Rare Breed

"For me, the guitar is what I use to go on an adventure. It’s self-expression." GP sits down with Michael Schenker to discuss his 'Resurrection.'
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Scores of guitarists have worn out copies of the Scorpions’ Lonesome Crow or UFO’s Phenomenon attempting to glean the secrets of Michael Schenker’s phrasing and elegant yet forceful vibrato. Schenker is well aware of such fan devotion, but he lets out an astonished gasp at the notion he would ever engage in such diligent study of another player himself.

“Why would I do that?” he laughs. “I’m a trend maker—not a trend follower. I don’t listen to anyone else, and I don’t listen to music at home. Period. I never even practice. That’s dull. For me, the guitar is what I use to go on an adventure. It’s self-expression. The art of playing lead guitar should always be based on instinct and emotion.”

A couple of years ago, Schenker put together the Michael Schenker Fest, a touring outfit that featured the three most famous vocalists (Gary Barden, Graham Bonnet, and Robin McAuley) from his past MSG/McAuley Schenker Groups. Buoyed by the reception he received from fans, Schenker gathered the whole gang—along with singer Doogie White from his Temple of Rock combo—to record Resurrection [Nuclear Blast]. Brimming with catchy hard-rock anthems, the album captures Schenker, at age 63, at peak form, deftly deploying widescreen riffs and potent solos.

Let’s go back in history. What’s the story behind your auditioning for the Stones to replace Mick Taylor back in the ’70s?

That never happened. I was in England with UFO, and my landlady said I had gotten a call from the Rolling Stones. I called back, and somebody said, “Do you want to audition for the Stones?” I went, “Whoops! Wait a minute. I’ll call you back.” I told my brother Rudolph that I didn’t know what to do. He said, ‘Well, it’s your life. You have to do what feels right.’ I decided to forget about it. UFO was already a big step for me. The whole thing made me nervous. I guess I just talked my way out of it.

You also turned down the chance to play with Ozzy Osbourne. A lot of guitarists would have jumped at that chance.

But I’m not like most guitarists [laughs]! Ozzy was in shock because Randy Rhoads had just died. He needed to carry on with the tour, and he called to ask if I could help out. I was tempted, but I had left UFO to put my own thing together, and that felt like the right thing to do. So, no, I didn’t play with Ozzy. Some people desperately look for fame. I don’t. I look for, “What’s the next best step for me?”

Your lead on UFO’s “Rock Bottom” is commonly cited as one of the best solos of all time. What do you make of that?

I don’t know. I’ve heard people say, “He knew the rules, and that’s how he broke them.” But I wasn’t breaking rules. I didn’t know them! It’s all by ear and feel—the inner world. I play a note that inspires me, and that takes me to the next note, and so on.

Your guitar sound in that song was also selected as one of the “50 Best Tones of All Time” by this magazine. You used a partially engaged wah. Was that something you commonly did?

It was. I liked the element of a little bit of “wah EQ” in there. But from that point on, I pretty much stopped using the wah. Many of the new pedals sounded thin and horrible, and they made these stupid noises. So the wah became less important to me.

The new album has four different vocalists on it. Did you change your guitar style or tone to suit a particular singer?

No. You put two elements together, and there’s a chemical reaction. It’s almost like a horoscope. You can try to predict what you’ll do, but you never really know.

Metallica’s Kirk Hammett guests on “Heart and Soul,” and his vibrato sounds vaguely similar to yours.

It’s funny you say that, because I was just thinking that the other day. Only I think his vibrato is more like what I did years ago. I think he was a fan of my early work, so he must have checked it out when he was quite young. He has a fast vibrato, but I don’t do that anymore. I try to relax. I want to sing with the children.

Did you two work out what you were going to play together?

Nothing is planned. If you work something out and practice it, it has no life. A solo has to be a continuous development. It’s part of a thought process. It’s not even a thing for words. I can’t describe what I do all the time. I like to play music—not talk about it.

The instrumental, “Salvation,” is very sweet and poignant. You’ve made a number of all-instrumental albums. Do you ever think about doing another one?

Once I do something, it’s done. There’s no reason to repeat it. There’s nothing left that I need to do on that level.

Do you ever pick up a non-V-shaped guitar?

Oh, no—never! [Laughs.] In my beginning period, I played other guitars, and I played a Les Paul on Lonesome Crow, but I prefer Vs. When I went with Dean, they sent me a bunch of guitars, and they’re lovely. That’s all I play.

Are you still using Marshall JCM 800 2205 amps?

Oh, yes—the same amp I apparently designed. There’s no reason for me to play anything else.

Do you use any effects?

I have a couple of Boss delays and choruses, as well as a Dunlop DB0 Dimebag Cry Baby From Hell wah that’s really nice. I don’t go crazy with effects, because I always want to sound like me. Too many effects make you sound like somebody else.