Michael Schenker, Interview – ‘Immortal’ + Falling in Love with Guitar

2021-01-19

Michael Schenker joins Anne Erickson to discuss his new album, "Immortal," what he admires about the late, great Eddie Van Halen and more in this in-depth interview.

Michael Schenker – Story by Anne Erickson, photo by Stephanie Cabral

Interview: Michael Schenker joins Anne Erickson to discuss his new album, “Immortal,” what he admires about the late, great Eddie Van Halen and more in this in-depth interview

German guitar hero Michael Schenker is back with a new album, “Immortal,” out on Nuclear Blast Records, which celebrates his 40th anniversary as a solo artist and 50th year as a musician. With vocals from a range of singers, including Ronnie Romero of Rainbow and Ralf Scheepers of Primal Fear, as well as bass playing from Barry Sparks of Dokken and keyboards from Steve Mann, Schenker has put together a backing band that’s worthy of his sky-high guitar work.

Schenker spoke with Anne Erickson of Audio Ink Radio about “Immortal,” his guitar heroes, his love for guitar and if he’ll ever perform again with his former bands, UFO and the Scorpions. Read the full interview below, and listen to the conversation via the YouTube player and Audio Ink Radio podcast on Apple Podcasts here and Spotify here.

Anne Erickson: Congratulations on your new album, “Immortal.” You have a range of great guests on the album, including Ralf Scheepers of Primal Fear. How did you go about picking all of these amazing guests?

Michael Schenker: Originally, that’s what I had planned in 2019, to make an album- a 50th anniversary of Michael Schenker with guest musicians, past musicians and so on, but it was dragging on. Then, I realized that I missed the timing because the first I put on the “Lonesome Crow” album with the Scorpions was when I was 15 in 1970. And, then, I thought I lost the timing, because it was very complicated to get musicians from all over the world together. Then, my agent told me, “Michael, ‘Lonesome Crow’ came out in ’72,” so I though, “Ah! So, I’ve got two years to celebrate this and get this together.” So, I had hope again, and I decided to make it less complicated and put together a compact band. I had a Ronnie Romero who was singing on the “Resurrection” album. We had the Voice, and he sounds fantastic, and I asked him if he wants to be the singer on this album. Then, Barry Sparks, bass player, kept e-mailing me, “Michael, I want to be your bass player.” So, then with Steve Mann, I had a compact band together. That’s how I actually had confidence again to continue putting together the 50th anniversary.

Then, the virus started, and it kind of- planning to have Ronnie singing all the songs. The whole thing actually ended up being the way I originally planned, but this time, it all happened by itself, because of the virus. Because the virus had put restrictions on things that we wanted to do. For instance, when I have put my compositions down, and it was time for Ronnie to sing, he said, “Michael! I’m sorry, but I can’t you know. I don’t want to go on 14 days quarantine. I can’t afford this.” I said, “Don’t worry about it.” So, we tried to think of a solution, and that’s how somehow everything just went in the right direction.

You’re considered one of the greatest guitarists of all time. That said, who is your guitar hero?

Well, you know, I have so many. When I discovered- I’m a Zeppelin fan, Black Sabbath, Deep Purple, all the ’60s guitarists. I used to go guitar hunting at festivals when I was 14 to discover somebody new, and the beauty was the ’60s guitar players all had their own style. So, I’ve always been fascinated with a single string. Putting three notes together and creating. Just having fun. Not competing. Not comparing. Not looking for fame, success or anything, and never took from the trend. If anything, I’m the trend-maker and kept the trend alive with freshness, because I write from within- from the inner spring of creativity, which is endless. If you go there- if you have the confidence to go there, you can discover, I mean, so much beauty and stuff like that. It just comes out.

Like I said, it’s like Jimmy Page, Jeff Beck, Leslie West- you know, all those great guitarists from the ’60s, obviously. I was born ’55, and so that was my- that’s the period that influenced me and inspired me. And, when I heard the distortion of the guitar sound, that’s when I knew. I was about 14 years old, and I discovered that the distortion combined with the guitar is a combination that can do endless things. You can have a no sing, break it up. Hit it twice, hit it three times. It’s just endless. So, those guys, when I heard what you can do with distortion- I mean not overload distortion, but that little bit of extra sustain that was given by new inventions of amplifiers and so on. It was those guitarists that inspired me to say to myself, “OK, Michael. Now, I understand what I need to do, and I want to be myself, and I want to do something with this the way I see it.” And, I’m impacted by Eric Clapton, as well, and Johnny Winter and Noel Gallagher. I mean, so many. They all had an impact on me and inspired me to get to the next step.

What are your thoughts on losing the great Eddie Van Halen?

I mean, you know, Eddie Van Halen. I mean, when I was UFO, I was 19 years old, I think. We toured with UFO- we toured America, and we had actually Van Halen at the support band of UFO. And, somebody said, “Oh, there is a really great guitarist in there.” It must have been around 74′, 75′. I didn’t pay much attention. I never watched the support band. And, I never knew until years, years and years later that we actually had Van Halen supporting UFO, and I was blown away, because Eddie developed in the next five years to a to a monster guitarist. When this album came out, the first Van Halen album, even though I don’t listen to music for 50 years, I did not escape the music. It was played in lobbies. It was played in boutiques. I was played wherever I went, and I went, like, “Wow. This is guitar playing.”

And, I never knew how he did it, that it was because of his tapping. I never knew about a tapping technique, because I don’t investigate other guitarists from the point of when I was 17 years old, actually starting when I was 15, 16, 17, 18. And, these people actually told me, actually Rudolf, my brother, told me, “Did you know that Eddie actually copied something of your guitar playing?” And I said, “No.” I didn’t know. But, all of these things came out to the foreground later.

But, the main thing is that Eddie Van Halen was such a complete guitarist. Like I said on my website, it’s just the sense of rhythm and the sense of melody. Then, of course, his tapping technique that once I found out about it, I kind of understood a bit more about what was so amazing, because it was very new. I couldn’t understand how notes can be put together that way. But, even without the tapping, I mean, people trashed Eddie by copying his tapping technique, wanting to become an overnight success. And, the tapping is actually not emotional. It’s just a technique. But, if you have what Eddie had and combine this with his sense of melody and his charisma and his lovely way of how he presented himself on stage. The Scorpions and I, we went in ’79, when I joined the Scorpions for the “Lovedrive” album, just for the album. We actually went to, I can’t remember if we were invited or if we knew, but I actually later found also out that they were Scorpions fans, as well, and UFO fans, Van Halen.

So, I guess all combined together, me just focusing so much on music and the rest of the Scorpions, they somehow were more into the direction of fame and success, and we ended up visiting Van Halen as a show in Germany. And, we went to the dressing room, and we had a fantastic time. We were like kids showing each other, like, “This is how I do it,” and, “This is how I keep my wrists in shape,” and stuff like that. We had a great time. So, I have very, very good memories of Van Halen and Eddie, in general. And, of course, the first album was a killer. I mean, it was an absolute killer. I mean, there’s only a few there’s only a handful of albums or songs that I’ve heard in my period of listening to music for 50 years. But, those are the few that I could not escape. For instance, Metallica, I was in a boutique trying on clothes, and they played the whole Metallica album, and that’s how I discovered the song “The Unforgiven.” What a beautiful song. So, it it did happen once in a while back that I was very amazed by a handful of people that did something extraordinary. But, I’m sure there is a lot of stuff out there that is really extraordinary, but I don’t know about it, because I don’t listen to music.

You’ve played with so many legendary bands over the years. Do you think you would ever get back together with the Scorpions or UFO to perform again?

No. I think it’s all done. I think it’s all done. I don’t want to open another can of worms, you know. Phil (Mogg) is happy having the name UFO back, which I owned 50 percent. I gave it back to him for free. The Scorpions have The Scorpions. Michael Schenker has Michael Schenker. I think we are all happy. We are all doing our thing. There’s no need to get back into being controlled like it used to be in the past. So, you know, eventually it all trickles down. There was always a little bit of a possibility as time went on, but eventually, I really don’t want to open the can of worms and re-experience discomfort. We all do our thing, and we should just be happy with what we have, and, you know, getting back together, it would just create turbulence for me.

It’s been great talking with you, Michael. Is there anything else you would like to share?

Well, I’m very happy with the outcome. I’m absolutely amazed that something like that- I look at it as a gift from the universe. It’s just, like, the outcome is so phenomenal for me, especially turning out the way I actually imagined it, but it was too complicated, but let the universe do, and it will all happen.

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