Gitarrvirtuosen Michael Schenker är tillbaka med ett nytt album, “Immortal” I ett samtal med Rocksverige pratar gitarristen bland annat om Eddie Van Halen, Pete Way, vad han gör på fritiden och om att leva kreativt i nuet:
– That is my life, to be creative and to always figure something out or design something.
We recently lost Eddie Van Halen. Anything you can say about him? Did he have any kind of influence on you, did he mean anything to you as a guitar player?
Well, the thing is that I don´t listen to music and haven´t for 50 years, but sometimes you can´t escape. People like Yngwie (Malmsteen) for instance was so sensational when he came out. You could hear it everywhere and you can´t escape it, even if you don´t listen to the radio or anything. You go to a boutique to try on clothes and there it is and you go “Wow, what is that?” With Eddie, first of all I made a statement on my website about Eddie, but there´s a long history to that. UFO were… I was told, and I never knew that… many years ago, Van Halen were supporting UFO at the Starwood in Los Angeles in the early 70´s and I was only like 19 years old or so (Michael is probably referring to a show at the Golden West Ballroom on May 9th 1976. That same night Eddie OD´d on PCP). I was told that Eddie was a fan of me and Dave Roth actually loved Uli Jon Roth. Altogether there was a connection there right from the beginning. At some point they developed into this incredible big band. Later I was with the Scorpions helping them with the “Lovedrive” (1979) album to open the doors for America and I was already like the number 5 guitarist in America and I wrote the hit “Lights out” when I was 21. Mathias couldn´t do the “Lovedrive” album to the expectations to what Rudolf (Schenker) and Klaus (Meine) was envisioning. They found out I left UFO and they asked me to help them out and so I did. At that time in ´79, Van Halen were playing in Germany in Düsseldorf (June 17th) and somehow we either got invited or the Scorpions said “Let´s go see the show!” We went over there and we went into the dressing room and had a fantastic time. We were like kids in a candy store. Sharing how we did things, like the drummer (Alex) showing what he did to keep his ankles going. We had a fantastic time and it was a fantastic show. We became friends and later when Rudolf and the Scorpions… when the market in America was open for them, they played with Van Halen (Monster of Rock 1988) and met them very often. At some point Rudolf told me that Eddie said “Hey man, your brother Michael should´ve stayed with you. It would´ve been fantastic!” etc etc. Yeah, of course it would´ve been, but you know, it was the end of my development in part one, including “Love drive” I enjoy to just play, no competition or expectation. I don´t need fame, I don´t want success blah blah blah… I just want to have fun with a single string and that´s what I´ve always done my whole life. If I would´ve wanted to be in a big band, I would´ve stayed with UFO because they were already becoming one of the biggest bands in the world. And then I got Ozzy, Ian Hunter, Phil Lynott and Lemmy and you name them. They all wanted me to join their bands, so obviously after “Love drive” I went “Michael, it is time to do something small.” I actually went away when I wrote “Lights out” because I was afraid that I was under pressure and that I had to write hits for them and I didn´t want that. I just wanted to have fun and go deep inside myself and self-express.
Another one who recently passed away was Pete Way.
What a lovely guy! When the Scorpions were invited to support UFO in Germany, they showed up without their guitarist (Mick Bolton). My dad had already invested in a big PA system for Scorpions, we had 20 cabinets and they were sitting there. We walked into the hall and I could see from a distance a guy that stood out and it was Pete Way. He had long hair and was the most charming and friendly person… I´ve never seen that guy angry. When they talked about cancelling the tour or have me help out with UFO for the first two nights, the guitarist had lost his passport or whatever it was, they asked the Scorpions and me if I could help out and at that point I was only 16 years old and I was used to figuring out and copying other people´s music since I was nine. And actually, since we didn´t write our own songs, to be able to do live concerts. When I met Klaus when I was 14 we played Led Zeppelin, Rory Gallagher, Deep Purple and all of that. So, off we went to the bathroom for an hour and I learned the whole set and played it for two nights. Pete was very raw, but he had so much charisma and he became an icon for so many incredible bass players. He was an idol. Pete Way had the same offers from the Rolling Stones and Ozzy as I had. He was unbelievable!
You told me several years ago that you started writing your autobiography, but then you didn´t like it and you burned it. Will there ever be a book about your life?
Personally I think not.
You´ve got so many stories.
I know, but I do so many interviews that I think most of the stories are already out there. I think books from musicians are fiction. I´m not interested and I don´t want to be in the same category. I´m from the heart and I tell things the way it is and it´s nothing made up to make it more attractive to sell books. I don´t really feel like I want to be… maybe I would write a book one minute before I die, to tell the truth, but I can´t be involved in fiction like that.
The new album is called “Immortal” Do you feel immortal?
Well, the title “Immortal” comes from Nuclear Blast. They´re consumers, they´re fans. 80% of Nuclear Blast in Germany and other Nuclear Blast extensions are Michael Schenker fans. The boss of Nuclear Blast, he´s the number one Michael Schenker fan and he said to me one day that if I wouldn´t have been, he wouldn´t have been. There was actually an Australian journalist who said a similar thing. He said that if I wouldn´t have been, thrash metal and all other metal would never have existed. I found out all of this just recently. I never knew about all the fans that I have, like Slash and Kirk (Hammett) and so on, until the mid 90´s. I never knew. I never focused on that and I never wanted to be that kind of person. I just wanted to have fun playing the guitar.
How do you feel about that? There´s a lot of famous guitar players that name you as one of their biggest influences? It´s got to be a good feeling?
Well, it´s like this, as I said before, I´m a kid in a sandbox, no expectations. It was more of a shock that anything.
You say you don´t listen to music, but have you ever had your own guitar heroes? When you started out, was there anyone you liked?
Absolutely! I went guitar hunting when I was 14 years old. I went to festivals to discover great new guitarists, like Jeff Beck, Leslie West, Jimmy Page and all those guys… Johnny Winter, Rory Gallagher… people that developed in the 60´s and they all had their own style. It was fascinating and you could hear it. It came from the heart and it was unbelievable. It was talking to me and I was fascinated by it. Then at some point when I was 15, 16 or 17 I eventually said “Wait a minute! I want to do it the way I see it.” and that´s when I got in touch with my inner self and decided to self-express and make that my priority.
How do you feel about a guy like Jimi Hendrix?
You know what, it´s really strange… When I was younger, I was into more “sweet” sounding guitarists like Jeff Beck and Jimmy Page, but I knew of Hendrix, but not to the extent as to when I discovered him later in life. Hendrix always pops up somewhere. “All along the watchtower”, when I heard that solo and that sound and everything about it and when I see video clips on tv… how natural and how easy and so phenomenal, but it was never my style. Today I know he was exceptional in his own way, just like Beck and Page. That was the beauty of the 60´s. They were actually doing pure self-expression and I wanted to do the same thing. The 80´s were all basically Michael Schenker guitar solos. (laughs) It was unbelievable. The 80´s were also watered-down 70´s commercialized.
Since you don´t listen to music, what does Michael Schenker do when you´re at home and got nothing planned on a Saturday night?
I don´t care about Saturday nights. I don´t care about Christmas. I don´t care about my birthday. I don´t ever celebrate New Year’s. I actually go to bed before 12 o´clock. I go to be early because it keeps you young and it also stops you from snacking. We stay in shape. Basically… I live in the now. I have a routine of getting up in the morning and the first thing I do is play the guitar, because that´s when I have the best energy and I´ve taken care of that and then I just see what comes up. Now for instance, my partner is in Japan looking after her very sick mother. I´ve been in quarantine for 46 days all by myself. My dad used to be an architect and I have a beautiful property and a house and a garden and I love to design. That´s what I do. I love to be creative in any direction. That is my life, to be creative and to always figure something out or design something. I designed and old shed on my property and turned it into a Hanzel and Gretyl house and then I have a hill that goes all the way up and looks over the ocean and I created like a gazebo that looks like a resort in Thailand. I keep creating and right now I´m turning my garage into something livable. I´m fascinated with architecture.
I get the feeling that you´re not very nostalgic?
I live in the now. No future. I don´t know if I´m still alive tomorrow.
About the new album. There´s a great track called “Sail the darkness” What can you tell me about that one?
I´m glad you like it. Because of the virus and everything, Ronnie (Romero) was supposed to sing on the whole album and because he got trapped because of the virus, I had to rearrange everything. I put down all my backing tracks and went “Ok Ronnie, are you ready?” and he said “I can´t Michael, If I leave the country… (quarantine)” That´s how I got Ralf (Scheepers, Primal Fear) involved and Joe Lynn Turner and eventually Ronnie was available and he did a fantastic job and that was one of the songs. It was a bit of a combination between Michael Voss and Ronnie.
Then we have “In search of the peace of mind”, the very first song you ever wrote. How does it feel to play something again that you wrote back when you were 15?
It was the first ever written music by Michael Schenker in his mother´s kitchen. Nobody else was there. The original credits on “Lonesome crow” (1972) says “Michael Schenker lyrics and Rudolf Schenker lyrics” We had zero knowledge of English. Complete misinformation. What on earth? It should say “Michael Schenker music”, just like Rudolf takes care of his and makes sure that it says “Music written by Rudolf Schenker” I actually never knew any of that because I never looked back. I live in the now and I go forward. I never look back. I play the lead break on that song and when I was 15 years old I didn´t know where it came from. I wouldn´t change a note. It´s just perfect. Sometimes it just happens, you know. It´s a gift. On the rest of “Lonesome crow” you can hear I´m an amateur. I´m learning, but with that song I wouldn´t change a note. The composition itself was quite complex for the first written song. Rudolf can´t even play the song and it is actually pretty complicated, but it sounds easy and it flows. I have no idea where that lead break came from and because it was the first ever music I wrote it had to be on the 50th anniversary. The funny thing is that the song is called “In search of the peace of mind” and it´s been the theme of my life, looking for contentment and here I was playing a solo at the end that has so much color that it sounds like a conversation within one self, like making choices – should I go this way or that way? It actually describes my 50 years in a musical way.
50 years is an incredible career. It must´ve been a fantastic journey?
Yeah, my life has been a fantastic journey, no doubt about it. I had my middle years too and I was experimenting and I got a chance to do acoustic instrumentals and all of that stuff that I couldn´t have done with Deep Purple or Ozzy, Scorpions, UFO, Phil Lynott… all the people that I declined. I´m an Ozzy Osbourne fan, but I said no. It was very important to me to experience those middle years. It made me feel like I´ve done everything I wanted to do and it makes me very happy.
A final thing. What will it say on your gravestone?
“Spirit on a mission” or actually “Spirit on a mission creating the joy of music from a place of pure self-expression”
Text: Niclas Müller-Hansen
Foto: Michael med uppblåst gitarr Michael Ochs