For better or worse, Michael Schenker’s reputation precedes him. Born in West Germany in 1955, the wunderkind guitarist joined elder brother Rudolf for the Scorpions’ 1972 debut Lonesome Crow, then split for UFO and a run of de-facto solo projects.
As he rightly points out, his influence is towering: without Schenker’s melodic pyrotechnics on classics like Another Piece Of Meat and Love To Love, heavy-mob acolytes such as Dave Mustaine and Kirk Hammett might never have become the players they are.
Among the rock press, meanwhile, Schenker is infamous for semi-coherent rambles that leave them with not a lot to write about. Today’s conversation begins inauspiciously, with a shaggy-dog story about his move to Brighton threatening to swallow our entire allotted time. But, with a hard nudge, we finally get him on point.
How pleased are you with the Michael Schenker Group’s new album, Immortal?
Oh, I’m absolutely blessed. It feels like a gift from heaven. Y’know, like: “Michael, this is what we give you for staying true to yourself for fifty years and being Michael Schenker.”
What’s the significance of the album’s title?
It’s from Mark Steiger, the head of Nuclear Blast in Germany [Schenker’s label]. He said to me once: “Michael, if you wouldn’t have been, Nuclear Blast would have never been, and all the other thrash metal categories would have never existed.” I’ve been doing all these Australian interviews, and they told me the same thing: if I wouldn’t have been, then thrash metal would have never been.
Dave Mustaine told me that what he heard on [UFO’s third album] Phenomenon, he’d never heard anything like that before. Kirk Hammett said the same thing. And the reason is because I’m going to the inner spring of infinite creativity, being Michael Schenker…
[Hopelessly tries to interject]
I am not chasing fame. In the eighties, lead guitarists copied what I did, and later, apparently, it led to the new school. Every generation, I have given something that was fresh. If everybody takes from the trend, it will eventually burn out, it will be dead. Most people are after fame, money, success, instant gratification. It was never important for me. What was important was the now, the moment, and to be happy as an artist.
I couldn’t have done that with Ozzy Osbourne. I had to decline Deep Purple, Thin Lizzy and Phil Lynott, Ian Hunter, Motörhead. So many asked me to join them as their number-one choice. I was tempted. But I always have to remember: Michael, you left the Scorpions and UFO because you had your own vision.
What’s on your mind at the moment?
I must say, 2020 is a cluster of problems in my life. Not just the virus, but my partner’s mother dying of cancer. So many complications. I was getting ready for the biggest Japanese tour ever. We would have sold out the Budokan. We had to cancel.
I’d prepared for that for a whole year. It was a slap in the face. It puts an empty spot into your life. Making an album, going on tour, that’s the way it’s been, all of these years. All of a sudden, it’s: stop. And that is difficult.
You and your brother Rudolf have fought for years. Has the pandemic brought you closer?
The thing about Rudolf is simply this. In 2015 I found out about the Lovedrive story lies and I was so disappointed [Schenker argues that the reissue and sleeve notes of the Scorpions’ 1979 Lovedrive downplayed his contribution]. It opened a can of worms.
All of a sudden I found out all of these strange things that happened in the period of time since I left the Scorpions. I couldn’t do the touring with them because I’d finished with UFO, and I had my own vision. I’m a kid in a sand box. I play and discover. I don’t compete. I don’t chase anything. I don’t chase money. I never have. I’m an artist and…
But, given what’s happening, isn’t it time to forgive?
It has nothing to do with forgiving. Let me just finish. I love Rudolf as a brother. But social distance is needed, so I don’t get tricked into any further inconvenient situations.
At sixty-six are you worried about catching the coronavirus?
I have a mask on, every time I go shopping. Sometimes I tell people off: “Oi! Two metres! I don’t want your bloody virus! And I don’t want to give it to you!” I have gloves on, mask on, my spray with me. To answer your question, of course I’m worried. I don’t want to end up in hospital and, y’know, bye bye Michael!
Have you ever watched the notorious video of you performing drunk?
I don’t watch anything. I don’t want to know anything. Especially if I did something stupid or bad. Which one are you talking about?
A solo you played at the 2007 Rock & Blues Custom Show.
Well, of course, I had transition times, and I had ups and downs like every teenager had when they were sixteen, discovering what they couldn’t do it at home and getting screwed up. Everybody gets screwed up. As a baby, we start making mistakes, right? You start trying to stand up, you fall over, you don’t know better. Then you become a toddler and you start pulling on tablecloths and everything collapses. That’s what life is, you go through crises.
During lockdown have you ever come close to falling back into bad habits?
I was so busy over the whole period. But I have to say that mentally it is definitely a strain. But I want to make sure that I stay the way I developed from 2008. I don’t want to lose that stability. So I do whatever I can.
Thanks then, Michael…
[shouts] Take care and keep on rocking!