Michael Schenker talks about his new release “Bridge the gap”, a phone call from Ozzy in 1982, working with Don Dokken and more
By: John Parks
Michael Schenker is flying high again, out touring the world in support of his album, “Bridge The Gap”, an appropriate title for the latest effort from the legendary guitarist from Hannover, Germany. ”Bridge The Gap” is an exciting, hard rock album with all the finesse you would expect from Michael and outstanding performances from his band which now goes by the moniker “Michael Schenker’s Temple of Rock” and features some pretty noteworthy players. The band is getting set to begin a run of European dates and I recently had the pleasure of speaking with Michael about the album, the tour, his phone call in 1982 from Ozzy, working with Don Dokken and more; read on….
LRI: Hello Michael, it is an honor to speak with you sir. How are things going with the touring and promotion for your latest album? Are you enjoying the experience?
Michael: Very well, thank you. We did rehearsals for the US tour on the West Coast and did a run of dates beginning in Las Vegas, mainly because the album had just come out and to introduce Doogie White as my new singer and then picked up the world tour in March with the full album lineup. I have a new album out which we are very excited about which is called “Bridge the Gap” the project is Michael Schenker’s Temple of Rock. The band features ex-Rainbow singer Doogie White, the rhythm section from the Scorpions “Rock You Like a Hurricane” with Herman Rarebell on drums and Francis Buchholz on bass and Wayne Findlay from MSG on the seven string and keyboard. We were not ready to tour with the album lineup until March in Japan, it needed to be put together very well and so we are continuing the world tour in Europe in May and plan to be back in the U.S. again with the album lineup later this year. The album is hard, heavy, fast and melodic.
Michael: Absolutely. It’s kind of a fitting title for the album given that “Lovedrive” (1979) was the only album that Herman and I did together and then we all disappeared out of the loop and into other things for various different reasons and then we all get together, after all these years and make our second record and it was almost like we had been preserved for all these years to do this record and tour together. I feel like, since 2008, I am back in the loop to celebrate the incredible era of my generation of rock, the rock that started with bands like Zeppelin, Deep Purple and Black Sabbath. That was such an incredible and important era to me and it feels like more and more people are passing and it’s more important than ever to celebrate guys like Lou Reed and Gary Moore and John Bonham so that it doesn’t just become a memory. I have said many times that I look at my life in three stages. The first stage was my developing as a guitarist and focusing on free expression going all the way to the end of “Strangers in the Night” with UFO and then my middle years which were all about training and overcoming on a personal level and it brought me to this third stage which is the final stage and that is to celebrate not just my music but my generation of rock, that whole era. It has lasted for so many years because people have loved and supported it but with technology and the world changing the way it is it is not that it is going away or going to get better or worse it is just the fact that it is going to change and be different so right now it is so important for me to celebrate that era today. That is basically what I am trying to do is just focus on celebrating that incredible era of rock.
LRI: It’s not a “retro” album and it certainly has a modern production value but your playing feels freer than ever and does sort of echo some of your earliest work, is there any particular reason for that?
Michael: Well, you know it’s like…I feel that it works like this, that whole era….all the way up to “Strangers in the Night” in the 70s I had made it a point to stop copying from the age of 17 years old. I knew intuitively that it was exactly what I needed to do. It was all about pure self-expression and I knew that I needed to keep that going you know. I have stayed away from music all these years and focused on realizing full self-expression like a Monk stays away from secular music. It was basically like, I knew that was what I needed to do and that was what I am designed for. I wasn’t really aware of it but just looking back now, my brother called me up in the 80s and said “Hey Michael, so many people are playing your style of guitar playing” but really during the middle 80s I really wasn’t there in that space, I had moved on to forming Michael Schenker Group which was really quite different and was a move for peace and for freedom so that I could move at my own pace and experiment. I wanted to be able to develop at my own pace and do things that I wanted to do, like if I wanted to play acoustic stuff or do this stuff or that stuff rather than being forced to do something, to play something or to chase something that I wasn’t even interested in. I could not join the Scorpions and join my brother which opened the door for Matthias and the band to continue while I was able to sit back and do the things that I was dreaming about. Those middle years I didn’t really need to do anything other than what I wanted to do but since my stage three which started around 2008 what happened was I started to develop an incredible liking for being onstage which is something I had never had before. I never liked to be onstage. At that point I realized that there was something more than meets the eye at work. I was all of a sudden out here again and realizing that I am assigned to be part of the final celebrating of my generation of rock. That era where I discovered distortion and guitar and started to play and really develop is the era I am celebrating on this album and on this tour. It was a new way of expressing yourself and defining things in your own way which is the pure self-expression part but more than I ever I am also as excited about not just letting that music fade away quietly. I want to celebrate it proudly and sort of point it out there for everyone else to celebrate as well.
LRI: Speaking of your middle years, I wanted to ask you about your experience with Ozzy asking you to replace the late Randy Rhoads who was a fan of early Scorpions. How did that come about?
Michael: It was 1982 and I received a call in the middle of the night, he told me about what happened and he was devastated and he asked me, you know, if I would join but I was in the middle of making my “Assault Attack” album with Graham Bonnet and Cozy Powell. I had also heard horror stories that Ozzy was dragging people by their hair (laughs) and off the stage and stuff like that and I thought about my joining the Scorpions for “Lovedrive” and thought that I made a mistake when i did join and thought that it was not good for me. I could not go onstage and copy all these guitarists and recreate all of their parts, I had to be a creator and my experience with the Scorpions was always a good reminder later in my career whenever I was asked to join all these other other projects, Deep Purple asked me too, Phil Lynott asked me but I would always have to think back and say “Michael, you are not going to be happy if you do this because you will always have to play all of this stuff that other people played on all these albums, you need to be self-expressive, you need to create and not copy”. It was always tempting, believe me but the voice was always in the back of my head saying “Michael, you will not be happy” and that was basically it. There was always that final understanding that I needed to be free and not be in a position where I was replacing someone.
LRI: The songwriting on “Bridge The Gap” reflects someone who is focused and happy, how happy are you playing your instrument on a day to day basis?
Michael: My life is always moving forward, one thing leads to the next and I have two tattoos on my back and shoulder, one says “Born to be free” and one says “Born to overcome” and that’s what my life is, that and spreading the joy of music that comes from a place of pure self expression. Basically, these are the two functions. The one function is to inject sound to the world from places unknown so that it go and express itself purely and by the way, everyone can do that but not everyone chooses to do so. The other function is to develop on a personal level, to overcome and these are the two functions that are my main focal points in life.
LRI: I was really impressed by your vocalist Doogie. I think it’s one of your best collaborations in a long time. I know that your fans are very passionate and they all have different opinions on the various singers you’ve worked with over the years. What was it that you felt made Doogie the right choice for Temple of Rock?
Michael: We had crossed paths many times over the years and he was always like “Hey, Michael let’s do something” and then when we did “Before The Devil Knows You’re Dead” on the first Temple of Rock album I really realized “Wow, the chemistry is really interesting” just like it was with Phil Mogg and it was with Klaus Meine and I came to find out that both of those singers that I had played with were both rats on the Chinese Horoscope and I was a horse on the Chinese Horoscope and then Doogie said “Look, Michael, I am also a rat” (laughs) and I said “Well, that explains everything now”. It does kind of work out from a creative point of view and what I am kind of figuring out now is that the spectrum of creativity is so big from one side to the other between those two signs, the horse has very little of what the rat has a lot of and the rat has very little of what the horse has a lot of so on a creative level, they compliment each other. It creates a very, very full creative spectrum, that’s kind of how I feel and it’s a very sort of strange thing. After we recorded together and then toured together the chemistry continued and the audience responded and after the touring we set aside time to work on this album. I started writing and I already knew that it was going to be called “Bridge The Gap” because that’s what it sounds like as you explained earlier.; it’s basically combining the past with the now, basically combining stage one and stage three. It’s about moving forward but it also celebrates the past. Life is about development for me and life is about the future and better things to come and greater understanding and seeing the world bigger and seeing the world from a new point of view. In order to see things differently, you have to make changes and that’s what I believe in. Also, wanting to overcome means treading towards freedom because everytime you overcome you become less tortured. It’s just my personal belief and feeling and actually, I’m having a lot of fun again overcoming and being in training and just moving forward. It is all fun for me.
LRI: You’re no stranger to creating classic albums in the studio. How, if at all, did the process change working with the material here on the latest album?
Michael: I play and discover on a regular basis and I never create complete songs either so when it’s time for me to create a new record what I do is take a look at all of the pieces that I have collected. When I play and discover I will bump into a riff and think “Wow, this is great” so I will put it down and I will record ten seconds and then put it away. When I go back to make the record, I listen to those things that I have recorded and whatever inspires me first, immediately I react to it and try to write something to it that is suitable and inspired by that original little piece that I heard. It’s basically like a puzzle and I never knew what the song was going to be or what the album was gonna be as a whole until the album was done. There is always new development and everything I do is made in the moment. There was a basic concept going in which was to make a fast, heavy, hard, melodic album and to keep it moving forward and keep it interesting, that was my focal point or basic concept to begin with on “Bridge The Gap”. When Doogie went to write the lyrics I said to him “Think Bridge the Gap and think melody” so after he went off and did his part, I went into the studio to work on arrangements we went to a special studio to do drums and bass and seven string and keyboards and then Doogie was ready to show what he had on a vocal level but as much as that sounds organized (laughs) we still didn’t know what the album was actually going to be like until Doogie started putting down these various ideas and then we started selecting various parts and putting them together in various ways that sounded the best. The other thing was there was a point where we put the album away to go tour and when we came back to work on it the beauty was that we were working with fresh ears and knew immediately what needed to be done to finish the record.
LRI: Before I let you go I wanted to ask you about a project Don Dokken mentioned when I interviewed him. Is an acoustic album featuring the two of you still a possibility?
Michael: Yeah, it’s just one of those things. We keep on running into each other and he keeps mentioning “We need to do something together acoustic” and then at some point I think we met up at breakfast when we were both playing at a festival together and I said “Hey, I have an idea” and so I introduced this idea I have for all of this acoustic stuff, I have lots of acoustic instrumental songs and I asked him to pick the most suitable ones and do something to them. So he started doing that and he had done like five songs and it was really, really good stuff based on what he had done and so we put the one song “Faith” on the “Bridge the Gap” album to kind of let people know what it would be like if he was singing and we were doing this together. Don is working on it and my parts are basically done so hopefully something really good will come of it all soon enough.
Temple of Rock European tourdates
DATE VENUE CITY COUNTRY
MAY 06 2014 Kavarna Town Festival Kavarna BUL
JUL 11 2014 Bang Your Head Festival Balingen GER
AUG 08 2014 Leyendas del Rock Festival Alicante SPA
AUG 09 2014 Pyraser Classic Rock Night Pyras GER
SEP 06 2014 Classic Rock Festival Goerlitz GER
A shout out to John Parks and Legendary Rock Interviews for the above.
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