Interview By Robert Cavuoto
Michael Schenker has been called one of the true guitar heroes of all time and has influenced three generation of players. His resume includes historic bands like UFO, the Scorpions, as well as several iterations of his solo group; MSG. On his newest DVD release due out March 24th, Michael Schenker Fest “Live” Tokyo, he’s reunited with his original singers; Gary Barden, Graham Bonnet, and Robin McAuley in a stunning live recording that was filmed in concert at Tokyo’s International Forum on August 24, 2016. The concert is available on 2 CDs, 2 CD + DVD Combo, Vinyl, DVD, Blu-Ray and digital.
I had the pleasure of speaking with Michael about the filming of the concert, what it was like to work with all three original singers and the status of his next studio release.
Robert Cavuoto: I enjoyed the new concert DVD, Michael Schenker Fest “Live” Tokyo, as it’s an amazing tribute to your outstanding career. Tell me about how this all came together, I had to assume it was a massive undertaking.
Michael Schenker: In 2015 a Japanese promoter had the idea to have Graham Bonnet open for MSG then have Graham sing a couple of songs with us. It was an interesting idea. I started to realize at this time in my life I’m still performing songs from the past with different singers so it’s about time that I do it with the original singers. I had the idea to put the three main singers; Gary Barden, Graham Bonnet, and Robin McAuley in one show singing their songs. Then I thought to add; Steve Mann on guitar as he had a connection to McAuley/Schenker Group, Chris Glen who was the original bassist on Assault Attack with Graham and then Ted McKenna who replaced Cozy Powell on drums for much of Gary’s era material. I couldn’t have asked for a better line-up. We eventually reached out to everyone to see if they were interested and turns out they were all excited.
Our first concerts with Graham were during a headline show during Temple of Rock and Sweden Rock, which was the first time we did the Michael Schenker Fest. After those shows, I got a call from Japan to do Loud Park, a two-day festival in Japan, where we would be headlining one of the two days. I asked who would be headline the other day. Turns out it was the Scorpions. When I heard that, I had to decline because they are a tricky band that will set you up and then does weird stuff to you. I didn’t want to be involved with them. When a promoter in Japan heard that I declined Loud Park, he immediately booked me for three shows in Japan for Michael Schenker Fest, which sold out. It was such a fantastic venue so I decided to capture it on film. We ended up with a great product that includes lots of extras; like behind the scene footage, the sound check, and there is a photo montage. It will be released on March 24th.
Robert Cavuoto: Did you have to spend a lot of time rehearsing with the three singers and other members?
Michael Schenker: We were already a unit when the show happened in Japan. Last year we did a concert with Gary and this year I’m working with Robin on another. Japan is a highly organized group of people. If you have your stuff together and well-rehearsed they are so professional that it’s not a problem. When we arrived from Osaka we went on stage to have a look around to ensure everything was set up properly. We’ve worked with the same crew for the last few years so it works well for us. My son is the coordinator and he does a great job keeping everything in check and solving problems. You must have a good vision prior to the event to get through all the steps. At rehearsal, you have to do the necessary steps as well. I don’t remember any struggles it was very fluid.
Robert Cavuoto: Were there any songs that hit you like a flood of emotions when performed them with the original singers?
Michael Schenker: Being the guitar player, my focus is on the art of lead guitar and that is where I put all my emotions. My emotions go through the strings and it’s based on the world that I’m in on stage – the string world [laughing]. The distorted guitar with the bending string makes the guitar sing and creates all types of weird emotions.
Robert Cavuoto: Was there any concerns if something went wrong at the event you might not have the video?
Michael Schenker: That’s the risk. I made the video for pure expression, not for money or fame; it was about having fun with my guitar. When we recorded the show in Spain; On a Mission Live in Madrid we really only had one shot to record it. Turns out I didn’t have to do any overdubs on that concert DVD as there was nothing to fix. The one before that; Temple of Rock; Live in Europe was the same thing. Other than something being out of tune and a tweak here or there nothing that had to be fixed. I’m so used to only getting one shot that I don’t worry about it anymore. Maybe someday I won’t be so lucky and it backfires but I’m not going to worry about it. I was confident it was going to be fine working with the band and our crew. I just went for it. You can have a bad day where you can’t fix the sound, and then you just have to let the investment go. I haven’t been in that situation yet.
Robert Cavuoto: Will you bring Michael Schenker Fest to the US?
Michael Schenker: Things are starting to snowball and people are making offers to take Michael Schenker Fest to the UK, Spain, and Europe. We had someone investigate America and it came back with a very positive response. It’s looking really good to do a 30-day tour in February/March of 2018. It’s a bigger undertaking and will take a long time to figure out the logistic but it’s looking really good.
Robert Cavuoto: What is the status of the version of the band with Doogie White, Herman Rarebell, and Frances Buchholz?
Michael Schenker: The plan was to do a third CD with all of them in 2017. I had no clue that Michael Schenker Fest would be dragging so slowly. We have offers from promoters to play in America and they don’t want us to do it until 2018. Doogie is anxious to do another record and I still have to figure out all the scheduling because it’s so different from what I initially thought. The more I talk about it the more I realize that one year between a studio CD and two live DVDs is not enough. My ears are still ringing [laughing]. I really think we can have a new CD in 2018 which will create more interest in us and people will love it when we put it out. We have to make sure we don’t have too much product out; they have to come out at the right time and when it makes sense. Doogie is one of my favorite singers as we have a great chemistry and I want to make sure the third CD with him can stand on its own where he is the main singer singing his own songs.