From the moment he coveted his brother Rudolf’s guitar, Michael Schenker began a journey that would build into a rock n’ roll legacy. His virtuoso guitar talents were fed by his passion for the early British bands like Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple and Black Sabbath. When other boys his age were still playing cops and robbers and wanting to become astronauts, Michael had already begun his devotion to mastering his instrument. This month, the 60-year-old icon will release his latest album, Spirit on a Mission: His third as part of his newest project, Michael Schenker’s Temple of Rock, which features his two former Scorpions bandmates, drummer Herman Rarebell and bassist Francis Buchholz.
Rudolf Schenker started German hard rock outfit, the Scorpions, in 1964 and he asked his 11-year-old younger brother to join the band. In 1971, Michael Schenker entered the studio to record the Scorpions debut album, Lonesome Crow.
“I started out very early. When I was 9 years old,” Schenker noted. “I made my first record with the Scorpions when I was 15. When we finished that record and I heard the music coming out of the same radio that I heard Led Zeppelin coming through two years before, that was the most amazing thing.”
Two years later, when Schenker was working on the Scorpions’ second album, Fly to the Rainbow, British hard rock quintet UFO asked him to join their band.
“I always told the Scorpions that if a British band ever asked me to join, I would. I told them that right from the beginning. I was developing so fast and was so keen on music, and I just wanted to move forward. I was excited about everything. My vision was I wanted to develop as a great guitar player. So when UFO asked me to join them, I did. Because from England, that’s where most of the music I fell in love with was coming from.”
Michael joined UFO for its fourth and first noteworthy album, 1974’s Phenomenon, which featured two of Schenker’s first and most notable classics, “Doctor, Doctor” and “Rock Bottom”. The latter, Michael admits, is still his favorite song to perform. With UFO, Schenker recorded a string of successful and important heavy rock records, co-writing most of the band’s songs with vocalist Phil Mogg. Schenker has written and had amazing success with some of rock’s most important vocalists, including Mogg.
“He’s a Rat,” laughed Schenker, “and I am a Horse, by Chinese horoscope. I just kind of realized a while ago that all my singers with great chemistry are Rats. Klaus Meine from Scorpions is a Rat, Phil Mogg is a Rat. So when I was telling Doogie [White, Schenker’s current vocalist] about this, Doogie said to me, ‘Michael, you wouldn’t believe it. I’m a Rat.’ I said, ‘Doogie, welcome to the club!’”
Schenker would serve two turns as a member of the Scorpions, returning in 1979 for the band’s breakthrough album, Lovedrive. He would also return twice to UFO. In the end, Michael always seemed more comfortable as a solo artist, although with Temple of Rock, Schenker said he sees the band someday being its own entity.
“We’re using ‘Michael Schenker’ as a platform and I think after the third album and another album, I think this band can stand on its own feet.”
Temple of Rock marks the third stage of Schenker’s ongoing musical travels. Stage one was about performing and discovery:
“I was focusing on becoming a great guitarist. The first [stage] was all about developing as a guitarist and my musical contribution to the world.”
His second stage was about exploring his craft sonically and experimentally. With Temple of Rock, Schenker is returning to the root of his rock and roll passions.
“Since 2008,” he offered, “I decided I needed to be back in the loop of rock and roll. Many people of my generation of rock; bands that I fell in love with—people are passing away. Gary Moore, Ronnie James Dio, Alvin Lee, Johnny Winter—not too much longer it’s all going to be just a memory. This incredible era that’s lasted for 50 years now. Basically, my third stage of my life is all about celebrating that era and the things I’ve learned. So now it’s celebration time.”
With the new record, Spirit on a Mission, Schenker taps into all the eras of his career, creating an album that is steeped in vintage rock majesty presented with a modern feel.
“Combining the old with the new we got a very good spectrum of expressions. Like being able to put as many sounds and emotions together from the past and the now as possible, and focusing on a balanced album.”
Check out the full interview with Michael Schenker below. He talks in depth about Spirit on a Mission and his storied career, including his brief stint with the supergroup, Contraband.