true, but anyway, I was in a meeting with Peter North, Wolf, and myself, and we were discussing it. Then something happened, I can’t remember what it was, but a false statement was made where they blamed me, and I didn’t even know what they said. Still, 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 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. However, you still decided to rejoin briefly with SCORPIONS for LOVEDRIVE album recordings and tour. Was it obvious that you would not stay with the band, and that was just a 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 amazing that everyone was trying to get me to stay. I had just come out of all this touring and did it for my brother. I forgot that I had just come out of the same situation in the midst of this, 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 people’s music, and I that wasn’t what I wanted to do. I could play with the Scorpions if I played my own songs, but it was boring and not fun if I had to play other songs.
You just mentioned the band Aerosmith. Would you tell me 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 no point in the meeting period. 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 sounded 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 the early 90’s you also did such an interesting appearance with the band RATT for MTV Unplugged –show. How that thing came about?
That was just something. Warren De Martini is a fan, and we had 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 the same kind of situation as when you first time left UFO in 1979. Did you ever listen to their Paul Chapman era albums at all?
I never listen to any music. 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 in listening to music. I’m here to create. I’m not here to listen. I want to create, and 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 go back with your former bandmates 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 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 a 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 a lot. 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, and 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 gone 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 on the cake. The foundation was the freedom that did lead me to that insight. So I think people who depend on commercial success have very little chance to do it their way because they don’t recognize 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 different.
Anyway, I just simply said to them, 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 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. Sadly, they have the name UFO, and they 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 a band that way or not? It is nothing anybody can do. I don’t even know how Pete Way is and what is happening with his life?
Some years ago, you had that great project band called THE PLOT with Pete. Tell me 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 well. I went like, “Wow.” I didn’t know that he had such great stuff, and it was a lot of fun. The chemistry kind of was interesting because my guitar playing fits there in different ways. I don’t know how to describe it, but it was just another example of how different chemistries make the guitar sound different depending on who else is in? Anyway, I realized he was shaping up excitingly, so we decided to make teamwork 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 have you last been in touch with Pete Way?
I have been trying to have been in touch with him, but I don’t know how he is doing and is he capable of playing and stuff like that? I would like to know if we want to do something more special shortly?
What if someday there was a chance to do something again, under any circumstances, as 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 the 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 see, 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 DECEMBER !!!