Interview / Michael Schenker Talks Scorpions, UFO and his infinite spring of creativity

The Rock world really would be a cold and sterile place without the magical fingertips of Michael Schenker. When you look at the calibre of guitarist that the German legend influenced and the music they subsequently produced, his genius should never be taken for granted.

After two superb albums under the Michael Schenker Fest banner, ‘Immortal’ sees the resurrecting of the MSG name and in turn celebrating 50 years as a musician. And to help him do it in style is a mouthwatering ensemble of guests who most likely raced out of the traps to join the great man.

As you can read here, Immortal is a sumptuous collection from one of Rock and Metal’s most precious gems.

Michael Schenker spoke at length with Kahmel Farahani about the new album and his illustrious career. 

MetalTalk: Your latest album ‘Immortal’ is your sixth new studio album in about 10 years! I think you are the only guy from the old-school who still keeps up that schedule?

Michael Schenker: “Well the thing is, first of all I am not old-school, I am Michael Schenker. I get my musical inspiration from the infinite spring of creativity, the inner world. I do not take from trends…if anything I created the trends.

“I created something that most guitarists in the 80’s copied, because it was unique. The reason it was unique was that I was not taking it from trends, I always go to the inner infinite spring of creativity, come up with something fresh and then inject it into the trend, otherwise the trend would have been dead long ago.

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“Basically I am like a kid in a sandbox – just play and discover, having fun. I do not compete, I do not compare, I do not look for money, I do not look for success or fame. Everything that happened to me in my whole 50 year career just happened, simply because I wanted to be Michael Schenker.

“You know, Kirk Hammet told me that when heard me playing, he had never heard anything like that before! So that is why I say it is not really old-school, it is just Michael Schenker music.

“Of course I have been inspired by the old-school like Leslie West, Jimmy Page, Jeff Beck then Rory Gallagher, they gave me this jump start but early in life, but I realised there was something in myself. I knew who I was and what I wanted to do, to play and give people goosebumps and be happy!”

On his legendary guitar of choice:

“Of course the Flying V came to me, I never looked for it – it just happened. I had my own guitar locked up and I had to do a gig with The Scorpions, so I discovered this Flying V.

“Putting it between my legs gave it this Vibrato and created a very unusual position and people said “Michael, you look like you are going to the toilet!”(laughs). It became an Icon and I never planned it.”

On his writing process:

“Like everything I do, I live in the now. I never write until its time for me to make a record and I never have writers block, because I write from a place that is infinite.

“It is like a tropical ocean… there is a place we can go. But most people want to make a quick buck, be part of the commercialised music scene. Like in the 80’s, when they did a watered down version of the 70’s that was accessible to stereotypes where the big money is.

“I live in the now and create my music. We made a record every year with UFO and I never had a problem. I never have a problem making a record whenever I want to, because I go to the inner spring.

“I never had a junk box like many people have. When it is time to have a new album out, I sit down and start writing from scratch.”

Photo of German guitarist Michael Schenker
Michael Schenker. Photo: Mick Burgess

On his influencing a whole generation of guitarists:

“Well, it was guys like Dave Mustaine and Kirk Hammet and James Hetfield and Slash… I never knew I had such an impact on them until Kirk and Dave Mustaine explained it to me.

“I mean, I must say that when I joined Nuclear Blast records, the head of Nuclear Blast, Markus Staiger, said to me “Michael, if you would have never been, he would have never been. Thrash Metal would never have existed”. I said “What? You must be joking”(laughs).

“Now journalists are telling me that without you, Thrash Metal and Death Metal and all that, would have never been and by them telling me that, I kind of started to realise only then, that what I did with UFO was sort of Metal music, or at least something that did not exist that way before.

“What I am trying to say is that if you take away Phil Mogg’s voice from some of those UFO songs, you can hear a lot of that Metal inference.

“I mean I have always been a fan of Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin and Deep Purple and those guys, but it was still a new step for the next generation. They found it so unique and that is why they copied it.

“So I explained to Kirk Hammet why I play the Flying V and how I developed, because of the Flying V, and he said “Get out of here!” (laughs).

On working with UFO in the 70’s:

“Phil Mogg was not a Metal singer, but the good thing about Phil’s singing was that, combined with my guitar playing, it created a unique style that was not there before.

“Of course, Pete Way on his bass with that charisma he had and Andy Parker on his drums, a very fluent player and Paul Raymond, the fantastic colouring of those keyboards and of course Ron Nevison our producer and sixth member, as I always called him because he was so important.

“So it just had some chemistry, something you can not learn from a book. It happens or it does not, and it happened with UFO because of the unique combination.

“If I would have stayed with UFO, they would have been one of the biggest bands in the world, but I had to go my own way.

“I was not chasing what they were chasing, fame or money or any of that stuff.”

On joining The Scorpions and Recording Lovedrive:

“They had a problem with the Lovedrive album so they asked me to help them out. I actually wrote a song in 1976 when I was just 21 and it became a hit in America. I got scared and ran away because I thought now this business is going to try and put me in a box to create hits.

“Pete Way eventually convinced me to carry on with ‘Obsession’ and ‘Strangers In The Night’, then I was gone and Rudolph found out.

“You have to remember they were about seven years older than me – imagine a three year old boy standing next to a ten year old (laughs).

“I mean I started Lonesome Crowe that had ‘In Search Of the Peace Of Mind’ which was my very first musical composition that I wrote by myself.

“When I saw the credits it said ‘Michael Schenker music and lyrics, Rudolph Schenker lyrics’ – how could we have written the lyrics when we had zero knowledge of English? Complete misinformation – it should have said ‘Michael Schenker music’ and whoever did the lyrics.

“I was being taken advantage of already. They credited themselves for writing the whole ‘Lonesome Crow’ album with me when they never wrote any music!

“They did not know how to write and Rudolph learned everything from me and he carried on later when I left and joined UFO. And then copied everything UFO did.

“Anyway, I helped them out. I had a contract with them to do the album, just for the love of Rudolph and Klaus, to help them because Matthias could not do it. When America found out about it, they went nuts! I mean the management, the promoters, the record company, everyone went completely nuts and Rudolph knew that – he was more of a manager than a musician.

“He always used me as a tool and because I was seven years younger, he had power over me and persuaded me to go his way. When I was 15 or 16 I told him “why don’t you do what you want me to do yourself?”(laughs).

“I opened the doors to America and they left my picture out on the ‘Lovedrive’ album.

“I had a contract and they did it on purpose.

“They wanted to keep me in The Scorpions to break through in America, but I could not do it. I tried a couple of times and I even had Rudolph crying on the phone, begging me “please stay” and I said “Rudolph I tried, I tried twice, I’m sorry I can’t do it”.

“They were very angry with me and, as a result of that, Rudolph adopted my black and white Flying V, he has the name Schenker, he looked a bit like me…he ended up distorting my image by creating a double (laughs).

“But, you know he tricked the people in America and I gave him a free run. I did not know it at the time, but I found out in 2015 when they approached me for The Scorpions box set and I heard the Lovedrive story, the lie they created and it opened a can of worms.

“I was so disappointed in Rudolph and from that moment I was shocked. Then I found out so much, because in my middle years I went back because I wanted something small. I found Gary Barden, little ego and great voice and he joined me in the sandbox and we just had fun.

“So I gave Rudolph a lot of space to do all these tricks and distortion and they actually managed to make it (laughs).

“I always said “more power to Rudolph” because I was in my middle years following my own vision, experimenting with acoustic instrumentals and cover versions with great musicians.

“I could never have done that with UFO or The Scorpions, Ozzy Osbourne, Deep Purple, Motorhead, Phil Lynott or any of the guys who approached me.

“It was tempting, but I had to do what I had to do. A I stayed true to myself.”

Part Two of this explosive interview will be shared later in the week at MetalTalk.

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