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This article was originally published in issue #8
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It's not just Michael's playing which had the ability to turn heads, he has a great collection of eye catching gear too.
With Michael Schenker's Temple Of Rock world tour steaming around the globe, Jamie Humphries met one of Rock guitar's legends. Levi Clay explains why Schenker remains one of Rock guitar's masters.
The landscape of lead guitar, and music in general, is an ever-changing scene - and that change is getting faster all the time. Technological advances such as the Internet and the mp3 have opened up the speed at which we can share information, discover, and draw influence, meaning young guitar players today have it pretty good, with a wealth of knowledge literally at the tips of their fingers. Everything from traditional Balkan folk music to underground speed metal made by a guy in his basement, can be accessed in seconds. There are lessons, interviews, music (not to mention Guitar Interactive!) available at any time of the day or night - it really is exciting, if not a little overwhelming.
It's not often that people look at the flipside of the direction we're heading though. As a teacher nothing gets my goat more than that immortal phrase “dude, have you got a tab for that?”. There was a time when the only way to learn how to play like your hero was to sit down with a record player and skip back over and over again until the vinyl was worn out (well, it was the humble cassette tape in my day!). The other thing we seem to have lost is the natural progression and evolution of a genre. You can download the latest Van Halen album in seconds on iTunes for a fraction of what the music would have cost 30 years ago. In days gone by, you could literally trace where an idea started and where it spread. You just need to look at the birth of electric blues in the US and how the music of BB King and Muddy Waters was picked up by British players like Clapton and Page. It happened over many years and its development was exciting. Now a band like Periphery breaks and suddenly everyone and their dog is making “djent” a fad which nobody had heard 10 years ago.
I hear you wondering “Why is he telling me this?”, well it's really simple. This spread of information has boosted the guitar world to a place where nobody predicted it was capable of going in the '70s. There are kids on Youtube who have better chops than a Canadian lumberjack, and the players who top the polls in terms of “the greatest technical/rock guitar player” are guys like Vai, Gilbert, Petrucci, Cooley and Buckethead. With a benchmark like that, it's easy to see why you can put on a Michael Schenker solo for a 15 year old and get that “What's the big deal?” look.
Michael Schenker was born in the small town of Sarstedt, Germany in 1955, the younger brother of Rudolph Schenker (Scorpions rhythm guitar king). Michael received no formal training and had no internet to help him on his journey to rock stardom. Legend has it the he would sit at home while Rudolph was at work and work out licks from old tapes of Mountain, which he would then teach to his brother when he returned. The term 'prodigy' is thrown around a bit too lightly today (again thanks to the Internet) but in rural Germany, that's exactly what Michael was, rocking out in bands from the age of 13, having mastered the solos of everyone from Hank Marvin to Eric Clapton. It wasn't long before he was drafted into the Scorpions, where he would be exposed to a much larger audience.
Schenker really was born in a good year, as 1955 also saw the birth of guitar legends Eddie Van Halen, Angus Young and Uli Jon Roth (well he was December '54, but you get the point!). All guitarists who would go on to become household names on the Rock scene, but in reality, Michael beat them to the starting line. In 1972, at the tender age of 17, he recorded the Scorpions debut album Lonesome Crow, and when you consider that worldwide releases from the Van Halen and AC/DC didn't happen until the late 70's, it really should show you just how far ahead of the game Michael was.
Of course, it's the playing that should do all the speaking, and Michael's solos scream. Unfortunately Eddie Van Halen reinvented the game again in 1978, so Michael's playing is often overshadowed by this. When you put the two on paper though, and remove Eddie's two handed tapping technique, the two sound a lot alike – they're both Blues players on steroids.
In 1973, while on tour with the Scorpions in support of the British band UFO, Michael was asked to join (having his boots filled by Uli Jon Roth) a gig which he gracefully accepted, despite not really speaking English! It was here that Michael really came into his own, and UFO's 1974 record Phenomenon was an international success with hits like Doctor Doctor and Rock Bottom (better than any of the riffs on Van Halen I). Again Michael Schenker had arrived, and all of those names you associate with guitar royalty today were still nowhere to be seen.
It was during this period that Schenker's reputation as a bit of a wild card developed, leaving the stage midway during songs and causing concerts to be cancelled. Alcohol abuse had reared its ugly head and personal problems between Michael and UFO's singer Phil Mogg resulted in Schenker leaving the band in 1978; but not before releasing one of the greatest live albums in rock history, Strangers in the Night.
It's not just Michael's playing which had the ability to turn heads, he has a great collection of eye catching gear too. In his youth, Schenker played a Les Paul for a short period until one night with the Scorpions when Michael broke a string, Rudolph came to the rescue and quickly gave his brother a Gibson Flying V.... which he never got back! For the next spell of his career, Michael became one of those, comparatively rare, ambassadors of the Flying V, which were often patterned in a split black and white design. But his relationship with Gibson changed in 2004 when he joined with Dean guitars - perhaps the ultimate metal merchants - to put out a Michael Schenker signature model. There are now currently seven different Schenker models on the market and Michael even has a signature pickup, the Dean “Lights Out” model, which allows any fan to get close to the legendary Schenker tone on a budget.
For those of you chasing that Schenker sound, it's worth mentioning that he traditionally opts for two 50 Watt Marshall JCM800s, over a more powerful modern head. Pedal wise Michael has often been spotted using BOSS products, in particular, a DD3 digital delay, a CE5 chorus, and a RV3 reverb pedal. The other essential element to Schenker's tone is a wah, as Michael is often known to use a wah pedal as a tone control to give him a distinctive bite and bring out the mid range honk you get on a flying V (just check out the live version of Rock Bottom). Although a Dunlop Crybaby will certainly do the trick here, if you want the true 70's Schenker rig, I'm almost certain you'll need an original JEN Crybaby, so off to eBay!
And if you want the real inside story on how to play and sound like Schenker, check out Jamie Humphries' style analysis in this issue!
In 1980 Michael formed MSG (Michael Schenker Group) which still tours tirelessly today - currently on the worldwide Temple Of Rock tour. The first record contained some great material, and a particular point of interest Bijou Pleasurette. Many of today's generation would consider Yngwie Malmsteen to be the forefather of the neoclassical genre (Rising Force, 1984), but it has been a staple of the vocabulary of players like Richie Blackmore, Michael Schenker and Uli Jon Roth since the '70s. Michael's playing oozed that melodic modal quality and it's the source of much of his improvisation.
Although MSG has been Michael's main outlet now for many years, that doesn't mean that he has been forgotten in the UFO and Scorpions world, and over the years he has returned to each briefly. MSG have had some serious output over the years, having released their 12th studio album (and 20th release including live records) Temple of Rock in 2011. If history is anything to go by, Schenker will probably return to UFO and the Scorpions again in future, but until then there will always be the Michael Schenker Group, and it's safe to say that with the status Schenker has, this won't be the last MSG album you're likely to hear.