Michael Schenker Talks Pete Way, Iron Maiden, Blackmore, Kiss and the future
5 February 2021
After two superb albums under the Michael Schenker Fest banner, ‘Immortal’ sees Schenker resurrecting of the MSG name and in turn celebrating 50 years as a musician. As you can read here, ‘Immortal’ is a sumptuous collection from one of Rock and Metal’s most precious gems.
In Part One of our interview with Michael Schenker, he spoke at length with Kahmel Farahani about this new album as well as covering joining Scorpions, recording Lovedrive, his early days with UFO, his writing processes and how he has influenced a whole generation of guitarists.
Here is part two:
Remembering Pete Way
Michael Schenker: “Pete Way was the the most lovely guy I have known. We did a tour with Scorpions and UFO when I was 16 and my dad invested in this huge PA system with 20 cabinets as a support band! So when we got to the venue for soundcheck we saw three UFO guys coming in and the first one that really stuck out was Pete Way.
“He jumped up, ran towards us and started greeting us all – what a lovely guy!
“He was dressed up like an Indian, so much charisma and so friendly and sweet. I ended up playing as they did not have their guitarist, because he lost his passport and was looking for it in England! The crew had already left, so we were all stuck there at the venue in Germany.
“So, what shall we do? Cancel or ask Michael to play with Scorpions and UFO in the same night. I was very good at copying in those days and learning quick. Today I’m useless, I can’t even copy my own music [laughs]. Very bad, I hate copying! [laughs].
“So we went into the bathroom, Pete told me their hour long set and I learned it with Pete – he was the one.
“He was always a sweet person with so much Rock and Roll! He looked like a comic book figure, he was so naturally Pete Way. He was not the greatest bass player, but he had taste and the warmness of his playing and his charisma just enchanted people.
“Like The Red Hot Chilli Peppers bass player [Flea], he is a fantastic bass player and I can not believe his idol is Pete Way! Steve Harris too.
“If you talk to them, or whoever has met Pete before, they will tell you the same thing. Unfortunately he went down hill, you know. Over 50 years I always tried to help him every three or four years. I teamed up with him and tried to help him to move on.
“At High Voltage he was playing with us, but he just went down, he lost it. I even had his doctor’s phone number to help, but I could not help Pete, he was too stuck in this pit and I felt so sorry he ended up there. I think it happened because he was such a vulnerable person and people took advantage of him. I think within himself he could not deal with it, he had to look for escapes and numb himself.”
On The Iron Maiden and MSG tour of 1983
“It was very weird (laughs). Actually my guitar tech was Mick Bolton, the original guitarist from UFO when they were still psychedelic Rock. Actually his sister became Phil Mogg’s wife.
“So anyway, we played with Iron Maiden in Europe and I remember at that point in time Punk was still happening and everybody was spitting! It was a trend I could not believe [laughs].
“I must say this, very ironically, it was the early 80’s I think and there was this nightclub in Victoria in London. It was the middle of the night and I think I was just going out or something. I was walking on the left and on the other side of the street by the venue was Bruce Dickinson.
“I was only 24 or 25 but he was this little boy with a suitcase in his hand. He shouted over to me “Michael! I’m going to audition for Iron Maiden!”. I said “Good luck!!” [laughs]. He actually became one of my favourite singers because he sounds similar to Ronnie James Dio, who is my favourite singer in Metal.
“Dio was fantastic, but I’ll tell you, Bruce did not do less than him. I never listen to music, but I was at the hairdresser or a tattoo parlour…anyway, they were playing Iron Maiden, the whole album. That is when I learned about Bruce and what a great voice he has.
“To be honest, I never watched Iron Maiden because that is part of my thing, I stay away from music so I do not spoil it for myself.
“I do not want to over-consume because I am not a consumer, I am a creator. If I would consume, I would have been dead a long time ago.
“But sometimes you can not escape, so that is how I learn sometimes in weird situations about some bands. I realise there are great musicians out there. If I spent more time in hairdressers and boutiques I would probably find out more about those guys [laughs].
“But like I said, Bruce is a fantastic singer.”
On Ritchie Blackmore and Going Acoustic
“You know, when Ritchie [Blackmore] was looking for a new singer to tour, I realised that Richie and I have a complete parallel.
“Everybody who leaves Ritchie joins Michael Schenker. Jeff Beck too, I had three drummers from Jeff Beck’s group and two bass players. I had Cozy Powell and Don Airy.
“When Ritchie left Deep Purple, I actually heard a story that Ritchie was looking for me because he had heard about me doing acoustic music because I had been very successful with it.
“I became rich because of my acoustic thing [laughs]. It was strange because I had no manager and nobody involved, so all the money was flowing straight into my pocket – that is when I realised how much I got ripped off.
“So Ritchie was looking and I was living in Arizona at the time and I think he had just met his new wife and wanted to do something independent. So he ended up doing acoustic stuff too. I think I can read Ritchie’s mind, kind of, and I realised when he did this last tour he had to find a vocalist that was that was able to sing all his hits.
“Most of those hits were written, as far as I know, by Russ Ballard. So he had Graham Bonnet, he had Joe Lynn Turner, Ronnie James Dio. That is a handful of fantastic singers.
“I mean, I must say Ritchie Blackmore has one of the best tastes in finding singers. He had to find somebody who could sing those hits live because he had to play them. So since we are so similar and I have so many singers and lineups…I once made a funny comment and said “tell Ronnie Romero to sing a bit more like Ronnie James Dio” [laughs]. Because that is where he comes from.”
On What Makes a Great Guitarist
“Well…first of all he has to be himself, otherwise he is just a patch maker. I am not interested in patch makers , they are people who take from everybody and sometimes they have such big egos they think they created it – it is so cheap.
“But a great guitar player is somebody who expresses themselves with their own identity, their own ideas, style and colours which exist in each person.
“If you want to go for the trends and be rich or for instant gratification, it will die out very soon. If you are true to yourself it will last forever. I am a living example.
“So for fulfilment, please be yourself, be unique and great and be yourself.”
Do you have hope for the future of Rock and Metal?
“Absolutely! Gene Simmons does not! “Rock is dead” [laughs]. But not for me! It is only just starting [laughs].
“Actually UFO toured with Kiss near the beginning. The funny story is, as they are disguised and looking like puppets, after UFO and Kiss played this gig in Chicago everyone was hanging out, waiting to get a lift back to the hotel while the equipment was being moved.
“So there was this guy with curly hair – I was standing next to him and he said to me “Hey Michael, what do you think of Kiss?”. I said “Oh bloody rubbish!”. He knew I did not recognise who he was – it was the guy with the star, Paul Stanley!
“So later, when Scorpions played with Kiss in Munich, Rudolph saw Paul come in and he called out “Paul! Nice to meet you! My brother thinks you guys are the greatest”. Paul said “Bullshit! He hates us!” [laughs].”
MSG – Immortal (Nuclear Blast) was released 29 January 2021