Michael Schenker (Michael Willy Schenker, 10 January 1955) is a German rock guitarist, best known for his tenure in UFO, in addition to his solo band. Nicknamed the “Blonde Bomber”, he first rose to fame as an early member of Scorpions, then achieved fame in the mid-1970s as the lead guitar player for UFO. Since leaving UFO in 1978, he has been leading the Michael Schenker Group in various incarnations. He has rejoined UFO three times, producing an album each time. He is the younger brother of Rudolf Schenker, who is still a guitarist with Scorpions. His career has had many ups and downs, partly due to a long history of alcoholism and personal problems; still, Schenker continues to perform and record. He has been called “a legendary figure in the history of metal guitar.”
Early career and rise to fame: Scorpions and UFO
Michael Schenker started playing guitar at an early age, after his brother Rudolf got a Gibson Flying V guitar for his birthday, which captured his imagination. He played his first gig when he was 11, with Rudolf and the Scorpions in a nightclub. Schenker debuted with Scorpions on their debut album Lonesome Crow at age 17.
Scorpions went on tour after recording their first album, opening up for upcoming UK band UFO in Germany. Schenker was offered the position of lead guitar player for UFO (taking over for Bernie Marsden, himself a temporary replacement for Mick Bolton) and, with the blessing of his brother, accepted (Scorpions replaced him with Uli Roth), even though he didn’t speak English.
Michael co-wrote most of the songs on UFO’s major label, Chrysalis Records debut album Phenomenon. His career with UFO was turbulent, sometimes walking off mid-song causing shows to be cancelled. Despite having a series of successful albums and tours, Schenker unequivocally quit UFO after their show in Palo Alto, California, on 29 October 1978. During this tour the band had recorded six concerts whose selected tracks would make up their seminal live album Strangers in the Night, which was released after he left the band.
Schenker briefly re-joined Scorpions in late 1978, when they were recording the album Lovedrive (he plays lead guitar on three songs, “Another Piece of Meat“, “Coast to Coast” and “Lovedrive“). In 1979, Schenker briefly toured with the band in support of the album. He blamed his very short stay on finding out he did not enjoy playing other people’s songs. He was permanently replaced by Matthias Jabs, who had originally joined Scorpions before Schenker’s return.
Michael was one of many guitarists to audition for the lead guitar spot in The Rolling Stones in the mid-1970s following Mick Taylor‘s dismissal. He also auditioned for Aerosmith in 1979 after Joe Perry left. According to Martin Huxley, Schenker stormed out of the room after producer Gary Lyons made several jokes about Nazis. After the death of Randy Rhoads, Ozzy Osbourne‘s first call was to Schenker to replace Rhoads, as the German guitarist and his iconic Flying V were a huge influence on Rhoads. But, Osbourne claims, Schenker made too many outlandish demands (including a private jet). Schenker himself, in an interview with KNAC radio, claims he was the one to say “no” to Osbourne: “If I would have joined Ozzy Osbourne, I would have screwed up my life. I was almost about to do it, and something told me: DON’T!!”
Michael Schenker Group, McAuley Schenker Group and UFO Reunion
In 1979, Schenker started a solo career by founding the Michael Schenker Group (MSG). The history of MSG is strewn with personality conflicts and incidents. In 1982, original singer Gary Barden, who sang on the first two studio albums and a live album, was fired in favour of Graham Bonnet. Bonnet lasted one album (Assault Attack) and a single gig, at Sheffield University, where he drunkenly exposed himself and was subsequently fired from the band. Barden rejoined MSG for the rest of the tour. He also appeared on the 1983 studio album (Built to Destroy) and the band’s second live album (Rock Will Never Die).
After Barden’s second departure, Schenker reorganized the band around himself and new singer Robin McAuley and renamed it the McAuley Schenker Group. The new incarnation of MSG was steered toward a more commercial hard rock sound. After three albums, Schenker and McAuley parted company. In the meantime, he briefly replaced Robbin Crosby in Ratt, appearing on their 1990 MTV Unplugged performance.
In 1993, Schenker rejoined UFO. He co-wrote (with Phil Mogg) nearly the whole of their reunion album, Walk on Water (’95), and toured with them briefly.
He then resurrected the Michael Schenker Group with all new members and recorded three more albums, Written in the Sand, The Unforgiven, and Be Aware of Scorpions before rejoining UFO for two further releases, Covenant and Sharks.
Michael fell on hard times in the early 2000s, despite his rejoining UFO that year. He picked himself up and got back to making and performing music, recording the album Arachnophobiac and supporting it with two years of touring. In 2004, recognition came from Dean Guitars, which began producing a Schenker signature Dean V (with subtle differences from the Gibson, but with the split black and white trademark Schenker finish).
2005 was the 25th anniversary of the Michael Schenker Group. Schenker put together a new album of songs called Tales of Rock’n’Roll to celebrate the anniversary and enlisted singers from each iteration of the band to sing on the album. However, in that same year the collection Heavy Hitters, a set of covers featuring Schenker and a revolving group of heavy metal all-stars, was marketed as a Michael Schenker Group album, with the result that Schenker only received a flat fee.
After nearly-disastrous North American and European tours in 2007, which included cancelled shows and less-than-stellar performances caused by heavy drinking, Schenker regained his composure and toured in the UK as Michael Schenker & Friends in 2008. Early 2008, Schenker worked with Gary Barden, Don Airey, Simon Phillips, and Neil Murray on a new MSG album In the Midst of Beauty, which was released in May 2008, followed by touring.
In 2009 Schenker toured extensively including Russia, UK and the US with MSG including original members Gary Barden and Chris Glenn.
In November 2010, Schenker was given the Marshall “11” award in London along with other rock legends including Ron Wood and Slash. The award was presented to Schenker by Alice Cooper, with Jimmy Page, (Led Zeppelin) Tony Iommi (Black Sabbath) and John Paul Jones (Led Zeppelin) also in attendance. The award is given to “those artists and musicians who represent rock ‘n’ roll excess and livin’ on the edge.”
In 2011 Schenker released a new album, Temple of Rock. It was supported with a tour of Europe, Japan and the USA. In Europe the line up included Herman Rarebell on drums and Francis Buchholz on bass, both former members of Scorpions (Rarebell also joined the band for the Japanese dates) and Doogie White, formerly singer for Rainbow and Yngwie Malmsteen. With this line-up he recorded the album Bridge the Gap which was released in 2013.
In August 2012 Schenker received a Lifetime Achievement in Rock and Roll Award from Vegas Rocks! Magazine. The award was presented by David Coverdale of Whitesnake. During the award ceremony Schenker performed with Sammy Hagar of Chickenfoot, Montrose and Van Halen.
Instruments and sound
Schenker’s main guitar for much of his career was a Gibson Flying V, which he typically played through a wah-wah pedal (used as a parametric equaliser to strengthen the “sweet spot”) and Marshall amplifiers. His “unmistakable midrange tone” emphasised by the partially engaged wah, as exemplified on the song “Rock Bottom” from the UFO album Strangers in the Night, was listed among the 50 greatest tones of all time by Guitar Player magazine. In recent years Schenker has switched to using a signature model Dean V.
In 2007 Dean Guitars, after producing a signature Schenker Dean V, also made two acoustic models with the familiar black and white “V” design.
Michael Schenker has been on the covers of many guitar magazines and has influenced many notable guitar players, including Kirk Hammett and James Hetfield (Metallica), Dave Mustaine (Megadeth and also a former member of Metallica), Dimebag Darrell (Pantera and Damageplan), Eric Peterson (Testament), Gary Holt (Exodus and Slayer), Rob Cavestany (Death Angel), Adrian Smith (Iron Maiden), John Norum (Europe), Slash, Paul Gilbert, George Lynch (Dokken), John Petrucci (Dream Theater), Michael Amott (Arch Enemy), Dan Spitz (Anthrax) and Jeff Waters (Annihilator).
Michael Schenker Group
The Michael Schenker Group (1980)
One Night at Budokan (1982) live
Assault Attack (1982)
Built to Destroy (1983)
Rock Will Never Die (1984) live
Written in the Sand (1996)
The Michael Schenker Story Live (1997) live
The Unforgiven (1999)
The Unforgiven World Tour (1999) live
Be Aware of Scorpions (2001)
Heavy Hitters (2005)
Doctor Doctor: The Kulick Sessions (2007) re-release
By Invitation Only (2011) re-release
Tales of Rock’n’Roll (2006)
In the Midst of Beauty (2008)