Michael Schenker is a guitar virtuoso legend who joined the Scorpions aged just 15 and then UFO when he was only 17 years old! Establishing his legend, he then went on to form his own band, MSG, which took him through the 80s and 90s with various famed line ups. The turn of the century saw Schenker falling on hard times, but the irresistible temptation to play guitar once again soon saw him firstly securing sponsorship from Dean Guitars, before building another band made up of rock veterans. Recent years have seen Schenker return to touring and with ex Scorpions members Herman Rarebell and Francis Buchholz joining him on last year’s highly successful ‘Temple Of Rock’ tour, I had the pleasure of interviewing Michael prior to his next stint of gigs scheduled for this Xmas!
1. Greetings Michael, it’s great to hear you’ve got a new album out and will be touring, where I hope to see you since I was 14 years old and you made a guest appearance at one of the Scorpions Hammersmith Odeon shows during their “Blackout” tour! Speaking of “Blackout” I noticed you’ve got the classic Scorpions rhythm section of Francis Buchholz on bass and Herman ‘zee German’ on drums – which I guess was last seen on “Lovedrive” so did you bring them back for nostalgic reasons (not taking anything away from their acknowledged musicianship of course) or to create an atmosphere perhaps from that amazing era?
Michael: It all happened step by step like one thing leads to another.Herman and I got invited in 2009 to play with the Scorpions. Herman and I talked about jamming together. Then Herman showed up at a MSG concert in London a little later so did Pete Way and we talked more about jamming together. So all 3 of us met in Brighton to jam and I was thinking about doing a Strangers in the Night tour. I hadn’t played that material for a long time and I was eager to do it. That’s how it started. At the same time I made a Demo for a new album and when Pete and Herman heard it they wanted to be the rhythm section. We made the album and toured together. At some point Pete did not do to well and I asked Herman to maybe ask what Francis what he was up to these days since we are playing quite a few Lovedrive tunes and it would be perfect if Francis could join. That’s how we got there.
2. A lot of veteran players like Judas Priest these days seem to be getting younger guys who are also talented musicians so why did you not go for this option?
Exodus – “Blood In Blood Out” (Nuclear Blast Records)
Prepare for the Exodus attack! Spanning a career of 34 years, this most famous of the original Bay Area thrashers are now onto their 10th album which amazingly also sees the return of their previous vocalist Steve ‘Zetro’ Sousa, who had the unenviable task of stepping into the shoes of the late but immortalized Paul Baloff. Although enjoying commercial success in their time, Exodus have always remained true to their thrash roots despite being now down to founder drummer Tom Hunting and long serving guitarist Gary Holt, the only member to play on every Exodus record. Meeting the guys over the years only served to confirm that beyond musicians, they are fans and moreover thrashers at heart themselves. Over 3 decades on very little has changed with “Blood In Blood Out” showing little in the way of mellowing out this band, most of whom must be approaching their fifties! But listening to the likes of ‘Wrapped In The Arms Of Rage’, ‘Body Harvest’ and ‘Salt The Wound’ – on which Kirk Hammett plays the solo – it’s evident that this isn’t some retro hash, but a modern, premiere league monster that not only seeks to keep the thrash banner alive, but Exodus at the very top of it! Whilst being a disciple of Baloff I could never get used to Zet’s thrashed out Bon Scott voice, but he has done a fine job here (and with short notice too given the firing of Rob Dukes) befitting his earlier contributions during the growth period of Exodus from 1986 to 1993. Like moonshine meeting fine wine Gary Holt and ex Heathener Lee Altus are like a coupla buckaroos with razor sharp thrash riffs jumping out all over the place and slamming into each other just like their human counterparts in the mosh before double duking us out with their wailing crescendo solos. If anything Holts stints in Slayer have made him even more brutal with his guitar sound being even more harsher than in the past! Sterling performances all around, but the star of the show has to be Tom Hunting, a man whose past ill health has seen him take time off from the band, but no such issue here cos he is just killing it with probably the best drum sound I’ve heard in a long time. With thrash enjoying a resurgence from both old stalwarts and feisty newcomers Exodus have timed it just right to inject their venom and moreover bring their leadership to bear on metal once more.
Bush – “Man On The Run” (Zuma Rock Records)
Short off their reunion and recent touring comes Bush’s sixth studio album. Famed in the 90s for their English indie style that combined heavy on the heart emo riffs and Gavin Rossdale’s melancholic singing, Bush went on to become one of the most successful rock bands in the 1990s, selling over 10 million records in the United States. With the turn of the century, declining sales and lack of label support ultimately led to the band’s break up with Rossdale turning his hand to acting, starring in movies like ‘Constantine’ where he superbly played arch demon Balthazar. In 2010 despite founding members Nigel Pulsford and Dave Parsons both declining to rejoin the band, Rossdale nevertheless went ahead with a new line-up which seems to have regained their lost ground in many respects. With an introspective title, “Man On The Run” lives up to its name with the album sessions being split between 2 studios – Studio 606 in Los Angeles and NRG Recording Studios in North Hollywood – along with 2 producers – Nick Raskulinecz and Jay Baumgardner – both with strong alt rock and metal backgrounds. Despite this the album is a lightweight version of the Bush I revered in the 90s. The signature sound is still there, but its been lightened up more in favor of a clean rock sound rather than the heavy alt rock style that so typified the band’s sound back then. Likewise, the melancholy is sorta there, but it’s like Rossdale doesn’t dwell on it as much as he did before, preferring to move on from his moroseness to take on the sun drenched rock trip full on. His vocals, however, remain true in every aspect and define Bush on songs like ‘Loneliness Is A Killer’, ‘Broken In Paradise’ and ‘Speeding Through The Bright Light And Losing’, all of which come closest to what I remember of their classic sound. Overall, there’s a definite live feel and energy resonating through “Man On The Run”, much of which will definitely get the crowds going on Bush’s next tour, although I don’t expect to see many of them dressed in black with lank hair looking depressed and shoe gazing in some corner.
Dennis DeYoung – “…And The Music Of Styx Live in Los Angeles” 2CD / DVD (Frontiers Music)
Styx were an AOR icon back in the late 70s and early 80s, made famous by triple platinum albums like “The Grand Illusion” and top ten hits like ‘Too Much Time On My Hands’, ‘Babe’ and ‘Come Sail Away’ – the latter brought distastefully back to life in South Park two decades later! Despite their incredible success there was always a friction between vocalist Dennis DeYoung, who favored a more theatrical approach, and the two guitarists James Young and Tommy Shaw. Frustration in particular between Shaw and DeYoung would ultimately lead to a fragmentation of the band in 1983, whereupon the aforementioned members pursued solo careers, Shaw most notably later in Damned Yankees with Ted Nugent. Despite the onslaught of grunge, there were short lived reunions in various forms throughout the 90s, but the continual clash of styles between DeYoung’s cabaret vision and the two guitarists hard rock quest soon put any attempts at a stable line up permanently to bed. Today, Styx carries on, albeit without DeYoung even to the point of having his name removed from the band history, while DeYoung himself has built a new band including his wife Suzanne on backing vocals to continue the spirit of one of AOR’s greatest acts. Filmed earlier this year in Los Angeles at the intimate El Rey Theater, the sold out show in all its passion is beautifully captured by 8 cameras although the huge crowd singalongs are what do real justice to the legendary front man of Styx, being the author of five key songs that defined the band’s career. At 67 years old, he still looks to be in great physical shape and moreover his voice is incredible, both holding pitch and power like it did in the 80s, irresistibly leading the eager audience into a high school reunion fervour on songs like ‘Rocking The Paradise’, ‘Best Of Times’ and the rocking ‘Renegade’, all invigorated by the new talent of his band. Despite on / off rumors of a Styx reunion, DeYoung is not waiting around in giving the fans what they want the most beyond ego clashes – the music of their cherished band that has stayed true in their hearts all these years. Thanks to DeYoung it is once again alive and superbly captured on this 17 track double CD package, and in no small part due to his Broadway vision.
Nitrogods – “Rats And Rumours” (Steamhammer)
If you like Motorhead’s rattlesnake rock n roll style then look no further than this German trio made up of Oimel Larcher (GALLON, HERBARDS), Henny Wolter (THUNDERHEAD, PRIMAL FEAR, SINNER, FAIR WARNING) and Klaus Sperling (PRIMAL FEAR, SINNER, FREEDOM CALL). Bearing no resemblance whatsoever to their prior bands the Nitrogods live up to their name playing biker bar room rock n roll – to the max! Although not as vicious as Lemmy’s own bastard son, they are the perfect accompaniment to any road trip, pub crawl and naturally, any house leveling party with a definitive sound from Oimel’s gruff, ode to Kilminster vocals to his roughly strummed bass that barks true and loud on ‘Damn Right (They Call It Rock n Roll)’. Wolter’s rockin’ guitar has even garnered the admiration of Fast Eddie Clarke and his impressive slide shines true on ‘Nothing But Trouble’ whilst Sperling’s solid drum work goes into full Philthy Phil double bass drumming mode Overkill style on ‘Whiskey Supernova’. Strangely enough, it wasn’t the fast n loose rockers that impressed me the most about the Nitrogods but instead bar ballads like ‘Irish Honey’ which opened like The Clash on ‘London Calling’ along with the Thin Lizzy celtic hard rock of ‘Back Home’, which sorta reminded me of ‘Emerald’. Whatever your brew, the Nitrogods have got your tab and chances are you’ll be humming their tunes as you stumble back drunk from the pub…..
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